Brand messages lost in promo clutter

Despite the high volume of price focused messaging and the relentless rhetoric about squeezed household budgets, the supermarket sector has reached the point where price has become irrelevant. The sector is so competitive on price that it has become a hygiene factor not a point of difference.


Price messaging is everywhere, but price was conspicuous by its absence at the annual IGD convention in London earlier this week, where the great and the good of the industry gathered.

In some way or another bosses of the big four supermarkets all seem agreed building trust, adding services and creating good experiences that retail brands come into their own.

Morrisons group commercial director and former Waitrose marketer, Richard Hodgson stated that loyalty only comes from being different to rivals, because shoppers expect the major supermarkets to offer the same kind of prices.

Hodgson admitted that the sector has been “more concerned about bettering our rivals than the interests of consumers” and believes it is the “personal touch” that Morrisons offers that makes it stand apart from the other supermarkets.

Sainsbury’s, meanwhile, is striving to be different from the rest by being the most trusted supermarket brand. For Justin King, who used his presentation to talk about trust and how to earn it, trust is important to all shoppers, no matter what demographic. Price doesn’t even come into the equation.

Asda’s chief operating officer Judith McKenna put making life easier for mums at the heart of everything that Asda does. She says that shoppers aren’t concerned about how they shop or what channels they use, they just care about how they can get everything on their ‘to-do’ list done in their hectic day. If Asda can offer simple mobile apps and services that achieve that, customers will stick with them, she says.

Philip Clarke’s answer to the challenges Tesco is facing is to be more personal with consumers, and better using data to find ways to tailor experiences to each customer’s needs rather than applying a broad-brush approach. Specifically, he talked about the way smartphones have revolutionised brands ability to build a direct relationship with customers.

While refreshing to hear each supermarket talk about strategies beyond price, a quick flick through the papers finds ads from each and every one screaming about deals, savings and price comparisons; ‘Deals’, ‘Why Pay more’, ‘Deals in Store’ ‘Save £2’.

And every time a shopper steps into a supermarket or convenience store they are hit with a barrage of promo messaging.

These are the messages that shoppers see most often and while print ads are meant to be tactical, the sheer noise of it outweighs any attempts to go beyond price in brand advertising.

It’s a case of talking the talk but not walking the walk. The supermarkets should be telling shoppers, and would be shoppers, more overtly about the other issues they deem so important.

Morrisons should promote its friendly staff willing to go the extra mile for customers. Tesco should talk about how it is bending over backwards to offer each customer a deal relevant for them, Sainsbury’s should be more overt in telling people why they should trust it above and beyond its rivals, while Asda should be telling mums it’s on their side in a whole raft of ways, not just shouting about its round pound prices.

These broader brand messages are there, but by shouting so loudly and so repeatedly about prices, the bigger picture message disappears into the background. The subtlety and cleverness of your brand marketing is being lost amongst the promotional clutter and all that’s left at the forefront is the one message that makes no difference.

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