Sainsbury’s online director: ‘Marketing is about influencing the customer conversation, not shouting at them’

Internet Retailing Expo: Sainsbury’s online, digital and cross-channel director Jon Rudoe says the role of marketing at the supermarket is changing to look to influence rather than broadcast, as customers increasingly use digital platforms to talk to each other rather than waiting to hear messages from brands.

Sainsbury’s online director Jon Rudoe said the supermarket is exploring how the supermarket can influence consumers’ online conversations.

Speaking at the Internet Retailing Expo in Birmingham today (27 March), he says that while above-the-line advertising is “not dead”, it needs to be used in very different ways now as consumers increasingly shop across channels, whether in-store, on mobile or online. He adds that where 20 years ago brands used to talk at the customer they must now make themselves a part of the conversation that is already going on.

“The role of advertising is incredibly different. We spend a lot more time thinking about how we can influence that conversation that customers are having and how we talk to them. It’s not about shouting at them. That doesn’t mean we don’t do above the line advertising but we think about it very differently to how we used to think about it,” he said.

Key to that is understanding the customer and talking to them in a consistent way, which is why data from Sainsbury’s Nectar loyalty scheme is hugely important, he said. The supermarket uses its loyalty data across channels to understand what customers are buying and when so it can tailor both online and offline offers depending on when customers typically shop and what they buy.

“We need Nectar to understand the relationship and incrementality of a customer who already shops in our stores adding online. There is a multichannel loyalty effect for us, one plus one is more than two when you add the online channel into our customers’ behaviour,” he said.

Sainsbury’s is exploring ways to further digitise Nectar, he said, although the main focus for the supermarket remains its new website, which is set to roll out next week. That website will reflect the supermarket’s focus on offering “great service and fantastic products”, showing that the brand “really lives its values”.

“Digital is just doing what Sainsbury’s has always done but in a different way. The mindset is exactly the same as in the store – it’s about delighting the customer and managing customer needs and thinking about that customer experience and interaction. There is so much to take from the fundamental years of retail that is valuable in this new world,” he said.

While Sainsbury’s brand and core purpose remain the same, Rudoe said the supermarket is also experimenting in particular with click and collect. It now has more than 1,000 collection points, with its ebook service and in mobile scan and go, which is now on trial in more than 10 stores.

All of these services add to the data Sainsbury’s has about its customers, providing insight on how people use phones in store, which shops work for click and collect and what people buy and the role of digital services for the supermarket, Rudoe explained.