Asda moves shows why marketers don’t need a traditional marketing background

Asda has just replaced its marketing boss with a man that doesn’t have a traditional background in marketing. That move is similar to one made by a growing number of brands that are increasingly looking to new skills in areas such as ecommerce and customer focus, rather than a history in branding and campaigns.

Barry Williams, Asda’s new marketing chief, was previously its chief merchandising officer for food. That is a commercial role that gave him oversight of fresh, ambient and non-edible areas of the Asda business.

He joined Asda in 2009 as category director for BWS before being promoted to commercial director for fresh and then taking over the full food brief. He has been involved in key strategic moves including leading traders in the Netto acquisition programme.

He has more than 20 years experience in food retail having previously worked for Kwik Save, the Co-op and Musgrave Retail Partners.

Asda CEO Andy Clarke says it is his “absolute focus on doing the right things for customers” made him the “natural choice”.

He will take over Steve Smith’s role as chief customer officer responsible for marketing and store format development.

Asda is not the first brand to put someone without a traditional background in marketing in charge of marketing. Robin Terrell is responsible for marketing at Tesco but has a background in ecommerce.

His predecessor Gill Easterbrook was hired for her understanding of the Tesco brand and its customers gleaned over a 13-year career at the supermarket rather than expertise in marketing.

Lidl’s marketing director Arnd Pickhardt used to work in auditing at the discounter.

The appointments suggest brands are looking for a different outlook on the brand than would come from someone with a traditional background. For Tesco it is having someone with that understands multichannel and provide a “joined up” experience for customers across marketing, stores and online.

Clive Black, head of research at Shore Capital, suggested Terrell’s appointment hints at the growing importance of data and insights. He saw the appointment as a “good day in the recovery of Tesco”.

For Asda it is about having someone who a knowledge of the business and its customers in charge. It still has Chris McDonough in place as marketing director who can take on the lead on marketing strategy, communication planning and creative.

Scott McLean, COO at the Intelligent Marketing Institute, believes that brands appointing people from non-marketing backgrounds will become “increasingly commonplace”.

“Brands are seeking to broaden their marketing leadership and skillset beyond creative and brand marketing. There is a growing emphasis on what we call commercial marketing, where the business is looking to marketing to lead the drive towards customer-centricity, break down existing customer communications silos and track tangible commercial returns from customer engagement.

“It is clear that for many business the emphasis moving forward will be on how marketing activities feed the rest of the business with tangible commercial results and it is understand that, on occasion, non-marketing talent will be brought in to provide this.”

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