Q&A: Alex Owens, head of insight, data, tools and segmentation, Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s Alex Owens reveals how the retailer uses insight to help the brand.

Sainsburys Sorbet

Marketing Week (MW): You have been at Sainsbury’s since January. What’s been your focus?

Alex Owens (AO): One focus has been the purpose of insight and what is it there to do. The word ‘insight’ is one that frustrates me. It’s about foresight and I’ve been trying to help the team understand what I mean. Insight is only useful if it is commercially viable and operationally feasible. Great insight will only get adopted by a business if they can do it and if it makes money.

It is not always about telling the business what to do, it is there to enhance and inform business debate.

MW: How do you make sure insight is used?

AO: We challenge ourselves to see if we think insight is there to enhance, inform or direct the business. I have also been working out how I change the image of insight, thinking about a few key opportunities to do that. One has been with the trading board, so [considering] how we can better amplify what insight can bring and the second is that we do a brand review, which is an assessment of our performance over the last year.

We’ve changed it from being a brand review to being a customer insight review that feeds into the category plans and into the customer plan. [It looks at] how our customers performed over the last year for our business.

We have the customer insight ‘bible’, which is basically an evolutionary document that we will continue to build on.

MW: What’s your view on pre-testing advertising campaigns?

AO: We are improving that process; it is probably not as effective as it could be. If you have a good ad team for example, in many cases you do not need to do a pre-test. However, you do need to evaluate how that campaign ‘landed’ both from a commercial point of view and from a customer’s point of view.

We are developing a proposition development process, which builds a consumer foundation into a powerful analytical understanding of the customer to enable us to bring new propositions to market whether that be marketing or ‘end to end’ propositions.

We have already tested it through things we are working on. It has allowed us to almost develop a pipeline of stuff that we can go to market with and we can pick and choose certain initiatives to go into the market at appropriate times. That has definitely challenged us to think customer first so that we start to develop [ideas of things??] that the customer actually wants and will find useful.

MW: Sainsbury’s was not implicated in the horse meat scandal, but what kind of research or data points would you investigate at a time like that?

AO: We would look at the data we have and consider whether we need new data points and we would probably do some research, but we wouldn’t look at it in isolation to anything else. We have transaction data, Kantar Worldpanel and Nielsen data.

We would look at the performance of the categories that have been implicated and also do some qualitative research to understand how customers are perceiving the scandal and, more importantly, what is their perception of us in the wider scheme of things.