Sainsbury's marketing chief: We can only deliver for our customers when we're joined up

Making the most of the amazing marketing tools available to us means being truly collaborative with all areas of the business, writes Sainsbury's marketing director

The golden age of marketing

There has never been a better time to work in marketing. Fact. I recently attended a training session with Professor Dan Cable at London School of Economics and he reminded me of the concept of the "hedonic treadmill".  It’s the way we very quickly feel a sense of entitlement to products or services that not very long ago would have seemed truly amazing.

As an assistant brand manager at P&G in the late 1990s, if you had interrupted me and told me that I’d be able to deliver a personal message to any one of my customers, based on their location, what time of day it is, even what the weather is like, add to this that I’d then be able to track the impact on sales, I would have told you to keep watching Star Trek.

The industry has undergone a huge amount of change since then. We now have tools at our disposal to understand our customers better than ever before and in the world of retail this has turned the marketing sphere into a whole different ball game.

Competition for customers is at the highest level it’s ever been and marketing is not only at the forefront of understanding what shoppers want, but also crucial to feeding insights into other departments to help deliver that.  

Although the tools we have aren’t yet perfect, they’re moving in the right direction and I do believe if there was ever a "golden age", it is now.

Masters of all trades

The breadth of areas that people in marketing now need to master has reached dizzying levels.

My team is made up of incredibly talented individuals with a vast array of skills. We have brand builders, data analysts, insight practitioners, designers, digital experts, planners, commercial CRM specialists.

As a team, we are truly integrated into the brand, working across all departments to align our overarching strategy to help customers live well for less.

In a business like Sainsbury’s we can only deliver for our customers when we are joined up.  Take our recent launch of our own brand, Sainsbury’s Little Ones baby food range. With product developers, nutritionists, category managers, PR, insight and campaign managers all working brilliantly together we had the ability to create a set of standout products that our customers love.  

As for me, it’s critical to focus and define where I can really add value. I need to be commercially empathetic and competently talk to my colleagues about pricing, supply chain, technology and even agricultural policy.

I also need to always focus on how we put customers at the centre of everything we do. The median UK household disposable income is £26k, I need to ensure we are reaching outside of our bubble and really understanding our customers’ lives.

I genuinely consider myself to be pretty average at most things, but I’m really good at building relationships. My job is to work hand in hand with my peers across the business and role model that for our teams. If we join the strategic dots and always talk to each other, we can do anything together.

A thriving environment  

As a marketing team, we have experienced first-hand just how much change can happen and the impact it can have. The important thing is facing this together, building resilience and a strong team spirit.

While the tools, technology and systems we have to use are important, it’s when creative individuals come together that the golden era of marketing really comes to light.    

I think a lot about how we can create a great environment for our colleagues to not just work, but thrive in. Giving them access to the very best in training and development, providing them with flexibility to manage work and family time, developing an environment where they can bring their whole self to work every day.

Just over a year ago, mental illness led a member of my wider family to take his own life.  It has made me determined to create an open atmosphere where "it’s ok not to be ok". We have mental health champions in each team and aim to create a space where people can be open, honest and always feel supported by their peers.

What does the future hold?

The retail sector is always changing and constantly brings up new challenges for us to face, but I love it. Competition and disruption drives innovation and encourages our team to do a better job for our customers every single day.  

It’s relentless and uncompromising but immensely satisfying to serve 26 million customers a week. There’s no doubt we have an interesting couple of years ahead, but despite the obstacles the country and our sector faces, as a team we’re ready to face it head on as we also have lots to be positive about.

As I write this, the sun is shining, our brand is reaching its milestone 150th birthday next year and it won’t be long until Christmas comes around again!

Mark Given is marketing director at Sainsbury’s and a member of Campaign’s Power 100

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