Alessandra Bellini is obsessed with marketing. When she’s not doing what she’s paid to do as Tesco’s chief customer officer, she’s thinking about it: she’s looking at what people put in their trollies and cupboards, what they eat and checking out restaurant kitchens.
“I just like to observe what people do, how they shop, what choices they make and what brands they have,” she says. “I look at that and think about it all the time.”
Bellini describes herself as an FMCG, everyday products kind of girl. Her face lights up when she talks about a photo of her at a Tesco checkout, scanner in hand, when she first joined the supermarket in 2017.
“This is when I thought, I have arrived,” she says. “I just love selling bananas and soaps and deodorants and toothpaste and ice cream. I love the fact I work on simple products that seemingly don’t matter; the everyday things that impact people’s lives.”
Of course, Bellini hasn’t been crowned Marketing Week’s most effective marketer for selling bananas alone. She has been integral to the turnaround of a business left tarnished by a series of scandals over the past few years, helping to rebuild Tesco’s reputation and re-establish its quality and value perceptions.
This has involved an overhaul of its own-brand ranges, a refreshed marketing strategy which included bringing Jamie Oliver on board, and a greater focus on Clubcard and using its data to analyse shopper habits to trigger a move towards healthier eating.
You should listen to your customers but you shouldn’t do what they say; you should understand why they’re saying it.
Alessandra Bellini, Tesco
It’s all about keeping it simple, Bellini says, focusing on what you are trying to achieve and believing in the power of brands.
“I believe everything is possible as a marketer, provided you understand your consumers, where your brand is, what the core of your brand is and how to make it simple, interesting and relevant,” she explains.
On the flipside, she says whenever she has done something that wasn’t on-brand, or she has underestimated the importance of what customers were saying or overestimated the power of the execution and communication, it just didn’t work.
Bellini also doesn’t think marketers should do what their customers say.
“You should listen to your customers but you shouldn’t do what they say; you should understand why they’re saying it,” she suggests.
“Customers are not marketers and they’ll tell you how they feel about what they know and what they’ve seen before, not what hasn’t existed or been proposed to them yet.
“It’s a subtle nuance but it’s an important one. Really understanding why they’re saying what they’re saying and then playing on that insight rather than mechanically responding to what they say they want.”
Back to the future
As chief customer officer for the UK’s largest supermarket, Bellini has a lot of customers to try to understand. That task has no doubt been made even harder after headlines about horse meat and accountancy scandals tarred Tesco’s reputation among British shoppers.
From Bellini’s experience, there is only one thing to do when a brand is in trouble: it means going back to the very beginning. And so Tesco’s centenary campaign was born.
“When brands are weaker, have lost their shine, have been forgotten or are in trouble, going back to what made them famous in the first place is always a good place to start,” Bellini says.
“It’s a good recipe. People always tend to remember how a brand became famous and what it became famous for. If you go back to that and really understand what that nugget is and refresh it in the current day, it tends to always work because it resonates with people.”
The centenary campaign is also a prime example of what Bellini says happens when the magical connection between Tesco’s channel, product and customer teams “really works”.
“When the three of us work best together, and there are built-in tensions within all of that, that’s when we get the best work,” she says.
“I am very proud of [the centenary campaign] because it is a good way of doing something strategic for the brand and business, but it is new, surprising and relevant for the people. It doesn’t intrude in their lives but it brings a little bit of humour, uplifting and ‘why not?’ People need it.”
When brands are weaker, have lost their shine, have been forgotten or are in trouble, going back to what made them famous in the first place is always a good place to start.
Alessandra Bellini, Tesco
The way Bellini evaluates her effectiveness as a marketer is simple. “Are we satisfying our customers? Are they coming more in store or online? Do they believe our brand is more relevant? That it has the right quality and value? If so, my team and I have done a good job. If not, we’re not.”
But Bellini’s ability to make everything sound so simple should not detract from the hard work she and her team have put in over the past two-and-a-half years to make Tesco a “warmer and more loved” brand.
The proof is in the numbers. Perceptions of the brand are improving, according to YouGov BrandIndex data, with its score for Quality up 1.9 points year on year, while Value has increased by 1.3 points. Meanwhile, group sales were up 11.5% to £56.9bn in 2018 and pre-tax profits rose 29%.
Given the brand’s overall Index score plummeted to an all-time-low of almost zero in 2014 after the accountancy scandal broke, Tesco is now firmly on its road to recovery. And Bellini’s arrival is no coincidence.
Baptism by fire
Bellini’s move into marketing wasn’t planned. After winning a 12-month scholarship at creative agency JWT when she was 19, she took a job in advertising. It was during those first three years – her “baptism by fire” – that she learned everything she knows today and when she realised she might have a “knack” for marketing.
“It played to a lot of what I then learned to be some strengths, peculiarities and passions,” she says. “But I really learned immediately the importance of brands and the power of communication.
“I like the idea of using language and visuals to communicate to people. I just like it, it’s the way I am. I love storytelling, I love treating brands as ideas. I love seeing how developing an ad can be really insightful and change people’s habits in the best possible way.”
Despite working at Unilever for 21 years, Bellini describes a “self-inflicted” imposter syndrome, having not had a traditional marketing career path. It is only in the past three or four years that she has started to shake it off.
“I’ve thought to myself for a long, long time that not having all of that traditional background will hold me back or put me in positions I didn’t expect to be in and they’ll find me out. The famous imposter syndrome,” she explains. “It’s very recently that I’ve decided maybe it was time to stop worrying and forget about it and start to move on.”
Bellini says she has never been afraid of admitting when she makes a mistake, and this is a rule she keeps for her team too. In fact, she believes the ROI of mistakes is “the highest there is” because if you ask the same person to do the job again, they’re unlikely to get it wrong a second time.
Bellini remembers putting the wrong ad on air for a client at the beginning of her career and says she has never put anything wrong out again, whether its packaging and art work, or communications.
The ins and outs of effectiveness
Bellini’s approach to marketing effectiveness is rigorous. She doesn’t believe the fundamental principles of good marketing have changed, only the speed at which things happen and the ability to know what customers are doing in real time. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should, she say, particularly when it comes to digital.
That means Tesco is “really rigorous” about measuring everything it does and the choices it makes when allocating budget.
“Outcome-based not input-based,” Bellini explains. “[We need to understand] what works best for what job, what part of the brand, what service and product, and be very rigorous about the objectives we are trying to achieve. The stronger we are in those, the more the brand can innovate and be different. If you’re not clear about all of those, you waste your efforts and money.”
Bellini says marketers must be rigorous too.
“I suspect brands will always remain relevant but the interpretation of what a brand is and the way people interact with a brand will be different,” she suggests. “The ability for brands to be credible will be much shorter-lived because transparency and openness and access to information is very strong. But that just puts an onus on marketers to be more rigorous and demanding of themselves.”
The importance of marketing’s relationship with other areas of the business should not be underestimated either.
“Until very recently [marketing] was a job based on people’s talent: their brain, their expertise in what they do,” she says. “I love that. I can’t be closed in a room just looking at data. I love data to be the foundation of the work that we do and nowadays we have a lot of rigorous data we can use. But I’m more into the relationships.”
When Bellini isn’t being rigorous with data, creating centenary campaigns or peering in people’s trollies, she is an executive sponsor of Tesco’s diversity and inclusion network.
This is something Bellini has always been involved in and passionate about. She believes diversity and inclusion is the reason she has been “fortunate enough” to have the experiences she’s had.
“People have taken a bet on me – whether I was Italian, working in another country, or didn’t have a degree,” she says.
“[Diversity] should be owned by the business at a top level. We want to really drive the awareness of why it is important and how our colleagues feel they can be themselves at Tesco. If colleagues are more aware they can also help customers more. It’s part of how it shapes our business and I’m hoping it will create that tension and different perspective to do things that we haven’t done before.”
For everything she has achieved, Bellini’s humility is refreshing. This has no doubt played a part in gaining the trust and respect of Tesco CEO and former Unilever colleague, Dave Lewis, as well as her colleagues and team, who she constantly pays tribute to.
“If you are open, honest, humble, confident in your own qualities, expertise and credibility, that works just as hard as what you do,” she says. “It’s what you do and how you do it.”
Indeed. Whether she’s selling bananas, championing diversity or turning the UK’s largest supermarket around, one thing holds true: Alessandra Bellini is no imposter.
Marketing Week’s Marketer of the Year award was based on the ratings of the judges of Marketing Week Top 100, sponsored by Salesforce. For more information go to marketingweek.com/top100
The post Meet Marketing Week’s Marketer of the Year: Alessandra Bellini appeared first on Marketing Week.
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