Tesco has been an interesting story to follow over the last decade. They are the behemoth of the UK supermarket industry. They have expanded globally at an impressive rate and have settled into first place in the Big 4 (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and ASDA).  Their last 2 years haven’t been so stellar, culminating in them reporting profits massively down a few weeks ago as the cost of various write downs and the closing of their US business hit their balance sheets.

Terry Leahy did a great job over the course of his tenure, but standards had started to slip and he gave his successor, Philip Clarke, what could charitably be called a hospital pass. To reverse the loss, they have announced a change in their marketing to get back the love that customers had for them. I think this is where many in the marketing function go astray.

The primary purpose of a business is to drive sales. Everything we do is either with the purpose of driving short term or long term sales. Direct response marketing is mostly about driving short term sales and branding is about driving short, medium and long term sales. The inability of so many marketers to face this is a black mark on the function and the reason so many marketing departments struggle to get representation on the board.

I’ve read a number of marketing books from the 1960s, most notably “Confessions of an Advertising Man”, and it is clear that Ogilvy et al were clear that their purpose was to create more sales, and consequently a lot of their focus was on direct marketing.

Over the last 50 years, this has been largely diluted and today’s marketers feel more comfortable talking about social media and engagement metrics than they do discussing a balance sheet. I understand the urge. When you are held to the success of the sales figure, there is no way to talk around it, you either hit it or you didn’t. However, trying to quantity 10,000 retweets leaves enough room to manoeuvre as it is hard to tie to sales.

Many brands have enjoyed watching the Apple renaissance, with their share price rocketing and their obsessed fanboys queuing outside for days simply to be the first to buy the new version of essentially the same phone as the previous version.

I find the use of love when it comes to brands inappropriate as it comes from the same place as words like engagement and confuses the objective, which is for customers to buy your products. If they buy them and find they satisfy what they need, they’ll tell others about that.

Where Tesco went wrong wasn’t that customers fell out of love with them. Compared to the competition their products weren’t as high a quality, their stores started degrading, their advertising wasn’t connecting with customers and their prices weren’t as low as they were. Tesco also had an early mover advantage of having stores in a convenient location. Customers now often have a choice of at least 2 of the Big 4 when choosing where to shop and customers will more often pick convenience when the choices are broadly similar. For those that didn’t notice, this parapgraph was simply the 4 Ps of marketing.

Where Tesco is wrong is that customers never loved them in the first place. Outside a (very) vocal minority, they don’t love Apple either, despite the words they use. They find that their products satisfy a want, whether artificially created by clever marketing or not.

What Tesco need to do is fix what has gone wrong and customers will buy from them, which they will do when they better than the other options. Love has got nothing to do with it.