How M&S strikes a balance between ‘crazy creative’ and going ‘too safe’

Risk taking is necessary if a brand intends to stand out, according to Marks & Spencer’s marketing boss for food and hospitality, but they mustn’t go so far they lose the brand’s identity.

Taking a risk “is just a way of life now” and something Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) marketing director for food and hospitality, Sharry Cramond, encourages.

“If no one ever took a risk we wouldn’t have any businesses,” she said, speaking on a panel at the latest Oystercatchers Club event yesterday (26 March).

Risk can often lead to reward but Cramond acknowledges there’s also danger in taking it too far, which is why she believes it’s importance to be strategically creative while marrying analytics with gut instinct.

“If we’re launching something new and we don’t feel slightly nervous then we’ve probably gone too safe and haven’t gone far enough,” she said.

“But what I don’t want is for people to be ‘crazy creative’. Everyone can come up with risky, crazy things to do but it has to be based on strategy and what the business wants to do too.”

With life on the high street more competitive than ever, taking a risk is essential in order to increase brand awareness and stand out in a crowded market, but as Cramond pointed out, M&S must ensure its identity doesn’t get lost when taking creative risks.

“You need to take a risk to make sure you get noticed, but not so someone says, ‘what an amazing campaign, but who was it for?’,” she said.

“I never want any of my campaigns to be the ones where the customers say it was great, funny and had good creative, but they can’t remember which brand it was for. Because then I will know we failed.”

If we’re launching something new and we don’t feel slightly nervous then we’ve probably gone too safe.

Sharry Cramond, Marks & Spencer

When it comes to convincing the wider team to take risks, Cramond said you firstly need to back yourself and your ideas, particularly when in a position of leadership and working alongside any potential doubters.

“When you present it [your idea] everyone has to believe in you, but if you hesitate for a second, people will be much less likely to go ahead with it,” she said.

Trusting your own instincts and developing faith in your beliefs can be tricky which is why Cramond said it’s important to be confident.

She mentioned a period from her childhood when she was living in a run-down council estate in Scotland and had to wear a second-hand uniform because her parents couldn’t afford a new one, which was a different shade of blue.

Each time a classmate would point out the fact she was dressed in a different coloured jumper, she’d offer the same simple response: “I know, but I prefer this colour.”

Cramond says it was a significant turning-point in her life and taught her a number of valuable lessons that have proven useful during her career.

“We need to watch the self-talk because if you tell yourself something over and over it can become your truth, so I try to watch what I’m saying to myself a lot. I also learned that it’s okay to be different. In marketing it’s definitely okay to be different and you need to be different.”

A different view

Also speaking on the panel was Twitter’s vice-president for EMEA, Bruce Daisley, who said he believes the advancement of digital technology is killing creative thinking because it removes moments of boredom, which is often when great ideas surface.

“People often have their creative ideas when they’re in that in-between, daydreaming mode. It’s a danger because once you realise that ideas live in the gaps, that ideas live in those moments of boredom, then the fact we have eradicated them through digital products [means we could be missing out],” he explained.

“Boredom is one of these magical things and we’ve underestimated the power of it.”

Daisley, who admitted he is responsible for some of these advancements in tech, also mentioned the importance of giving honest feedback about risk and reward in order to build lasting relationships in the workplace and between client and agency partners.

“Psychological safety, which is the ability for someone to tell you the truth; if someone says that’s a bad decision, that’s psychological safety,” Daisley explained.

“If we’re unable to admit that we can’t do things, then there’s an absence of psychological safety. When clients and agencies have the ability to speak candidly to each other that’s where the best relationships come from.”

Cramond echoed these comments.

When asked how she works alongside people who are reluctant to take risks, she said it’s important to welcome various ways of thinking so colleagues can challenge each other in the workplace and get the best out of the business.

“I love having those types of people [non-risk takers] in my team because they question everything. They help us determine what they’re worried about which helps us improve what we’re doing. It would be terrible if everyone in this room was like me.”

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