CLOSE-UP: CLIENT OF THE WEEK - M&S adopts consistent front brand image. Alan McWalter believes the brand will turn the corner, Francesca Newland writes

It has entered into popular dinner party conversation: ’What has gone wrong at Marks & Spencer?’ The fascination highlights not only that M&S is a brand exceptionally close to the hearts of the British public, but also that it’s such a difficult question to answer. Enter Alan McWalter, the retailer’s marketing director, who has to work out what is wrong with M&S and then put it back on the tracks.

It has entered into popular dinner party conversation: ’What has

gone wrong at Marks & Spencer?’ The fascination highlights not only that

M&S is a brand exceptionally close to the hearts of the British public,

but also that it’s such a difficult question to answer. Enter Alan

McWalter, the retailer’s marketing director, who has to work out what is

wrong with M&S and then put it back on the tracks.



He has enlisted the expertise of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R to

help him. The agency has little retail experience but must have come up

with a convincing strategy to beat BMP DDB to the pounds 27 million

task.



McWalter and Rainey Kelley are keeping stum about the strategy, except

in general terms.The plan is to present a consistent image - hardly

rocket science - but it is a bit of a departure.



McWalter says: ’We have spent more on ads than people have bargained for

(pounds 20 million last year) but the activities we have run have been

discreet to the different product areas. We are determined to get

unification. M&S has been too fragmented historically.’



So the consumer will be presented with a consistent image, with all the

activity building into the big M&S brand.



But the problem with presenting M&S as a single brand is that it has a

diverse market. The food shops are upmarket while the clothing is mass

market. McWalter is not phased by the divergence: ’Be it food or

clothing there are key characteristics in common. Quality is one and

it’s incredibly important how much passion that can be invoked in

customers about the issue of quality.’



He also says he has invested a lot of time in research, in discovering

how consumers perceive M&S and who those consumers are. ’You can’t say

there is any one typical M&S customer,’ he says. Through the research,

he feels he has identified the varied customer segments and intends to

target them individually with more tailored offers.



At the core of McWalter’s turnaround programme is supplying customers

with what they want. It’s a strategy so simple it seems obvious but the

retailer has been guilty of not putting the customer first. McWalter

feels M&S has failed to adapt to a competitive environment and a more

sophisticated consumer.



Branding campaigns take a long time to sink in but McWalter is confident

that the turnaround won’t take long although he would not give a

specific timescale. He thinks there is so much currency in the M&S brand

that the task is attainable. ’I can’t think of a better marketing job. I

relish the challenge of redirecting M&S.’



McWalter’s credentials are impressive. Before he joined M&S in January,

he oversaw the transformation of Woolworths away from its dowdy past.

And his board-level appointment, a first for an M&S marketer, shows he

has the management backing he needs.



He is also in the lucky position of being able to introduce some

textbook marketing principles, beautiful in their simplicity, which

should probably have been put into place years ago.



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