If Diane Dietz could have her way, she would be having face-to-face conversations with all of Safeway’s customers in all of its supermarkets every day, trying to learn how to make their lives easier.
Obviously, Dietz, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at the Pleasanton, Calif.-based company, can’t physically be in all 1,650 locations, but through the use of technology, she is getting closer to approximating that experience. And she is succeeding in making shopping easier for the chain’s customers in myriad ways.
In recognition of her work on the rollout of Just for U, Safeway’s customizable marketing program, and her efforts promoting value and boosting the chain’s image as a health-and-wellness solutions provider, SN has named Dietz the winner of its 2013 Marketer of the Year award.
The award, sponsored by Acosta Sales & Marketing, Jacksonville, Fla., is scheduled to be presented this week at the Food Marketing Institute Midwinter Executive Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. The award is presented annually to a supermarket marketing executive who has demonstrated innovation and success.
In an interview with SN, Dietz said Just for U was a logical innovation that stemmed from a basic need shoppers have to facilitate their shopping trips, their bargain-hunting and their coupon use, coinciding with the ubiquity of digital media.
“It was an idea that started several years ago as a cross-section of the rise in digital media, and people being very connected through the use of their cell phones and computers, and then this whole idea of personalizing and developing one-on-one relationships with our customers.
“It started with our loyalty program, and it grew from there.”
In presentations to investors last year, Steve Burd, Safeway’s chairman and chief executive officer, described Just for U as a “game changer” that drives incremental sales and provides the backbone for multiple marketing opportunities.
Safeway has exceeded its goal of having 5 million customers register for the program, and in recent presentations with analysts, Safeway has said it has well over 1 million customers who regularly use the Just for U platform.
To use the program, customers can register on the company’s website, where they can access digital coupons and offers tailored to their specific shopping behaviors.
Read more: Dietz Receives Award at FMI Midwinter
Just for U began rolling out in 2010, and Dietz explained that the company took a very deliberate approach, constantly monitoring feedback and making tweaks as needed.
“We looked at it as being in a test-and-learn mode, where we can learn as we go, instead of a national rollout,” she said.
The company enrolled as many of its store-level employees as it could before introducing Just for U to customers, so that workers could provide feedback and help the company make modifications before the program was introduced to the public in each market. Having the employees use it first also armed them with the knowledge needed to assist customers in registering and using Just for U, like restaurant waiters and waitresses who meet with the chef to sample new menu items.
Read more: Safeway Is Counting on U
“We feel that our in-store personnel are the biggest ambassadors for what we do,” Dietz explained. “So hearing from them what worked and what didn’t work was integral to the rollout of this program. We wanted them to experience it just like a customer would experience it.
“The best way to get an advocate is to create a raving fan of your own employees, because they are the ones who are one-on-one with our shoppers every day, they are the ones getting the questions, and they are the ones getting complaints if it doesn’t work. They are very important parts of the whole equation.”
In addition to holding face-to-face meetings and phone conferences with employees to gather feedback, Safeway also monitored calls to its call center to further understand how customers were responding to the program.
Employees were also actively engaged in registering new users for Just for U. Rather than have a sign-up desk in each store where customers would be forced to take the initiative, Safeway took a proactive approach.
Leveraging an idea that actually came from store-level employees, Safeway provided store workers with iPads so they could roam the aisles and checkout lanes, looking for people who had coupons, or who otherwise were interested in the program.