‘Marketing isn’t the first step in rebuilding trust, it starts from the inside out’, says Tesco’s Michelle McEttrick

Tesco’s new CMO Michelle McEttrick says one of her key insights to marketing is “You can’t advertise your way out of problems you’ve behaved your way into” and that the supermarket giant is adopting a back to basics approach to rebuild its brand.

Speaking yesterday (8 September) at an Oystercatchers event, McEttrick, who has only been in the role for three months and was formerly head of marketing at Barclays, said that rebuilding trust started from the “inside out”.

She told delegates: “Trust is a big issue for Tesco but when I think about addressing that and where you start it isn’t really with marketing tools at all.

“It is with an inside out approach to rebuilding your brand. Yes, customer focus is well overused but it is very important.” She added that her 320,000 colleagues in the UK were the most valuable assets in rebuilding trust at the moment.

“Our CEO Dave Lewis famously says: ‘You can’t advertise your way out of problems you’ve behaved your way into’ and I’d agree with that. There are lots of things going on at Tesco in rebuilding trust and that is on fundamentals like service, price, quality and getting your colleagues to translate that enthusiasm to customers.”

Tesco has tried to cut back on over communicating its brand, according to McEttrick, who says it has intentionally moved to create “a much tighter team” with its three primary advertising and comms agencies BBH, Blue Rubicon and MediaCom.

“When I first joined, there was so much to do and so much low hanging fruit,” she explained. “When it comes to marketing the discipline is in walking by a lot of those branches and not getting tempted to dive into everything that is an opportunity and only focusing on the opportunities aligned with your strategic vision.”

Client/agency relationships

Over recent months, Tesco has been fairly quiet when it comes to major above the line spend, instead focusing on smaller TV spots in areas such as recipe ideas and price cuts on basic items. However, McEttrick admitted that Tesco had been taking more of a “co-creation approach to its conversation model” – with the likes of BBH – since she  joined.

According to McEttrick, client and agency relationships can only truly thrive if there is an equal share of the risk: “Big brands must quickly get out of cash cow status and into representing an equal risk to the agency.

“You need to be a large part of their business and the account everyone wants to work on. So if you leave the agency, their best people don’t want to be there either. Only when there is equal risk do you get the very best work in advertising.”

Tesco’s approach to social media

Praising Tesco’s approach to social media and using it as a customer service platform, McEttrick played down digital content’s overall impact instead referring to platforms such as Twitter as “just another channel”.

She said CEOs might avoid using social media altogether, concluding: “Would you have a CEO answering every service call? No as it’s just another channel and you must trust your colleagues to give the right response and to be empathetic enough.

“Twitter can play a role in your PR mix, sure, but I don’t see the necessity of having CEOs on Twitter as it is such an arbitrary channel.”

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  • Spencer 15 Sep 2015 at 1:38 pm

    This is a really insightful piece. Not many organisations make the connection between achieving commercial results, on the one hand, and building trust on the other. All to often, companies see trust as a ‘soft’, intangible, that can’t be measured, whereas sales targets, profit and gross margin are all tangible measures.

    If Tesco is to set about rebuilding trust, then it must go deep into its own culture and not just look out the outward fundamentals, like service, price and quality. As pointed out briefly in the article, the key is to align the 320,000 staff behind the vision to deliver growth. Dave Lewis is correct, Tesco did ‘behave themselves into trouble’ but just because there is a new team in place, that doesn’t mean the results will follow.

    Lencioni’s work on ‘Dysfunctional Teams’ proves there is a link between results and trust, requiring teams to move through ‘healthy’ conflict, commitment, to accountability, before achieving results.

    If you look deeper into his work, what all under-performing teams must do is sort out their own behaviours, to understand that self-awareness is crucial to growth and close the gaps at the top of the business, before communicating down. This is how to rebuild a culture and develop trust.

    The culture at Tesco is currently not set up for long-term sustainable growth, so it will be fascinating to watch the journey they go on. It will be a bumpy ride!

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