Tesco’s marketing boss: Customer is bigger than marketing

Tesco’s chief customer officer Alessandra Bellini may be the retailer’s top marketer, but she believes her job goes beyond marketing to encompass every touchpoint a customer has with the brand.

tescoAlessandra Bellini joined Tesco in 2017 as chief customer officer, she was one of a growing number of CCOs at brands, particularly retailers.

While many have questioned why a CCO role is necessary when the job of the CMO should be to focus on the customer, she believes the role goes beyond what people might traditionally put into the marketer’s role.

“Customer is a bit bigger than marketing,” she said, speaking at ISBA’s annual conference today (27 February). “It is about really having the courage of listening to customers and looking brutally at the reality of what they say, taking it in and working on it and being relevant.”

Tesco has been turning round its business since 2014, when an accounting scandal railroaded the business and the brand. While the company “lost its way in a number of ways”, according to Bellini, she believes a key issue was that it became obsessed with chasing results rather than customers.

That means Tesco took its eye off what mattered to customers, despite the fact that over its 100-year history it had shown that when it focused on customers it was at its most innovative.

“The history of Tesco is one where when it put customers at the centre of what it did it has been a very innovative company. When Tesco was brave enough to put customers first, it was brave enough to invent things that hadn’t been done before in the UK,” she explained.

Those firsts include being the first supermarket to offer self-service in 1948, online groceries in 1984, launch an own-brand range in 1992 and introduce a loyalty scheme in 1995.

“We had to push a massive reset button,” she added.

Humility is key

To refocus on the customer the supermarket started with a brand purpose to ‘serve Britain’s shoppers a little better every day’. That helped Tesco to shift from running shops to serving customers across every touchpoint, while being humble.

“Humility is really important because if you don’t listen, being very big can make you very arrogant. Humility has to be a built-in quality,” said Bellini.

The work she has lead on includes overhauling Tesco’s own-brand ranges to focus on quality and customer needs at different price points, and reducing its promotional activity to focus on value. Bellini has also reset the supermarket’s Clubcard loyalty scheme to make the value equation “a bit more interesting” through tools such as member pricing and a recently launched subscription service.

‘Brutal objectivity’: Tesco’s CEO on how he reversed the brand’s fortunes

Only once this work was done did Tesco rethink its advertising and communication, for example with its ‘Food Love Stories’ campaign that talked about its passion for food, and the campaign for its centenary year in 2019 which promoted the supermarket’s value.

“It only works if all of it works,” said Bellini. “Keeping all of that together is the real challenge.”

It is work that has been key to turning around the Tesco business. It’s quality, value and overall brand perceptions are back at 2011 levels, according to YouGov BrandIndex data cited by the company. And the retailer is back to growth and profitability.

Bellini’s work saw her crowned Marketing Week’s Marketer of the Year in 2019.

However, she believes there is still plenty more work to do, with Tesco’s brand only back to the levels of its competitors, rather than being ahead of the sector.

“Tesco’s brand strength is just back in the pack. There is still a lot to do to continue to build this brand,” Bellini stated.



There are 3 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Tamara Rogers 27 Feb 2020

    Ale you are doing a great job – a powerful combination of humility, passion for what you do and attention to detail – and the customer is reaping the benefits!

  2. David Whiting 1 Mar 2020

    It beggars belief what senior marketers come out with sometimes:

    “Customer is a bit bigger than marketing…It is about really having the courage of listening to customers and looking brutally at the reality of what they say, taking it in and working on it and being relevant.”

    If that’s not a definition of marketing, I don’t know what is! I fear for marketing practitioners these days – too many seem to have a poor grasp of what their own professional discipline is actually about.

    Finance probably has something to do with money I hear…

  3. Catherine Joyce 2 Mar 2020

    I’m not so that there is much humility or customer concern (listening) at the grass roots. When I told a customer service representative I would as a result of their treatment never use Tesco again after having been a loyal customer for over 20 yrs they were not particularly bothered!

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