In uncertain times, it is more important than ever to share experience, insights and advice with your peers so we can all learn from one another. With this in mind, we are having conversations with members across various sectors to understand how they and their teams have adapted their marketing strategies throughout the pandemic, what they have learned from it, and how they prepare to return to the new normal.

For this week’s instalment in the series we’ve chatted to Shane Lynch, Marketing Manager, SuperValu

MII: Hi Shane, how has your approach to marketing changed over the past year, and will this continue into the new normal?

One-word AGILITY! We had an existing culture programmed called “Fresh Eyes” that empowered all team members to consistently look at new ways to make positive changes to how we work, and this mindset helped us to adjust when the pandemic hit. When we began to adapt into a new reality in April/May 2020 we quickly identified the need to be agile in everything we do, and proactively make changes in real time to support our shoppers.

One thing the pandemic has taught us, is that plans can change overnight and we all now have the skills to be agile and adaptable. We are beginning to get back into a long term planning focus as the end game hopefully approaches and this will have real positive impact on ways of working. Being agile within our plans will absolutely continue but I believe in a more considered way through mid campaign reviews and scenario planning.

How did you adapt your brand to connect with consumers during this time?

At SuperValu, supporting local communities is a core part our brand DNA. Our store owners are local entrepreneurs who know and understand their shoppers very well. This long-standing relationship helped us get a grasp on the key needs of our shoppers when the pandemic hit.

Once the initial crisis passed, we focused on real time shopper insights. We increased our social listening resource capacity and set a target of max 30minute response time which we achieved. We also set up a COVID shopper panel through our loyalty programme shoppers who we communicated with every week. These practical steps coupled with our retailer on the ground insights helped us understand and proactively deliver relevant actions and campaigns.

We were first out with hand sanitiser stations and plexi glass at tills. We partnered with the GAA & Centra to deliver food to those most vulnerable in our communities while also increasing our on-line shopping delivery capacity. When our shoppers needed cooking inspiration, we partnered with RTE to bring live cooking demos and when money got tight for a lot of shoppers post lockdown we cut our prices on fruit and veg products.

As we move to normality, we will get even closer to our shoppers. In time, once restrictions allow, we look forward to deeper qualitative conversations with our shoppers to ensure we continue to meet their needs.

What was the most important lesson you learnt from a marketing perspective during the pandemic?

To paraphrase Bryon Sharpe “Focus on distinctive brand assets”, this has been paramount to SuperValu’s success over the past year. Our brand essence of “Real Food Real People” really came to the fore for shoppers in a meaningful way.

Firstly, we are the only large retailer where stores are independently owned by local people. This is the magic dust of the SuperValu brand and it makes us distinctive in that every store reacts and adapts in a real way to their community. We focused on our community support at key times over the past 12 months and this has really resonated with shoppers because its tangible.

Secondly our food, we pride ourselves on working with the best Irish producers to deliver a quality food offering. We won our most ever Great Taste and Blas na hÉireann awards last year and our food experts create delicious fresh meals in store every day. Throughout the past 12 months we have focused on our amazing quality food while also ensuring we communicated our low-price own brand range.

What are you most proud of from a marketing perspective that you and your brand team have delivered?

It has to be our Christmas TV advert “is he coming”. The public reaction was something truly humbling and it was a special moment for our team and agency partners. It also created a real positive talking point in our stores between our staff and shoppers, this was so important as our store staff had been working so hard on the front line all year and we wanted to create something that they would be proud of.

Back in August 2020 we asked our shopper panel to write a letter to their future self on what Christmas will be like later that year. The responses were incredible, all about family and seeing loved ones and sharing a hug. The creative team workshopped ideas and presented back to us in early September, “Is he coming” was the 4th idea in 7… it stopped us in our tracks right there, we didn’t need to see the 5th , 6th or 7th. The production team at H2 then went to work and couldn’t have done a better job, in particular casting the star of the advert Cian Kearny as Conor. When we launched, we went viral with Irish people aboard proudly sharing the SuperValu ad, its something we will all cherish for a long time.

The team at TBWA were just amazing and this topped off a special year in our relationship. A big thanks to our account team of Yvonne Caplice and Ronnie Ohana and the creative minds of Paul Arthurs and Martin Corcoran who in my opinion are the Lennon & McCartney of Irish Advertising.

What did you learn about yourself over the last 15 months?

I’ve learned to focus on, and be thankful for the positives in my life. I was lucky enough to be working with a company trading during the lockdowns and to be able to work virtually from the safety of my home with an amazing team of positive high energy marketers and agency partners. I have a healthy and fun-loving family with 3 small kids who bring such a positive energy to each day, although it was a godsend when the schools opened for sure!

And key to all of this is to foster and grow strong relationships both on a personal and professional level. I know it’s a cliché but as a team we are all closer than ever and this was so palpable when we had the honour of winning team of the year at the MII Awards 2021. I just can’t wait until we all meet up later this year to celebrate in style!