'For me it comes down to trust' - Tesco CEO Dave Lewis

Back in 2009, Dave Lewis said brands had to deliver against expectations. He'll need to take his own advice now at Tesco...

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 15 Oct 2014

Back in the mists of 2009, Dave Lewis - then the chairman of Unilever UK - said brands need to be able to both promise and deliver, at an MT roundtable on corporate reputation. It’s advice he would do well to heed now as he tries to turn around the good ship Tesco, following the jaw-to-the-floor revelation it had overstated its first half accounts by £250m on Monday, while it continues to haemorrhage sales and market share.

‘Whether it is an individual brand or a corporate brand, for me it comes down to trust: do I understand you, do I deliver against your expectations in a meaningful way, is that a brand that I aspire to be part of and relate to?’ Lewis, who took over from the much-maligned Philip Clarke at the start of this month, said.

‘If you come to the heart of a brand, it offers a promise that it needs to deliver. That might be functional, it might be emotional. If it's a good brand, it probably has both.’

Tesco doesn’t have an awful lot of emotional promise. It became Britain’s largest supermarket from being big, cheap and everywhere. Now that Aldi and Lidl are cheaper, Waitrose is munching up middle-class shoppers and consumers are switching to convenience stores and online shopping, it’s a bit Billy-no-mates in the middle.

And now, customers don’t have much reason to trust Tesco either. Who would want to give their money to a company that fiddles its books and, as some suppliers have claimed, doesn’t pay on time?

Even if Lewis does enact the much-needed turnaround, though, he may end up being lumped in with big bad business leaders in the public trust stakes. But he knows that already. ‘I think the issue for the CEOs around this table is that CEOs were only trusted by 18% of people [in the Edelman Trust Barometer], which puts us slightly below politicians and estate agents,’ he said at the 2009 debate.

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