Supermarket key appointments signal responsibility 'is the new battleground'


So ran one of the headlines in Marketing Week this week as it carried news of the announcements by both Morrison’s and Tesco to appoint senior executives with direct responsibility for sustainability.
The team at Responsible research sat up and took particular notice as the words seemed to strike a particular chord. Why? Well largely, because our own Reality Bites project developed the theme of ‘responsibility’ as the emergent territory during 2009 as the consumer recession began to recede and retailers had to focus on something other than the torrent of price promotional led offers which so dominated their marketing.
We also suggested that there is an inevitable friction between marketing and CSR within large organisations with CSR seen as the people responsible for making sure all relevant legislation and guidelines are met; targets are clearly communicated and the organisation is ‘seen’ to be doing something positive. By contrast marketing focus on management of the brand and are guardians of the customer’s relationship with the brand. Our contention was that unless marketing understand the importance of their brands credentials in terms of responsibility then CSR will never make it to the frontline of customer communication.
Board level changes at Tesco potentially reflect a shift in focus throughout the sector as sustainability and environmental issues assume greater importance among consumers. The senior role changes provide a hint to Tesco’s brand direction. One key appointment, for example, is Tim Mason, president and CEO of the company’s Fresh & Easy business in the US. He becomes deputy CEO with the additional group responsibility for branding, company values and climate change.
Nielsen senior manager for retailer services Mike Watkins sees the link between branding and climate change as a big clue to the future of Tesco - and the retail sector more widely.
“Sustainability will be back on the agenda next year, and the success of the supermarkets will depend on who can communicate the issues best and who can show shoppers they understand the issue best. This may not only be the next phase for Tesco, but UK grocery more widely.”
Morrison’s has made a similar move by appointing group trading director Martyn Jones to the new role of group corporate services director with a focus on corporate responsibility, PR and food safety.
"While supermarkets remain the most popular places to shop in terms of sales, there remains a job to be done on “being liked” says marketing expert Stuart Roper from the University of Manchester’s business school. “One way they can do that is to be [openly] more responsible."
“The supermarket brands are so big now that they are the ones that can change shopping culture.”

We could not agree more. We have seen that companies who are more successful in communicating their CSR achievements do so through simple and direct communication with customers and particularly on issues which have a direct relevance to those customers. At Responsible research we welcome these moves and the additional commentary from the ‘analysts’ who are aligning themselves with the key findings and interpretation from our study last year. We would hope that such senior appointments will deliver the impetus needed within organisations to start to influence real change amongst their customers.

Tags: responsible, Morrisons, Tesco, Stuart Roper, CSR, battleground, Reality Bites,

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