Speaking to Marketing Week, Thomas says rather than a “heavy sell”, the supermarket is looking to provide customers with inspiring content, whether about food or how they spend their leisure time, in the hope they will return to shop with Waitrose.
“The role of advertising is shifting. We want to help people make great choices around what they do and who they shop with. It is less about selling and talking to consumers about products or services they should be buying,” he says.
Waitrose is backing this up with a revamp of its Waitrose Weekend weekly newspaper, increasing the page numbers from 30 to 40 and announcing new writers including Mariella Frostrup, Sue Perkins and Rachel Johnson.
The supermarket is also expanding its online TV service, adding more broadcasts to its schedule, including interviews hosted by Michael Parkinson and additional live programming.
Thomas says content plays a crucial role in consumer perceptions of Waitrose, enabling customers to feel warmer towards the brand. He says the supermarket is “very in tune” with what customers want, whether that be inspiring recipe content, producing entertaining articles or recommendations on local restaurants and sporting events.
“People see us as a trusted source of information and a place to go for inspiration on everything, from how to cook to what to do with their families. What people buy into with us as a brand is an opportunity to engage with us across a broad spectrum. It’s about trust in the brand,” he says.
Alongside the content push, Thomas says Waitrose’s marketing communications will continue to focus on value and its competitive pricing, particularly in the wake of price campaigns from rivals including Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.
He claims being competitive on price is a “very important part of the brand”, highlighting its price match guarantee with Tesco and its £1bn-sales Essentials range.
Thomas also credits the myWaitrose loyalty programme for Waitrose’s recent sales success, allowing the supermarket to tailor promotional activity to customers and give them “great offers” such as free tea and coffee.
“MyWaitrose is a very straightforward loyalty proposition. Consumers want to build up a strong relationship with a brand but they also want some form of instant gratification. Free coffee enables that. We can say thank you to customers in a way points never can,” he adds.
Waitrose reported its most successful Christmas on record in 2013, with total like-for-like sales up 3.1 per cent in the five weeks to 24 December.