Interview: Asda’s Rick Bendel updates Marketing Week on the fortunes of the Wal-Mart marketing academy

Wal-Mart’s marketing academy has driven big improvements in shopper experience at its brands around the world, says Asda global CMO Rick Bendel.

Rick Bendel
Rick Bendel

Talking exclusively to Marketing Week, Bendel says Wal-Mart has seen “a big sea-change” in in-store experience, price perception, eventing and in-store marketing since the marketing academy was launched last June.

It is based in the UK and headed up by Bendel, who acts as a coach to executives from Wal-Mart’s operations outside of the UK, including India, Brazil and China.

Bendel says: “Marketing has become more important to Wal-Mart. Its global brands need to establish their point of difference and then tell people about it.”

The academy aims to “take retail talent to a new level and upgrade and teach the future marketers of Wal-Mart” about developing products and own brand propositions to drive loyalty, improve price perceptions, and apply insight to marketing.

Rather than mirror UK marketing initiatives, such as the Asda Price Guarantee, in other countries, Bendel says it’s about taking interesting concepts and making them relevant to the local market.”It’s about getting people to think differently.”

Bendel cites an initiative launched by Wal-Mart’s Chilean operation as a great marketing idea from a team that has attended his marketing academy.

The Chilean business has opened a restaurant with the name “El Buen Corte” taken from the brand name of the chain’s meat products. Not only is all the food made using the supermarket’s produce but all the table wear and crockery are also products sold by the store.

The academy is run in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Marketing, so all executives leave with a recognised qualification. It is also attended by Asda suppliers such as advertising and creative agencies.

Bendel says by basing the academy in the UK, Wal-Mart is recognising that the UK has the most advanced and sophisticated retail marketing. He is ambitious in the aims of the academy and says that the template is the Procter & Gamble approach of 30 years ago, when the P&G initiative was regarded as the world’s best retail marketing academy.

“It’s a very visionary and humble thing for Wal-Mart, a US retailer, to place its marketing centre of excellence in the UK. It’s a fabulous endorsement of marketing in the UK.”

Bendel says global retail is built upon three dimensions: operational excellence, finance and human resources, but in the UK there is a fourth dimension: the customer.

“Marketing has been at the forefront of the development of retail in the UK and the majority of retail CEOs in the UK have a history of marketing.”

He adds that marketing strategies such as loyalty cards and retailers offering financial products were all invented in the UK and penetration of own brands in the territory is 50% compared to around 15% elsewhere.

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