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
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
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.