Sainsbury’s shows time and again that it can out-think competitors

It pays to learn from the best and this issue has an engrossing read that should inspire marketers to think hard about strategy and developing their brand over the long term.


In May, Sainsbury’s won the coveted Marketing Week Engage Award for Brand of the Year in association with YouGov. Throughout 2012, the retailer showed time and again in its marketing strategy that it could out-think its competitors and optimise the opportunities presented by bold decisions like the sponsorship of The Paralympic Games.

But resting on one’s laurels is not an option in the fiercely competitive market in which Sainsbury’s operates. For the essential read this issue (page 10) we had amazing access to senior members of the retailer’s marcomms team and a fantastic chance to lift the bonnet and see just what elements power the supermarket’s success – with 34 consecutive quarters of growth Sainsbury’s is getting more than the basics right.

Among the key insights from interviews with marketing director Sarah Warby and other team members a couple stand out. One is the focus on putting the customer first allied with campaigns that are devised to be “helpful” to said consumers. The other is the creation of a culture that allows marketing to be planned three years in advance.

That a listed company gives “permission” to be able to carry out long-range planning must be the envy of many marketers but it could not happen without a unique management approach. As head of brand communications Mark Given says “that means working closer together as a team” and having “a clear, consistent view of what the future looks like, based on customer understanding and what we need to deliver commercially.”

That balancing act between communications that help the retailer sell its target number of chickens week in week out, for example, and those brand-building ideas that lay foundations for longevity is difficult to pull off. 

Sainsbury’s does have plenty of challenges: it admits that it is late into the mobile world and is still finessing its online strategy. But at least it offers sound reasons why it is coming into some markets after its competitors.

However, it shouldn’t be complacent about those competitors. Tesco has spent this year feeling its way towards a new brand and marketing strategy while Asda has just appointed VCCP Blue as its new lead marketing agency. But the quiet confidence exuded by Sainsbury’s team suggests missteps will be few and far between and steady growth looks a safe bet. 

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