Chairman of UK grocer Morrisons: The boardroom needs more marketers

Morrisons, the U.K.’s fourth-largest supermarket group, spends a fair amount on ads. Chairman Andrew Higginson has a message for marketers: Ads needs to be better.

“A well-informed customer with lots of choice will only pick you if you’re great,” he said at the IAB Engage event in London. “Customer cynicism, their choice and their smarts, will drive up the standard in advertising.”

Digiday caught up with Higginson off-stage to get his perspective. In an age when companies at the CEO level are demanding more transparency around terms of business between agencies, advertising is a boardroom agenda.

How important is the role of the marketer in the boardroom?
In my view, it’s critical. In the retail space, marketing is the voice of the customer around the table, how that translates in projecting our image is an important part of the job. It’s the marketing director who will tell the board what the customer really thinks. He has to keep the [sales] director honest.

Where businesses have gone wrong is to combine marketing and sales together. I think it’s a big mistake because, in effect, the marketer is marking their own homework. Keeping the two separate keeps good competitive dynamics on the board.

Is part of the reason marketers aren’t on more boards because they can be seen to have a short-term view?
A good marketer is taking a long-term view: What are the real long-term trends customers are interested in? Convenience is one. When I started, this was, which is the nearest store? It very quickly became about how you can make yourself more convenient.

Price is the other one which is important to a chunk of customers. Supermarkets were designed to be discounters.. We’ve been slightly outmaneuvered in the short term by Aldi, Lidl and Poundland, but we are in a position to fight back. Food To Go is an example of that.

How is Morrisons making itself more convenient online?
Online, we were slow to start, getting going in 2012, and we use [online supermarket] Ocado to fulfill that. The customer satisfaction with Ocado is sensational in terms of click accuracy, on-time delivery, there’s a low number of substitutions. It’s better than Tesco.com, not in terms of making money but in terms of customer satisfaction.

We’re also wholesaling through Amazon Fresh. When you get alliances between two strong businesses, which are proud of their business and reputation with customers, can be challenging, but that’s the basis of a good relationship.

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