Lidl’s marketing director on the next chapter for Lidl Surprises and turning doubters into advocates

With the latest ‘Lidl Surprises’ campaign aiming to convince doubters of the quality of the discounter’s meat, Lidl UK’s marketing director Claire Farrant says its past success means the brand’s marketing now has to work much harder to surprise British consumers.

Tonight (July 4) Lidl will roll out the latest execution of its ‘Lidl Surprises’ campaign (created by TBWA) on ITV during Coronation Street, with a TV ad focusing on the provenance of the discounter supermarket’s Deluxe Scotch Beef.

The campaign was inspired by internal research that revealed many Brits still think of Lidl’s supply chain in a “derogatory way”, according to UK marketing director Claire Farrant, who made a conscious decision to go after the “anti-advocates”.

The headline ad features a consumer called Sharna, who had previously doubted the quality of Lidl’s meat on social media, visiting Perthshire, Scotland to meet beef farmer John who talks her through the provenance of Lidl’s meat production.

It will be followed by a second TV ad featuring picky customer Chris, who had previously questioned Lidl’s seafood, quizzing a mussel farmer at a fishery on Scotland’s Isle of Mull. And future variations of the campaign will show Lidl doubters visiting its wine and fruit and vegetable suppliers.

Lidl remains the fastest growing grocer in British retail and for the 12 weeks ending 19 June it increased sales by 13.8%, which compares to 11.5% growth at close rival Aldi according to Kantar Worldpanel data.

The combined grocery market share of these discounters also hit a record high of 10.5% for the period, with Lidl now controlling 4.4% of the market.

And speaking exclusively to Marketing Week, Farrant admits Lidl’s continuing growth has given its marketing team a much tougher job in achieving true surprises.

“It’s tougher for us now as it isn’t a surprise we sell lobster or champagne. It isn’t a surprise we offer the lowest prices either.”

Claire Farrant, Lidl UK’s marketing director

“What we realised is despite the success of the Lidl Surprises campaign since launching in 2013, many customers and non-customers were still having serious doubts over where our food comes from. So it made sense that the next chapter of Lidl Surprises should be to prove our British provenance.

“You could say we targeted the middle classes with the market stall and restaurant ads, but we are using real working mums this time around as we want to prove our quality to the masses and the weekly shoppers. Great marketing should be about changing your brand’s misconceptions and not just banging the same drum.”

Battling Tesco and the doubters

Having previously worked in merchandising and marketing roles at Tesco over a 10-year period, Farrant is more than accustomed to working at a major retailer.

And since taking over from her predecessor Arnd Pickhardt last August, she has seen her previous employer return to sales growth and even claim it is stealing customers back away from Lidl.

The latest Lidl Surprises campaign features a farmer convincing a former doubter of the discounter’s beef quality

Lidl is currently embarking on an aggressive store expansion strategy as part of a long-term aim to move from a 630-store estate to 1,500. And some analysts have speculated this expansion has skewed sales rankings such as Kantar Worldpanel’s and hidden slowing like-for-like sales at Lidl.

But despite City doubters and the re-emergence of Tesco, Farrant is confident in Lidl’s future.

“We need to make the brand more accessible to Brits as many don’t have access to a local Lidl. We can try to change perceptions with our marketing but that means absolutely nothing if someone doesn’t have access to a Lidl store,” she counters. “Tesco is doing okay but I think you’ll find that it is still Lidl that’s the fastest growing UK supermarket”.

Lidl’s new-format stores boast a sparkly look light-years away from the stripped back nature of previous iterations. However, Farrant insists the brand isn’t losing the niche appeal – namely, a stripped down offering – that made it so popular in the first place.

“Our intention is still the same even with the expansion. We’re not suddenly going to open hypermarkets and we will still focus on the lowest prices and only the most relevant categories,” she adds.

“But we can’t be complacent of the current customer set. It is important as a brand to seek out new customers. We’ve targeted the middle classes before but we must now appeal to every single consumer regardless of their social background.”

Using partnerships and customer feedback to inform marketing

Lidl’s rapid ascension over the last five years has largely been due to convincing the middle classes of its premium credentials

Even if Farrant insists Lidl won’t suddenly be morphing into a big-four supermarket, she says major sponsorships with the likes of the English national football team and Mumsnet must continue.

“Our partnerships have helped us and given us rich insight into what people want from a UK retailer. We are getting valuable insight from Mumsnet and we now have the My Lidl community where we can test new in-store strategies, and the FA partnership too. The inspiration for the latest Lidl Surprises campaign actually came from viewing negative tweets so listening to our communities is crucial.”.”

Focusing on real-life customers, she claims, has given Lidl’s marketing an edge over its rivals.

“We’re not just recycling the same message about price. You see real people in our TV ads and we’re changing their perceptions of our brand. I don’t see other supermarkets doing that on the same level. We use real people, they don’t. We’re not afraid to voice the feeling of the nation at the time even if that’s about addressing negativity.”

Lidl’s place in a post-Brexit world

Following the UK’s referendum vote to leave the European Union, retail experts from Nielsen to Kantar Retail have all predicted customers will revert back to post-recession spending habits and backed Lidl for even more success. But politics is not an area of concern for Farrant, who says it will just be “business as usual” for the discounter.

She says the growth of Lidl and its ability to steal customers from much bigger retailers such as Asda and Tesco has been a “marketing success story, above all else.”

And when Marketing Week asks whether Farrant’s ambition is to make Lidl Surprises as iconic as slogans such as Tesco’s ‘Every Little Helps’, she answers: “Absolutely.”

With confidence like that, you wouldn’t bet against her.

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