Staples creates content to reposition and differentiate its brand

Photo: RetailWire
Jul 29, 2019
Tom Ryan

Staples last week launched Staples Worklife, a quarterly magazine, aimed at professionals “who see their work as more than just a job.” A Staples Worklife podcast, e-newsletter, digital community and live events will soon follow. 

The new content follows Staples’ rebranding changeover in March to “The Worklife Fulfillment Company,” which aims to position the retailer as a provider of solutions rather than a seller of products.

“Put simply, our business customers are looking for ways to improve their work lives. They told us they want solutions to be more productive and connected at work,” said Marshall Warkentin, chief marketing officer, Staples, in a statement. “At Staples, we’re uniquely positioned to bring together solutions to millions of working professionals and to bring a sense of community to work.” 

The free magazine’s initial circulation of 250,000 copies is targeted toward business customers.

The inaugural issue includes an interview with bestselling author Daniel Pink who shares his tips on motivation mistakes and how to correct them, as well as articles on building cultures in stressful environments and managing workplace conflict. A recurring monthly feature, “The Decider,” probes one question in flowchart form. The inaugural issue’s question: “Do I really need to go to that meeting?”

Later this summer, Staples will launch its accompanying Worklife podcast and e-newsletter, and will later host events and a digital community designed to connect working professionals. The first Staples Worklife industry event, in a partnership with FastCo Works, Fast Company’s branding content studio, will take place in Boston and feature panels related to productivity, connectivity and inspiration.

A number of retailers have launched magazines to support their lifestyle positioning and address the appeal for experiences.

In May, REI said it would discontinue its mail order catalog and instead publish Uncommon Path print magazine dedicated to delivering inspirational stories about outdoor life and culture. Among digital retailers, paid magazines from Net-a-Porter focus on fashion and Away on travel.

A number of traditional retailers, from Walgreens to Costco, send out free magazines, while Target and Whole Foods are among the many that offer online content.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will the launch of the Staples Worklife platform, including the quarterly magazine, e-newsletter, digital community and live events, be essential to Staples’ success? What type of content would offer the most (and least) appeal to professional workers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I doubt that a quarterly print magazine will be successful, but the digital parts may get traction."
"When will we learn that brand purpose mythologies aren’t effective with building business?"
"This helps set Staples apart from other office supplies retailers that just sell “stuff.”"

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17 Comments on "Staples creates content to reposition and differentiate its brand"

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Bob Phibbs

Becoming a resource to your customers is always smart. Does it help build visits to their stores for staples like paper, printer cartridges and the rest or has that market dissolved? Hopeful but doubtful.

Oliver Guy

Great to see Staples taking this approach. Given Amazon’s desire to get into the B2B market for office supplies – which has already started – this approach of sharing perspectives offers the possibility for them to turn themselves into a brand that is synonymous with the world of work. I have long perceived that organisations like Staples need to think about how they expand into parallel but similar lines – for example meeting room rental (good use for oversized stores perhaps), managed service in-office printing and so on… It will be interesting to watch.

Neil Saunders

Credit to Staples for coming up with a point of view and implementing it in an engaging way. I think the new direction has some merit, although I wonder whether it will be enough to save the business over the longer term. All that said, I still regret the fact that Staples was never able to put in enough effort to become a more compelling destination for everyday consumers.

Brandon Rael

Staples is in dire need of a transformation, as the customer experience in their U.S.-based stores has remained very much the same for the past 25 years or so. While the Staples Worklife platform is a welcome change, the overall shopping experience in their stores needs to take a page out of the Staples Canada strategy playbook.

Staples Canada has recognized the blurred lines between work and life, which led to the repositioning of its stores to reflect a “working and learning company” approach to retail. The company also opened a coworking space, called Staples Studio. Their transformation is focused on providing customers with a new experience that’s rooted in community, inspiration, and solutions that will help Canadians work, learn and grow together.

These are the kind of significant strategic steps that the U.S. version of Staples should take, especially as the way we live and work has evolved over the past few years.

John Karolefski

Kudos to Staples for being aggressive with a well-rounded campaign. I doubt that a quarterly print magazine will be successful, but the digital parts may get traction.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

I agree with Bob that becoming a resource to customers is helpful. The challenge for Staples is to find a way to offer resources that makes larger companies choose them as the go-to resource for supplies and solutions, to offer smaller entrepreneurial companies helpful solutions, and to provide solutions for individuals. This is a formidable challenge but a step in the right direction.

Georganne Bender

This helps set Staples apart from other office supplies retailers that just sell “stuff.” People are always looking for new ways to be better at their jobs, and tips to improve their work-life balance. If this content, however it is presented, helps Staples better engage and connect with its customers then it’s a smart move.

Ed Rosenbaum

It is easy to understand how important it is to be a resource to your client base. I doubt Staples’ venture in the quarterly magazine picture will make that much of a difference to their customers. There are so many publications out there that adding another is not going to make a difference or change anyone’s reading habits. My more important question is, who are the Staples customers and do they make the big buying decisions?

Gene Detroyer

Haven’t I read this story before? “Oh boy, let’s have a lifestyle magazine to help our customers. It will change everything.”

Really? I don’t see a future for Staples versus Amazon. On the consumer side of the business they don’t stand a chance. But they might have a shot at the B2B side if they move quickly. They should be looking at W.B. Mason rather than Amazon.

Mark Price

The launch of Staples Worklife is a classic content marketing effort, focusing on adding value to the high-revenue business customer segment. The goal is to increase brand engagement and also to position Staples as a solution source beyond just a transaction. I would imagine that this effort will be very successful at expanding Staples’ positioning as well as driving frequency, since Staples will be “front and center” in the minds of their best customers when needs come up.

The most valuable content will be information about how to improve the lives of business customers and the least valuable will be focused on products and sales. As long as Staples stays away from “salesy” content, this effort will definitely be successful.

Zel Bianco

I agree with many of my fellow commentators. Staples needs to have a major face lift. Their stores are not very inviting and are tired looking. Developing these other areas of communication are OK, but will do little to improve the image of Staples unless they do more with their stores and online look and feel.

I think that Costco does a good job with their magazine, especially the recipes and book reviews but, in their case, the publication works as a natural extension of their overall brand and in-store experience.

Doug Garnett

Putting out a magazine is lovely, but unlikely to do anything significant for Staples. Companies have been putting out magazines since the 1960s and before — with little impact. We should learn from history.

What worries me more is the repositioning as the “Worklife fulfillment company.” Basing a strategy on that theory is a bad move and portends future disaster for Staples.

When will we learn that brand purpose mythologies aren’t effective with building business? I wrote my thoughts in detail here: Diagnosing the Purposes Disease.

gordon arnold

Showing companies and individuals a path to the future by revealing current architectures with a relevance to doing business in the future has never worked. Working to drive prospects into the store for learning and not purchasing has caused the death of hundreds of tech companies. There are better tools with smaller investment and risk.

Ken Morris
Ken Morris
Managing Partner Cambridge Retail Advisors
1 year 5 months ago

By launching the Worklife platform, Staples establishes itself as a resource for more than just supplies. It can become the office community resource. This content should drive current customers to further purchases while offering new customers a reason to engage with the brand.

It is a bit of an amorphous concept as described above. You need more than just a quarterly magazine and some events to reposition the brand. A WeWork type environment would be essential in my mind to make this succeed … perhaps an acquisition?

Sterling Hawkins

I think the power in this approach is the community and human-centric connection it potentially creates. Anyone can sell office products, but it’s not everyone that’s connected to understanding their customers work life and their experience of work at a deeper level. Of course, the details here will really matter, but at a high-level, Staples is right on.

Heidi Sax

This general philosophy is in step with other retailers like Lululemon and Walgreens who are trying to become destinations for shoppers by offering experiences relevant to their product offering. But if they’re emulating peers like these, Staples is going to have to actually add more relevant services, products, and partnerships to enhance their brick-and-mortar stores. I’m not sure “content” alone is going to cut it here.

Shikha Jain

Another company that is moving away from pure one-way product selling to two-way engagement and services with core customer segments. With the quarterly newsletter they now have access to segments such as office managers, procurement departments, etc. and can use the catalog to showcase their products. I’d assume that they can data mine shopping behaviors tied to those catalogs and use them the same way Amazon does for their e-commerce channel. If this takes off, it could have a lot of potential.

"I doubt that a quarterly print magazine will be successful, but the digital parts may get traction."
"When will we learn that brand purpose mythologies aren’t effective with building business?"
"This helps set Staples apart from other office supplies retailers that just sell “stuff.”"

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