Whole Foods has taken initial steps to create a personal brand application (PBA) that can strengthen its brand ecosystem and develop deeper brand relationships with customers. Potentially, it’s a PBA that can radically differentiate Whole Foods and its customers from the Safeway’s of the world, raising Whole Foods customers to a level of brand experience that other grocers can’t match.
Personal brand applications
Personal brand applications are software applications that deliver brand value on smartphones and similar digital devices. As brand applications they do things, and they’re personal, portable and persistent (always on). They enable the brand to be a partner, sidekick and mentor to customers 24/7.
(You can read more about personal brand applications here, here and here.)
Being enabled is a high-level brand experience
Personal brand applications enable customers to do more, and to be more, consistent with the brand’s vision and innovation roadmap. This sense of enablement is a brand experience. It’s proactive, not passive, the experience of a newly empowered partner and participant. It’s a tremendously powerful and often liberating feeling.
Brands that aim to amuse, flatter, entertain or otherwise “delight” customers are no match for brands with the power to enable.
What the Whole Foods PBA does
The (free) Whole Foods PBA is based on the iPhone/iPod touch platform. It enables customers to enjoy tasty and nutritious food by providing a comprehensive database of 2000 recipes, including nutrition information and tips for preparing meals from what one has in the fridge. As Whole Foods describes it:
Searchable by ingredient, special diets, and other elements like “budget” and “family friendly,” each recipe contains detailed preparation instructions and nutritional information, which can be copied and pasted, saved as a personal “favorite,” and emailed from within the App itself. The App also includes an “On Hand” feature where customers can enter ingredients and get back meal recommendations.
The brand context of the PBA
At first glance this may seem like a pretty basic smartphone app that helps people chose and cook good food. However, there’s tremendous brand potential in the context of the PBA, where Whole Foods and its customers can team and collaborate in the daily process of eating healthy food and living sustainable lives. That’s a very different brand context than the traditional “grocer” + “shopper” context of supermarkets. It’s a shared context of value chock full of opportunities for personal growth and new market creation.
Whole Foods becomes more than a supermarket brand
The PBA makes Whole Foods more than a brand of organic foods and natural products. Its certainly helps raise Whole Foods beyond your basic supermarket brand. Through the PBA Whole Foods becomes a brand of healthy choices, healthy living, creative cooking, nutrition, sustainability and taste. All this happens at the personal level of the customer, via the iPhone/iPod touch. Brand and customers share and act within a unified, holistic vision, accessed on a daily basis. This shared context extends far beyond the store proper.
A PBA that builds brand trust
An added value of the Whole Foods PBA is that it can help build brand trust at the personal, interactive level. It integrates Whole Foods into a customer’s daily life as a trusted partner. And if Whole Foods ever decides to offer new products down the line, such as health insurance or life insurance, it can leverage the platform of trust created in part by its PBA.
Changing the retail future
Personal brand applications have the power to change the retail future. A retailer can combine store brands with personal brand applications to gain more brand presence (and brand clout) with customers than packaged “name brands.” The PBA becomes the connective tissue between retailer and customer, a low cost substitute for the billions of dollars spent by national packaged brands to advertise their goods. The PBA puts the retailer and the customer on the same page, writing it together.
Related post: Brand platform innovation at Whole Foods
Photo credit top : kalebdf – Flickr
Photo inset: Whole Foods