CMO50 2022 #7: Andrew Hicks

  • Name Andrew Hicks
  • Title Chief marketing officer
  • Company Woolworths Group
  • Commenced role June 2019
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function More than 300 staff
  • Industry Sector Retail
  • 2020 ranking 10
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Consistency and evolution sound like two different approaches to marketing and brand leadership. But one look at Andrew Hicks’ playbook as CMO at Woolworths Group, and the connection between two becomes a winning formula.

    Woolworths Group is one of Australia’s most trusted brands – in fact, it’s been recognised Australia’s most trusted brand for third quarters in a row. It was also crowned Australia’s most valuable brand in 2022 and the ‘healthiest own brand’ for the third year running (George Institute).

    Yet even a solid performer needs to evolve, and Hicks and his brand and reputation (B&R) team have been at the forefront of such evolution for Woolworths Group. In recent years, businesses and teams across Woolworths Group have not only had to navigate a pandemic, but also significant changes to the shape of the Group. This included the demerger of Endeavour Drinks, and a reimagining of the Group’s future as a ‘Food and Everyday Needs’ retail ecosystem.

    Business smarts

    With that in mind, the B&R team needed to play a critical leadership role in reshaping the Group and what that means in a new era. “This was not only about galvanising the internal team on that change but also key stakeholders who could influence the evolution of this changing ecosystem,” Hicks says.

    At the heart of the strategy was a recommitment to the Group’s Purpose, ‘We Create Better Experiences Together for a Better Tomorrow’. The first-ever Group brand framework was developed, along with a new Group symbol and identity to better represent its position today and the collective impact it aspires to have tomorrow.

    With a connected and unified purpose at its heart, the new symbol is about showcasing the impact Woolworths Group makes when it comes together and in partnership with others to create change for a better tomorrow, Hicks says. “The commitment to purpose was key to the design architecture,” he says.

    “But importantly, the new Group symbol, the accompanying brand strategy and narrative was only the start of the impact the B&R teams have on this fundamental shift in the ecosystem. It has led to a complete evolution of the way in which the Group communicates to the Government, shareholders, key stakeholders and also internally to our 200,000 strong team.”

    Supporting this is a renewed and refreshed employee value proposition (EVP). This was critical not only to retain talent, but also ensure the right talent is recruited in new areas of development, Hick says.

    “The early signs of the positive impact on the Group are already showing just six months in, with the strengthening of core reputation metrics. We’ve seen the Group retain leadership within the core retail sector in Australia as well as strong improvements in metrics across citizenship, community and workplace thanks to consistent communications from the Group across channels key to our stakeholders.”

    In addition, the B&R team has taken a leadership role in how the business meets changing dynamics of the sector. “The competitive landscape is changing dramatically, particularly with the growth of multi-channel players and marketplaces entering the Australian market and building their own ecosystems,” Hicks comments. “Customers are demanding convenient and simplified ways to shop, with greater personalisation, curated choices and value across a range of everyday needs beyond groceries.

    It’s these insights behind the B&R team’s holistic Brand Architecture for the entire retail ecosystem. It’s introduced new clarity and concepts in the process and is being realised through shared campaign and promotional events as well as how Woolworths tailors its services to meet the needs of customers.

    “While still early days, the strategic work of the B&R team has been at the forefront of the launch and growth of the Everyday brand with the launch of Everyday Market [Marketplace] and Everyday Extra [Subscriptions],” Hicks says.

    Innovative marketing

    Another example of evolution through consistent brand approach is Hicks and the team’s work on the platform, ‘Today’s Fresh Food People’, which debuted in 2021.

    “We’ve been known as The Fresh Food People in our supermarkets business in the Group for more than 30 years; it’s an important part of our identity, equity and heritage. But given the huge challenges and changes the community has had to navigate over recent years, it was the right time to start a new chapter with Today’s Fresh Food People,” Hicks explains. “This is a recommitment to our most powerful brand asset and, with the addition of ‘Today’s’, an overt reimagining to help support the conversion of passive brand advocates into promoters. It’s about fundamentally shifting what customers understand Woolworths to stand for, reinterpreted for a modern context.”

    Based on extensive customer listening, research and collaboration with long-term partners at House of Brands and within the Greenhouse, Woolworths’ bespoke joint agency model with M&C Saatchi, Today’s Fresh Food People is about putting customers' current and future priorities at the forefront. It’s supported by Woolworths’ ambition to be the country’s most loved and trusted brand.

    With Fresh still at the core, five defined customer propositions helped make sense of Today’s Fresh Food People: Celebrating Australian Fresh, Making Healthier Easier, Growing Greener, Caring for all Australians, and Shopping your Way – with Get your Woolies Worth, the company’s proprietary value platform.

    “All key areas aligned to what customers expected of us as the leading Australian supermarket – both in our commitment to them and also the Australian community,” Hicks says. “More than just a brand platform, customers have been able to experience what Today’s Fresh Food People means across their entire shopping experience, whether online or in-store, as well as an ongoing commitment to making healthier products more affordable. This was an important shift putting the brand team at the heart of commercial decision-making around new product development and what products went on promotion during the key seasonal periods.”

    The re-imagined Today’s Fresh Food People platform kicked off with a new brand campaign premiered during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games. The launch quickly exceeded expectations and delivered instant positive impact across multiple brand metrics. As the platform evolved, Woolworths has continued to see consistent leads against competitors in areas of fresh, sustainability, affordable health and community as well as a variety of personality metrics including ‘leader’ and ‘modern’.

    “The brand platform has been embraced by marketers and managing directors across the Woolworths Food Group and has seen it act as a galvanising strategy and execution across Woolworths at Work, Woolworths Metro and Woolworths Food Company, and more,” Hicks says.

    The modernity exhibited through the simple addition of ‘Today’s’ also saw Woolworths become the first Australian supermarket to embrace TikTok, chalking up 15 million views, 100,000 followers and 2 million engagements in the first six months. In addition, it’s driven app downloads and been utilised in Everyday Rewards program promotions.

    “Encouragingly, we have seen the brand Net Promoter Score grow over the year since launch, along with a positive shift in moving passive customers to promoters,” Hicks says. “Today’s Fresh Food People continues to resonate strongly with our customers. It has provided a real point of competitive difference around supporting customers at a time when inflation and cost-of-living pressures weigh heavily on customers' minds.

    “Our data and regular customer listening indicated customers were looking for reassurance and we were the first brand to commit to holding prices stable till the end of the year across hundreds of products. This ensures all Australians can afford to eat healthily by dropping the price on healthy foods.”

    Woolworths’ Australian Food sales increased 4.5 per cent in FY22, with above-market growth in every quarter of the year, coupled with strong market share growth.

    Business smarts

    To achieve such work, Woolworths Group has been transforming the Brand and Reputation teams for the new era and to meet shifting expectations of customers, teams and stakeholders. Critical elements of change include removing duplication, streamlining ways of working and building world-class capabilities.

    “We moved from more siloed operating rhythms to begin the build of agile teams working across the Group and across various tribes to deliver more focused and aligned work. We’re doing this while also building capabilities within specific aligned practices and Group chapters,” Hicks explains.

    “These practices and chapters are truly Group-wide for the first time. Not only does this create a remarkable opportunity for upskilling, learning via osmosis and collective problem solving, it has also resulted in entirely new career paths. Marketing capabilities across the Group have started to come together as a Group Platform leveraging consistency, capability uplift and the opportunity to help build best-in-class frameworks and ways of working across the Group. It’s also led to a more ‘joined up’ talent experience and greater visibility of career opportunities and development.”

    Brand directors are leading tribes across Group, Woolworths and Everyday brands as part of the agile shift.

    “As part of the leadership structure, it was important we not only secured some of the most experienced leaders in brand and marketing within Australia but acknowledge the significant impact and contributions our existing leaders had respectively played for the Group over the last few years with the establishment of new roles and remits,” Hicks continues. “Integrating our agency structure into these agile models has also been key to early success and will continue to evolve through the Greenhouse Model. This model of orchestration across internal and external partners was established over five years ago and others in the sector are now emulating it.

    “With significant growth in omnichannel engagement and with customers seeking inspiration to make the everyday easier, we also identified the opportunity to decouple creative and production by in-housing a number of content delivery services to support scale and agility in storytelling.

    “By doing this, we’ve been able to build capability and create data and insight-driven content that meets the needs of customers at pace, whatever platform that might be on.”

    The evolution of the agile operating model within Woolworths Group’s Brand & Reputation is an ongoing project. But Hicks is proud of how it’s also delivering improved training outcomes and team engagement.

    To help with performance and personal development, Hick has spearheaded a development program for the B&R leadership team in partnership with YSC Consulting to help each leader develop a clear understanding of their strengths and identify opportunities for further development. The multistage program involves extensive stakeholder feedback, development assessments, and ongoing coaching programs with plans and goals developed aligned with the Group’s objectives. As an extension of this, each leadership team member has been assigned an individual coach from YSC.

    “The most important component has been sharing each individual's strengths with peers and acknowledging how the team can collectively deliver better outcomes together when understanding each other's strengths, weaknesses, and areas of development,” Hicks says.

    As part of the agile restructure, Brand and Reputation also overhauled its training and development program, including a reset of team meetings and celebrations. Weekly showcases are held, along with 20 Together meetings on a Tuesday, where staff share and celebrate key moments or milestones for 20 minutes. Monthly WeConnect updates to further deep dive into the wider Brand and Reputation teams work are held too.

    “While the evolution of the agile operating model within Woolworths Group’s Brand & Reputation is still early days, it is already delivering improved training outcomes, opportunities for driving a higher performance culture and improving voice-of-team scores as a result of the dedicated chapter time within key disciplines,” Hicks concludes.

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