M&S hopes for halo effect with unifying brand campaign

Marks & Spencer is launching its first unified brand campaign as it looks to use its quality credentials to create a halo effect that it hopes will convince more shoppers to buy across the full range of its business.

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The “Only M&S” campaign will launch tomorrow (2 September) and aligns the retailer’s food and general merchandise (GM) marketing under one strapline. M&S tested the idea with its Christmas campaign but this latest marketing push will run across all its communications for at least the 12 months.

Speaking to Marketing Week, M&S’s executive director of marketing and international, Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, says the retailer sensed “the tide was lifting both boats” in its Christmas approach and that consumers were “very comfortable” with the united approach.

“Taking these learnings, this autumn/winter campaign is one that unites for the very first time for the entire season our food and GM approach to consumers across all touchpoints under the ‘Only M&S’ banner executed in a very consistent manner,” he adds.

M&S’s shared heritage is something Bousquet-Chavanne is keen to promote as M&S celebrates its 130th anniversary. He says that while “over the years” M&S’s two businesses have grown “on their own paths” they have much more in common that most people expect.

“The intrinsic values that they share is what the consumer recognises – that great innovation, quality and incredible value. This [marketing] platform brings this all together for the first time in a very visible way,” he adds.

Cross-fertilisation


A substantial proportion – 60 per cent – of M&S shoppers currently shop across both divisions, but that still leaves some 12.8 million customers that are only shopping in either its food or GM business. Bousquet-Chavanne believes there is a big opportunity to grow the business by getting people to shop across categories, with the success of the campaign judged in part on convincing customers that don’t buy both categories to migrate across.

Bousquet-Chavanne hopes this “halo effect” will work both ways, boosting its food business and helping improve GM sales.

M&S’s GM business is still in decline, marking its 12th consecutive quarter of sales falls with a 1.5 per cent decrease in like-for-like sales in the three months to 28 June. Within that division, clothes performed slightly better with sales at stores open for more than a year falling 0.6 per cent and the retailer claimed womenswear is back in growth.

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That is on the back of a big push on womenswear which has seen the retailer hire a new design team and revamp many of its top stores to improve layout and navigation. Bousquet-Chavanne says the GM business is “no longer in intensive care and recovering very nicely” but admits that with the division yet to return to growth it is still not where it needs to be.

Food on the other hand continues to boast strong growth with sales up 1.7 per cent on a like-for-like basis. Last year, food accounted for 55 per cent of M&S’s business, while GM was 45 per cent.

Stephen Springham, senior analyst at Planet Retail, questions why M&S hasn’t brought together its food and GM marketing before given that its grocery and fashion businesses are pitched broadly at the same market. He believes that while the two divisions may be seen as “totally disparate” this is down to the fact that food has been much more successful in catering to its target market than fashion.

“People view the food, fashion and homewares businesses as separate things and in terms of performance they are. Food is flying while fashion is trying hard but is not quite where it needs to be. But in terms of aspiration they are targeting the same sort of customers so bringing them together makes sense, although whether it resonates will remain to be seen,” he says.

While Bousquet-Chavanne is hoping for a boost to both businesses, Springham says it is GM that needs the benefit of a closer association with food. An M&S fashion shopper is likely to already buy food with the retailer, while an M&S food shopper is less likely to also buy clothes there, particularly among the younger under 40 demographic, he claims.

“M&S needs to bridge that gap and convert people to the full order. But that is a tall order,” says Springham.

Reappraising the brand

Beyond stimulating people to shop across the business, Bousquet-Chavanne is also keen to get customers to reappraise the M&S brand, whether that is triggered by GM or food. He hopes consumers will be able to sense the “authority and confidence” of the retailer and that it will “create desire” for its products.

That is why M&S is focusing on quality and the story behind its products. Brand ads for both womenswear and food will “set the stage for why M&S is a unique place to shop”, while a series of product ads will “tell stories only M&S can tell”.

That includes an edit of the latest fashion trends “through the M&S lens”, as well as stories about its craftsmanship in food, provenance and Plan A sustainability programme.

Neil Saunders, managing director at Conlumino, says the decision to emphasise quality is right because M&S cannot win a battle on price as it is not cheapest in either food or fashion. However, he questions whether the quality angle will work as well in clothing and says the marketing push must be part of a wider package of measures, including improvements to store environments and the way the retailer’s ranges are edited and displayed.

“A unified approach may help M&S to maximize its marketing budget but it is problematic in that there is a disjoin between the positions of food and clothing. The quality angle chimes well with the food offer but M&S has more work to do on improving the quality of its clothing,” says Saunders.

Springham also raises concerns that people’s in-store experience will not match up to the brand portrayed in the ads, particularly at older stores that have not been refurbished. Bousquet-Chavanne says his team have done a lot of work improving visual merchandising in stores that have not been revamped, but Springham still believes “execution on the ground” is what might let it down.

“A lot of consumers that might buy into campaign might be disappointed when they visit their local store,” he adds.

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