Coles’ CMO Lisa Ronson has opened up about the impact the novel coronavirus has on the supermarket giant’s marketing budget, as well as what it was like appointing two new agencies amidst the crisis.
Speaking to Jules Lund on Marketers in Pyjamas, Ronson said she has the interesting task as a marketer: to get people to stop buying too much.
As shoppers continue to panic buy, Coles and other supermarkets have struggled to cope, with essential items selling out sometimes within minutes of hitting the shelves.
Ronson said: “We’ve been doing a Christmas or sometimes two Christmases every day for three and a half weeks. And we have six months to plan for Christmas. And this just hit pretty immediately, actually. So the amount of stock we’ve never had more stock and more resources going into store.”
Ronson said Coles has been working with the government, suggesting they’ve been “really good” and have relaxed a lot of the truck curfews and similar rules, meaning the supermarket can fill its shelves more frequently.
According to the marketing exec, it’s times like this when “you really step up to your brand purpose”.
She said: “Ours is to sustainably feed all Australians so they can lead healthier and happier lives. So it always comes back to that. So we very, very quickly pivoted to when things started to get tough, we redirected our entire online business, the whole thing, to vulnerable Australians.”
On the impacts of the virus on Coles’ marketing budgets, Ronson said it’s been a “complete pivot”.
“Normally on this spectrum, we’ve got the brand building and engaging to get people to want to love Coles and then the trade driving stuff.
“It pivoted very, very quickly to a lot of more community service announcements. Now we’re cleaning up stores and we’re looking out for team members asking people to be kind to our team members. I never thought as a marketer I would be doing that.
“So it’s very surreal when you write in communications to say, please don’t abuse that name. Please be kind to our team. And I’ve had to do a lot of those sorts of things.”
Ronson was also tasked with appointing two new agencies to the supermarket account during this crisis, appointing DDB and TBWA.
Both part of Coles’ existing agency roster, the agencies will add to the long-term agency Big Red – providing the bandwidth needed to manage Coles supermarkets’ core marketing activities at the same time as meeting increased demand for customer communications related to the current pandemic.
Ronson said: “The team are really banding together and we’re dividing and conquering. I’ve got a team that I’m focussed on COVID, as sad as that is. But they have to focus on those day to day communications.
“What CMO would do an agency pitch at a time like this? It would be tough and it would be hard on the industry.
“So that’s why I went to the bench of our financial services business that we ran that pitch when I first started, it was underway when I got to Coles. And they’re great agencies.
“So we’ll work together with the three agencies and the team, the ones that are focussed on today and those that are focussed on tomorrow.
And also, whilst the marketing planning calendar has changed dramatically in the last month, we’re just doing what we can on a day to day basis. And the team is great.
“They’re a bit tired, but we’re fortunate that we’re in the position that we’re in to be fulfilling that purpose for Australians. We’re really proud and very privileged to be in that position.”
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