M&S’ makeover should be more than skin deep

There’s nothing wrong with a new look – it can do wonders for a company’s profile. But when it’s not based on real change, it can seem like just a hollow gesture.

And there are some hollow gestures occurring in the high street right now, at two of our national retail institutions – Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s.

M&S has had a more sudden fall from grace than Sainsbury’s. The supermarket’s decline from number one has been played out in agonising slow motion. Sainsbury’s has, therefore, had longer to think about what to do and its plan of action is ä a new look.

Meanwhile, M&S has only just pushed itself off the starting blocks, having appointed consultants and new media and advertising agencies to give it, in turn ä a new look.

I’m not suggesting that this is the only measure they have both come up with. Sainsbury’s is also promising “a new philosophy” which gets closer to customers. This includes a checkout captain, who will determine whether they are satisfied with the new service. A new ad campaign by M&C Saatchi tops off this textbook co-ordinated marketing approach.

Admittedly this transcends a mere “new look”, and genuinely attempts to give substance to what will, no doubt, be substantial promotional claims. Outwardly this probably goes far enough. However, at the heart of Sainsbury’s, I hear an echoing empty space. The space is labelled The Big Idea, and in it I hear faint notes of desperation.

Tesco had a big idea when it was number two of the supermarkets. It was called Getting to be Number One. The means to that end were eye-on-the-ball manoeuvres, all precisely aimed at the goal.

This may be a very simple, motivating idea, but that doesn’t reduce its validity. Nor does it reduce the need for Sainsbury’s to have – and express – a big idea of its own. This is because, first, it is the root of differentiation and therefore the basis of choice and, second, it is the root of staff behaviour and therefore the basis of differentiation – a virtuous circle.

The idea should be simple – big but simple – so everyone can remember it. It’s not a slogan, it’s not an ad campaign, it’s not a logo and it’s not even a co-ordinated marketing strategy, although all of these should be led by it and express it. And it’s certainly not customer orientation; that’s just a prerequisite to being in business. It’s about a basic sense of knowing who you are and what you’re there for.

So Sainsbury’s may have got the cart before the horse. New facias and uniforms raises the question rather than answers it. M&S, on the other hand, still has chance to consider, so let’s ask it now, in good time for whenever and whatever measures are announced: what’s the big idea?

Chris Ludlow is a partner of identity consultants Henrion Ludlow & Schmidt

Latest from Marketing Week

NOT REGISTERED? IT'S FREE, QUICK AND EASY!

Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now

THE BEST CONTENT

Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.

THE BIGGEST ISSUES

From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.

PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3711 or email subscriptions@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here