The Road to Brandweek: Kroger’s Mandy Rassi on Why Purpose Is the Biggest Buzzword

How the grocer is making customers part of its purpose-driven philosophy

amanda rassi kroger vp marketing
Mandy Rassi is the vice president of marketing and head of brand building at Kroger.
Kroger

With the advent of online shopping and an explosion of delivery options—including autonomous robots and a service in which personnel actually restock your refrigerator—consumers are no longer limited to the products on the shelves at their local grocery store.

At our upcoming Brandweek event, taking place Nov. 3-6 in Palm Springs, Calif., hear Mandy Rassi, vice president of marketing at grocery giant Kroger, discuss how the 136-year-old retailer—which has 2,800 stores in 35 states and annual sales of $121 billion—distinguishes itself from noisy competitors and maintains relevancy among increasingly demanding consumers.

Adweek sat down with the 14-year Procter & Gamble veteran to get a preview:

How do you navigate marketing and advertising in the age of rapid consumer feedback that can be both good and bad?
Rassi:
I think it’s mainly good. The more we hear from customers, the more we can adjust to make sure we’re offering the right things both in terms of the experience and from a marketing point of view. When we get feedback, it’s also free insights we should use in a more real-time way.

In the past, we may have relied on a survey you get back in six weeks. It’s a gift when feedback is always on. We can keep a pulse on what customers care about, how are we doing, what can we be doing better. … It’s a matter of embracing it and also figuring out where and how to react if there’s a place that needs reacting to in a way that is true to who we are as a company.

What’s the biggest buzzword in the industry today and how is Kroger preparing for it?
Purpose is a really hot one. For Kroger, fortunately, it has always been purpose-led. We are in a place where our humble Midwestern roots—we’re doing a lot in the community, we’re doing things like being a founding partner for Feeding America, but we didn’t want to tell anybody about it. We had a conversation internally, “Why not tell people about this?” and the reaction from our consumer leaders was, “That’s not why we do it. We do it because there shouldn’t be hunger in America, not so we can do marketing around it.”

You have to know what you stand for, and do our actions support the words we’re putting out there? We are well-positioned in that way—it’s authentic to who we are today and who we’ve always been. It’s figuring out the right way to tell that narrative, through Zero Hunger Zero Waste, to give customers a way to be part of it and how to find ways to work together to that end.

What’s the biggest change that your company or your industry has had to contend with in the last two years?
It is no secret that retail is evolving at a rapid pace along with customer shifts in terms of … everything blending together in the digital world and the real world, they are no longer separate things—it’s really impacted the retail industry and marketing as a whole as we try to navigate where the customer is going, particularly if you think about food and the way things evolved, the way people get their food needs met.

In America, there are more options than ever. The way we think about food continues to evolve. There’s almost a renaissance in terms of flavors, taste, and wanting to cook again and experiment. As we see customers evolve, we need to respond in a way to meet them there. … We need to find ways to be available no matter when they want to think about it, how they want to get the job done—it’s rethinking not just marketing, but services, online and in-store.

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