M&S’s Nathan Ansell on proving the value of customer experience

Nathan Ansell, who was central to the turnaround of M&S Food, now heads up global customer insight across the entire business and is adamant great customer experience comes from making sure all teams have the right access to data.

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Customer data must be shared “as far and wide as possible” within a business to ensure the commercial benefit of investing in customer experience is fully understood by all departments. That is the view of Nathan Ansell, global director of loyalty, customer insight and analytics at M&S and former head of brand and marketing for M&S Food who will be speaking at Marketing Week Live this week (8-9 March).

“It is hugely important, particularly for some of our more commercial colleagues in the organisation, to show there is a direct link between a brilliant customer experience and delivery of results. Part of my job is to make sure everyone has the right access to customer data so people can make the best possible choices,” he says.

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Even though he now works across all parts of the business, Ansell, who was crowned Data Professional of the Year at the Data Storytelling Awards in November, says he still feels very much part of the marketing team.

“Part of marketing’s job is to internalise customer values. We need to make sure we’re doing the right thing by customers every day and doing the best job we can, but ultimately in a way that drives returns and growth for the business. I see it as an important part of my role to help the organisation do that,” he explains.

“We’re working every day to try and improve our processes to make sure that’s happening.”

New M&S boss Steve Rowe said last year that he wants to turn the retailer into a “data-driven business”, partly led by the development of its Sparks loyalty card, for which Ansell is accountable. It provides the retailer with valuable data on how often people visit its stores, what they are interested in and what they are buying.

READ MORE: M&S CEO’s five point plan to revive the brand

Moving from marketing to data

Ansell describes the transition into his current role as “a brilliant learning experience” as it has enabled him to do something that is “linked to marketing but a bit different”.

“It’s still about trying to understand what customers value. Not just the emotional end of being with the customer, but really understanding qualitatively what customers think, feel and do using data science and advanced analytics to study what customer behaviour is in real life – not just what they say they do – and then use that to generate growth.”

READ MORE: Behavioural data can bridge the gap between what consumers say and do

Understanding how to use data and the science behind data analytics will be central for marketers in years to come, he says.

“Good marketers in the future will need to have a really thorough understanding of different data sources and how to use them in their roles. I would go further to say it’s not just a natural progression [for marketers] but a critical part of a marketer’s tool kit. If I were to give someone who is coming into marketing advice, I would say understanding data and analytics right from the beginning of your career will hold you in really good stead.”

Getting the proposition right

As M&S is such a broad business and covers such a “large number of missions”, data is absolutely crucial to understanding what each consumer group needs and wants.

“The truth is that what customers value might be very different. When someone comes to our Waterloo station store they’re rushing to catch a train and might want something delicious to eat on their way home. That’s very different to someone browsing our Marble Arch store on a Saturday afternoon for the perfect suit or a lovely dress, or someone who is stocking up on wardrobe essentials,” says Ansell.

Part of marketing’s job is to internalise customer values.

The Waterloo store, therefore, is set up to make sure someone can come in, find what they want, pay quickly and go on their way. Whereas in a bigger Central London store like Marble Arch the mission is to inspire customers.

“If you look at our Denim Shop, for example, that’s a relatively functional shop. People need to find their size and fit quickly. But if you contrast that to some of our sub-branded areas they are more inspirational. We might try and find ways of signposting outfit ideas and make sure staff in those areas have the correct knowledge and are able to give advice on particular needs.”

This unrelenting focus on the customer and adapted brand positioning is beginning to pay off. The retailer posted a 2.3% rise in sales for its struggling clothing and homeware divisions over the Christmas period, the first time it has done so in two years.

M&S Food continues to perform well too, which is testament to the strong brand positioning developed during Ansell’s previous role as head of brand and marketing of the division. He has described the former strategy for the food business as “inconsistent and schizophrenic” but over the past five years this has been transformed, resulting in continued growth.

“What we hear from customers is that the M&S Food Hall is an exciting place to shop compared to doing a big full shop, which is a necessity but not something they look forward to. That moment of insight was really important for us in terms of us building our strategy,” he says.

“We found that by orientating ourselves around that sense of excitement, it not only provided great stimulus for our TV advertising – we talked about having ‘Adventures In’ which was our TV advertising construct – but it was also great stimulus for teams in stores and for how we plan our strategies too. It was a pivotal moment for us in the food business.”

Working in a collaborative way and using data to understand different customer needs is central to getting brand positioning right – no matter what mission customers are looking to complete.

  • Nathan Ansell will be sharing his insight on how brands can create growth through great customer experience alongside Brand Learning’s Rich Bryson at Marketing Week Live, which takes place on 8 and 9 March. For more information and to register for free visit: www.marketingweeklive.co.uk
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  • adw 13 Feb 2017 at 2:24 am

    you can’t spell

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