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Co-op’s digital boss on its new-found agility: ‘coronavirus has been a learning curve’

As Covid-19 unfolded, the Co-op was forced to adapt its media strategy daily to keep customers in the loop / Co-op

With brands and their agencies having been forced to mobilise quickly in order to meet customer expectations and demand, advertisers – such as the Co-op – are coming out the other side of a Covid-19 learning curve with a more “lean and agile” marketing model.

The UK’s sixth-largest supermarket chain faced high levels of demand for produce in the early stages of the pandemic (much like its rivals) as people flocked to stockpile essential goods. In line with this, the Co-op was forced to adapt its media strategy daily to keep customers in the loop.

“It was rapid-fire communications,” explained the retailer’s head of digital marketing, Caroline Beesley, during an interview filmed as part of The Drum’s Digital Transformation Festival. “Sometimes we were having multiple communications going out every day, and there were hours taken between making decisions and making changes.”

The group instigated daily catch-ups (done remotely of course) with its digital agency Kin + Carta in order to keep on top of operational changes.

Decisions were made based on customer data, with a daily review being instigated around what customers were asking the Co-op’s customer services team and what they were talking about on social. “This allowed us to triage which channels needed to take on those messages,” Beesley added.

With community at the heart of its brand purpose, the Co-Op quickly spotted an opportunity to help ease the strain on food banks, which since the start of the crisis have been facing a drop in donations as people focused on hoarding for their own cupboards. As such, the brand decided to partner with food charity FareShare making its own £1.5m pledge and calling on its shoppers to donate their own money to feed the 1.5 million people at risk of hunger across Britain during the pandemic.

Along with creative agency of record Lucky Generals and Kin + Carta, the Co-op quickly cobbled together a TV campaign to promote the tie-up, dropping its Easter TV ad blitz and instead airing a spot that featured real footage of ‘local heroes’ who were feeding the nation.

“We’ve never got a TV campaign out in the space of a week before,” laughed Beesley. “It was a huge effort from us and our partners to collect the content, edit the script and so on. It was all done in the space of a week. Whether we would stick to that lead time again I’m not too sure, but it was certainly a learning curve for us.”

As customers move from a “reactive” phase to more of an “adaptive” one, Beesley said the Co-op will continue to innovate its marketing and media plans to reach them in these uncertain times.

“We can see that in the search trends they’re following and the questions they’re asking us, so we’re adapting our communications around that too,” she said.

You can watch the full interview featuring Beesley and Kin + Carta’s senior account director here. You can also view more content from The Drum's Digital Transformation Festival here.

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