Sainsbury’s Communications Strategy

By John Dudovskiy
July 15, 2012

The third largest supermarket in UK, J Sainsbury plc (Sainsbury’s) has been founded in 1869, and currently has 890 stores that consist of 547 supermarkets and 343 convenience stores. The company has 150,000 employees and serves more than 19 million customers a week (Company Overview, 2011, online).

Sainsbury’s operates mainly in three segments (J Sainsbury’s plc, 2011, online):

  • supermarket and convenience retailing;
  • Sainsbury’s Bank joint venture financial services;
  • Property investment through British Land joint venture and Land Securities joint venture.

Sainsbury’s has a range of stakeholders to deal with. A stakeholder can be defined as “someone who has invested money into something, or has some important connection with it” (Chorley et al, 2008, p.2). According to Kozami (2002) stakeholders can be divided into two categories: internal and external.

An internal stakeholder for the company is someone who works for the company and therefore is interested in various aspects of the business. External stakeholder, on the other hand, is someone who is interested in the performance and other aspects of the business, even though the individual does not work for the company.

Sainsbury’s internal stakeholders include shareholders of the company, managers at all levels and other employees of the company. External stakeholders of Sainsbury’s, on the other hand, include customers of the company, its numerous suppliers, and the local communities, as well as governments Sainsbury’s operates in.

At has also to be mentioned that Sainsbury’s internal stakeholders can be external stakeholder of the company at the same time. For example, Sainsbury’s employees who also happen to be local residents are the type of individual who are internal and external stakeholders at the same time.

Effectiveness of Sainsbury’s Communication Strategy 

Sainsbury’s communication strategy comprises most of the elements of popular communication strategy that include advertisement, letters, newsletters, oral communication, company magazine, formal letters, reports, news conferences, new releases etc.

Newsletters are one of the most important components of Sainsbury’s communication strategy. This fact has been acknowledged by other authors as well by statements like “newsletters, such as those produced by BP or Sainsbury’s, usually appear regularly with information and news about the organisation and more chatty personal, social and sporty items” (Lewis and Trevitt, 2000, p.73)

Sainsbury’s magazine is another cornerstone of company’s communication strategy that features various home and kitchen advises recipes from around the world, different lottery games etc (Sainsbury’s Magazine, online, 2011). Currently, Sainsbury’s magazine is being used as one of the main communication tools in order to communicate with various internal and external stakeholders of the company.

Morton (2010) informs that Sainsbury’s has been engaged in a range of celebrity endorsements as well, attracting such personalities as celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in order to communicate its marketing message to one of its main external stakeholders, that is Sainsbury’s consumers.

Moreover, a single communication channel that is aimed at a wide range of stakeholders is considered to be Annual Report published by the company, a document that summarises past performance of the company, formulates its future plans regarding many aspects of the business.

However, while devising and implementing the communication strategy of the company Sainsbury’s management is not giving due importance to cultural differences among its internal and external stakeholders. Cultural differences among Sainsbury’s internal and external stakeholders affect the way these stakeholders perceive the communication messages initiated by the company, and therefore, this issue needs to be addressed by the company in an appropriate manner.

 New Communication Strategy for Sainsbury’s

A new communication strategy has to be devised for Sainsbury’s that takes into account differences in beliefs, values, customs and language among its stakeholders.

It is important to note that “a communication strategy cannot exist in isolation; it is more than a set of proposed actions. An effective communication strategy needs to develop out of overall business strategy” (Barker and Angelopulo, 2005, p.357).

Moreover, communication with different group of stakeholders pursues different objectives, and therefore appropriate communication channels should be selected in order to achieve these objectives.

New communication strategy for Sainsbury’s has to have provisions for effective communication with following stakeholders of the company taking into account cultural differences:

  • Consumers;
  • Employees;
  • Suppliers;
  • Government;
  • Financial institutions;
  • Media.

Consumers, as external stakeholders of the company are important to be addressed by Sainsbury’s effectively, because the performance of the company depends on consumers. Samovar et al (2009) warn that integrated marketing communication messages that do not take into account cultural differences might be perceived differently by the representatives of various cultures, and might cause misunderstandings and even negative associations with the brand. For instance, the majority of Jewish and Muslim people do not consume pork due to their religious and cultural differences. And Sainsbury’s will be risking losing some customers among the representatives of these cultures if the company engages in advertising its pork products in areas where Jewish or Muslim people mostly reside.

Accordingly, under Sainsbury’s new communication strategy cultural differences among its customers have to be taken into account when devising marketing and other messages.

Sainsbury’s employees are internal stakeholders that are communicated with the purposes of motivation and informing. Differences in motivation among representatives of various cultures have been mentioned by Adler and Gundersen (2008). Accordingly, Sainsbury’s new communication strategy suggests that the type and cultural background of each member of workforce has to be studied by line manager and obtained information should be used when motivating the employee or communicating with that employee for various other purposes.

Sainsbury’s new communication strategy relates to its suppliers as well. The communication channels used in relation to suppliers include oral, written and online communication. Due to the fact that Sainsbury’s is one of the largest multinational companies in UK, its suppliers are the representatives of various countries and cultures as well. Therefore, each Sainsbury’s supplier has to be communicated with talking into account their cultural differences.

Sainsbury’s new communication strategy has provisions for communicating with society as well. Sainsbury’s communication with society each relevant store of the company operates in is required in order to engage in Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. Because each society within any given region is different to a certain extent in term of values, customs, and beliefs, these differences need to be dealt with by Sainsbury’s when initiating any forms of corporate social responsibility initiatives.


The success of any business entity depends on the level and effectiveness of cooperation with its various stakeholders. Because each group of stakeholders has different objectives, the choice of channels used to communicate with them varies according to the type of the stakeholders. Sainsbury’s is currently utilising a communication strategy in order to transmit various messages to various types of company stakeholders.

However, the current report has identified that the most elements of Sainsbury’s communication strategy that includes Sainsbury’s Magazine, celebrity endorsements and a range of other measures do not take into account the fact that the company’s various stakeholders are representatives of various cultural background. In other words, people who represent Sainsbury’s stakeholders differ among each-other on the basis of belief, customs, values; language etc. and these differences affect the communication messages sent by Sainsbury’s.

Therefore, Sainsbury’s senior level management is recommended to adopt a new communication strategy explained in this report. Proposed new communication strategy does not differ from the current communication strategy exercised by Sainsbury’s fundamentally, and changes to the current strategy mainly relate to the cultural differences of various stakeholders. In other words, the new communication strategy the current report proposes for Sainsbury’s advices the management to take into account cultural differences, i.e. differences in values, customs, traditions, religion, language etc. associated with each individual segment of stakeholder when communicating various messages with that segment.



Category: Strategy