M&S: Stop trying to understand customers through the lens of the brand

In order to truly understand customers brands must switch from looking inside out to outside in, says Marks & Spencer’s loyalty boss Nathan Ansell.

Businesses need to start looking at how customers view their brand rather than trying to understand customers by looking at them through the lens of their brand, according to Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) global director of loyalty, customer insight and analytics, Nathan Ansell.

“All businesses, not just businesses like M&S, have a tendency to view the world from the business outwards,” he said.

“You might hear people talking internally about a menswear customer or a womenswear customer, but it’s important that we flip things around the other way. So actually we think more about how the customer is viewing us in their world, in the context of all the other things they’ve got going on in their lives, and make sure we deliver on that particular mission.”

Ansell was speaking on a panel this morning (14 June) at an event held by data business Starcount to launch its report on the motivations behind Londoner’s spending habits, which is part of a wider study into how UK consumers spend their time and money.

All businesses, not just businesses like M&S, have a tendency to view the world from the business outwards.

Nathan Ansell, M&S

Clive Humby, chief data scientist at Starcount, said: “It’s getting harder today to engage with customers. There is so much more noise out there and there are so many more messages.”

In order to engage people further and get them to become repeat shoppers he agrees it’s important to look at what matters to them – from their perspective rather than in terms of the brand – particularly as most organisations tend to see customers just three or four times a year.

The real potential, he says, lies in the customers that visit once or twice. Trying to get those people to engage with a brand more will make a “fundamental difference” to the bottom line, he claims.

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

Ansell says M&S uses segmentation internally around things like frequency, so it knows its best shoppers come 208 times a year but there is a “large number” of occasional customers that come in just 10 times, so it’s looking at how to encourage those people to visit more often.

“Our internal mantra is about making every moment special. That means making the moment special for every customer, every day, every time. So we have to understand a very wide range of needs and motivations for people coming into store – or potentially not coming into store if we’re trying to convert them – and making sure we finding ways throughout the whole customer journey [to tailor] that experience,” he says.

“Yes, segmentation can help at a very broad level strategically but actually the trick is to really get under the skin on a one-to-one level and really understand customer needs so we can fulfill them better than anyone else and ultimately grow the business.”

From mass marketing to personalisation

M&S wants to move away from its “mass communication mentality” so it can have more one-to-one conversations with customers, which means taking a personalised approach through more precise targeting and measurement. But doing so requires buy in from the rest of the business.

“[We need to help] the non-marketing experts in the organisation understand that the key isn’t to be pumping out nine million emails of the same sort to a very large range of customers, or thinking of social media activity as just another avenue for mass advertising,” he said.

“Actually it’s about having a genuine conversation with the customer and speaking to them about things that matter and what’s most important to them.”

In order to get the rest of the business behind any decisions around segmentation and personalisation, Ansell said internal conversations have to change and that comes from helping other departments understand the value in honing marketing messages and only feeding the most relevant to each customer.

“The ultimate goal and the proof to the organisation is when we’re improving the levels of customer satisfaction and interaction, which leads to a better return on investment for the organisation. If those people [that don’t work in marketing] are really able to see that, it will help enormously.”



There are 2 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Sam Butler 14 Jun 2017

    I’ve worked as a customer assistant at M&S on numerous occasions. In my experience, the people that work on the shop floor are well aware of the importance placed on enhancing the customer experience; further, the successful relationships developed with everyday customers is mainly due the ability of store management and customer assistants to understand their customer. The M&S brand places an emphasis on quality, and this trickles down to everyday store operations.

    The current problem with M&S is the company’s inability to produce attractive (non-food) products. Such products should be aimed at both everyday customers and the not so regular customer; thus, getting the prior to spend more money on higher margin items and enticing the latter to increase the amount of times they visit the store.

    “Understanding the very wide range of needs and motivations for people coming into store” should translate into the production of more attractive products. Therefore, obtaining a better understanding of how people in general view the brand from an outside perspective, will also benefit the marks and spencer team in better communicating their value offering.

    I believe there has been some ambiguity in how customers view the M&S brand, and stepping away from a “mass communication mentality” could offer some clarity. Nonetheless, it is vital the company does not alienate its core customer, and finding the right balance in how to retain current customers’ and obtain new ones, is essential for better business performance.

  2. Jim Norris 18 Jun 2017

    Employ my wife as a mystery shopper – she is your greatest fan and biggest critic…..

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