Magazine article Marketing

Cutting Price

Magazine article Marketing

Cutting Price

Article excerpt

Waitrose's marketing director, Mark Price, has been winning the kind of column inches newspapers usually dedicate to minor pop celebs, after crossing swords with the big boys from Tesco and Sainsbury's on issues from GM foods to loyalty cards in recent weeks.

Price's level of exposure is surprising, given that he had little high-level marketing experience when he was appointed as Waitrose's first ever marketing director less than 18 months ago.

"There was no blueprint for the job. I had no idea working with the media would be such a large part of the role," he confesses. "Waitrose had previously taken a very low key approach to marketing but there was a recognition that we needed to get the message across more strongly. We were being overpowered in the media by the muscle of other supermarkets."

There's little doubt that the 38-year-old marketer enjoys the publicity that his role affords, and it seems to be working for both him and his brand.

Standing in his window office on the fifth floor of the main building at Waitrose's sprawling Bracknell HQ, Price enthusiastically points out the different fresh and frozen food warehouses below.

Despite this lofty position, he's eager to show he's in touch with what is happening on the shop floor.

He has visited every one of the chain's 118 stores and has even worked on the deli counters."Slicing meat was the thing I was least good at - but it helped me understand our positioning and where we want to go," he says.

Waitrose has traditionally kept its brand heritage distinct from rival supermarkets, positioning itself at the high end of the market, firmly away from the 'pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap' approach.

With its home counties roots, the supermarket has a reputation as a "solid middle-class retailer rather than a leading edge innovator", as one industry watcher put it.

Price is certainly a man in tune with the heritage of the business, having spent his entire 17-year career at John Lewis after joining as a graduate trainee in 1982.

Waitrose is part of the John Lewis group, which operates as a partnership rather than a listed business, giving employees a share in the business and a say in how it is run.

Not having to answer to the City for its actions means the group has always done things its own particular way.

While this culture has created a strong customer service ethic and belief in product quality, it has also meant Waitrose's marketing has been less aggressive than its high street rivals.

You get the feeling that Price wants to put this right. …

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