Covid-19 caused many businesses to drastically change their course, restructure or make a radical change to plans. However, for Tesco it solidified a strategy that allowed the retailer “to really be at our best”.

Speaking at the Festival of Marketing the brand’s chief customer officer, Alessandra Bellini, explained: “A lot of people are saying Covid-19 is accelerating [things] and I am really proud that it accelerated all of the things we were already planning to do. We didn’t have to change or pivot. We had to be really at our best to listen to our customers every day.”

Despite this positive outlook, Tesco’s UK CEO, Jason Tarry, acknowledged it was still stressful as the leadership team was forced to keep up to speed with the rapidly changing environment.

“March was an incredibly difficult time. You [Russell Parsons, moderating] used the word opportunity but that was about the furthest word from my mind at that point,” he explained.

As the severity of the coronavirus pandemic became clear in the UK, the retailer set up four priorities to help steer its strategy: Safety for all; food for all; support our colleagues; and support communities.

Tesco’s marketing boss: Customer is bigger than marketing 

These helped solidify senior managements goals but Tesco still needed to speed up its feedback process from weekly to daily in order to keep up.

Tarry explained: “The truth is [weekly] was too slow. We [sped this up] and then were going out to stores, to the pickers and the depot, talking to them in real-time in order to understand what we needed to do in terms of a central perspective.”

This, however, was not something new for the brand, with feedback from suppliers and customers already built into how the brand measures success. “KPIs do include how our suppliers feel about us, how our customers feel about us and how our colleagues feel about us.”

It’s been a thrill delivering in a crisis but also a pain.

Alessandra Bellini, Tesco

Tarry added: “At the time we were not sure how this was going to unfold, we literally had to take it each day at a time. We were having multiple calls a day on what we should do at one point. In the summer we went down to once a week, now we’re back up to three times a week.”

Bellini agreed: “We had to be much faster, much quicker and even sharper.”

Her marketing team was also gathering insights daily using YouGov’s BrandIndex tool, as well as customerand colleague feedbaack so it could so it could adapt “on a very short cycle to be on top of what customers and colleagues needed most.”

Tesco also sped up how it worked with partners, including its marketing agencies such as BBH London.

Bellini explained: “We’ve changed the way we work with our agencies and partners. We’ve shortened our timeline and chain of discussion from insight to brief to execution. It’s been a thrill delivering in a crisis but also a pain.”

Staying the course

Despite the changes, Tesco’s overall strategy and ‘Food Love Stories’ campaign were two areas the retailer doubled down on during the crisis.

Bellini said: “It is difficult and challenging but one thing I’ve managed to do well is hold true to our strategy. Our strategy is to serve the customer and be very strong in value.”

The Marketing Week Masters Brand of the Year winner believes its Food Love Stories activity is even more relevant as people eat out less and cook more meals at home.

“Our campaign stood the test of a crisis when everyone was trying to cook or trying to bake or make lunches. We estimated there were 170 million more meals cooked at home,” she added.

“People love to talk about food and eat and share ideas. Tesco was in an ocean of communication about values and price and offers before that but in a big, noisy way. We had to cut down the noise and focus on what really matters for people.”

Speaking about winning the Brand of the Year award, Bellini was quick to point out the importance of retail workers to perceptions of the brand and its strength.

She explained: “This award is recognition for all of Tesco. The experience that formed with Tesco starts with interactions, be that online or in stores.

“Thirty percent of customers’ impression is in-store. It is not the advertising or how good the point-of-sale we may have. It’s the intrinsic quality of our products and most importantly how clean and tidy our stores are, how well we display our food, how friendly and knowledgeable our staff are. So there are a number of touch points that effect us.”

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