Sainsbury’s – A Lesson in Rebranding

Sainsbury’s – A Lesson in Rebranding

A wise man learns from other people, both what they do well and what they do badly.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at this week’s hot topic in marketing – Sainsbury’s reworking of its lunchtime meal deal.

If you belong to the school of thought which says all publicity is good publicity, then Sainsbury has certainly scored a win. Even major mainstream publications such as the BBC website are reporting on the change and on the social media outrage it has caused.  If you belong to the school of thought which says being liked in cyberspace is everything then the change is a catastrophe.  If, like us, you believe that success is judged by end results, then it’s worth taking a closer look at what Sainsbury has actually done.

The background

Shops of all sizes use meal deals to get people through the doors at lunchtime.  Properly managed, the meal deals make a profit in themselves, plus the more people come through a shop’s door, the more likely it is that they‘ll walk away with extra purchases, even at lunchtime.  Sainsbury has just changed its £3 “On the Go” meal deal, so that it excludes its premium brand “Taste the Difference” products.  This has gone down badly with social media users, who see it as making the deal less valuable.

What did Sainsbury get wrong?

Sainsbury’s actions have created a perception that they’re giving consumers less for their money in that the meal deal is the same price even though the premium options are now excluded.  Sainsbury has repeatedly stated that it believes that the offering overall has been improved, but so far has provided nothing to substantiate this.  Furthermore, Sainsbury parachuted in these changes without any prior warning, let alone consultation, in sharp contrast to the fanfare when they extended the range in 2014.

What did Sainsbury get right?

Interestingly, Sainsbury has been quick to respond to social media comments and indeed, enquiries from mainstream media and all responses have been largely “on message”, the message being that Sainsbury sees the changes as an improvement and believes that most people are happy with them or will be happy with them if they actually give them a try.  This suggests that Sainsbury does have enough staff to be able to manage the increased social media activity, which could be taken as a sign that they were expecting it.

What’s the lesson?

It’s hard to know whether or not this was genuine clumsiness on the part of Sainsbury or if they had a good idea of the likely reaction and decided just to try to contain the social media storm in a cyber-teacup.  Presumably Sainsbury thinks that the dust will settle and that business will carry on much as normal and has a plan to backtrack if not.  A company their size is arguably far more likely to have the financial resources to gamble on people just accepting the situation because it’s too inconvenient for them to go elsewhere (or because they can’t really afford to) than smaller counterparts.  Smaller companies might well want to take this as a lesson in the dangers of making changes by stealth rather than taking the time to find out from customers what they actually want (or convincing customers that the planned changes are what they actually want).