M&S signs Sienna Miller as it admits boosting style perceptions is its ‘biggest barrier to growth’

M&S re-entered the fold as one of the UK’s most valuable companies last week, but marketing director Anna Braithwaite tells Marketing Week it is still focused on achieving its transformation goals, adding ‘the job isn’t done’.

Campaign star Sienna Miller

Marks & Spencer is looking to boost its style perceptions by partnering with Hollywood actress Sienna Miller for its latest campaign.

The retailer, which last week re-entered the FTSE 100 for the first time since 2019, has been working hard to turn around its fortunes after a nearly decade-long slump.

With Miller as the new face of the brand – someone who “absolutely epitomises the M&S woman” – according to marketing director for clothing and home, Anna Braithwaite, the retailer is hoping to drive reappraisal and spark interest among loyal customers.

“We wanted our autumn campaign to appeal not only to our core customers but also turn the heads of women who may not have previously considered M&S,” she tells Marketing Week.

The brand is also hoping to attract customers who only shop with the retailer for particular seasons, as well as drive frequency of purchase with its existing customers.

“Our product is in such a fantastic place that if [lapsed customers] were to come into our stores we feel really strongly they would love what they see,” Braithwaite says.

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Driving brand buzz and improving quality and value perceptions are all priorities for Braithwaite. However, she says improving style perceptions remains “the number one focus” for the business, describing this as the “biggest barrier to growth” for the brand.

This has been a constant focus for Braithwaite since she joined the business in June 2021. It is something she says M&S has made significant progress on. The brand now ranks second among popular high street retailers in terms of style perceptions, according to YouGov, she reports. Back in 2021, it was sixth.

Despite significant progress in improving style perceptions, Braithwaite admits “the job isn’t done”.

“We will continue as a brand to always need to push that,” she adds.

The right channels

M&S is thinking very carefully about how it deploys its media spend to showcase its product range, Braithwaite says.

The brand has just carried out a piece of research to determine which channels do the best job for it when it comes to driving style perceptions. It is also using marketing mix modelling to determine where to deploy its media spend.

“It’s about… making sure every single penny we are spending is doing the job that it’s intended to,” says Braithwaite, adding there are “constant learnings” as to what works best for the brand.

She says the brand has moved away from the “traditional” division of channels into those that move the bottom of the funnel and those that move the top. Some of those channels, traditionally classed as conversion-driving, are effectively helping to boost brand metrics like style perception, she notes.

As such, the brand is driving quality content across its entire mix of channels, she says, as well as ensuring the mix is right for its goals.

“That journey is never going to be complete because it just changes all the time,” she admits, adding the brand is ensuring it is effectively deploying its insight to drive effectiveness of its media spend.

Core focus

The new autumn campaign, headed by Miller, falls under M&S’s ‘Anything But Ordinary’ platform. This was first launched in 2021, as part of what Braithwaite described at the time as a “three-year journey” to re-establish the retailer’s style credentials.

Two years in, this remains the core focus for Braithwaite and the team. She says the platform continues to work “beautifully” and that the retailer intends to stand by it.

“I do think that sometimes the most successful of any of these brand platforms are the ones that people know, love and get used to seeing time and time again,” she says, adding that Anything But Ordinary remains “brand new” in the scheme of things.

Alongside the primary focus of driving style perceptions, she acknowledges the brand “can’t take [its] foot off the pedal” in other key areas like generating buzz, quality and value.

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M&S consistently ranks top among high street retailers for quality and value perceptions, Braithwaite notes.

On the value front, the retailer has successfully moved away from a strategy that relied upon price promotions and discounts, to offering more “consistent” value, she says. In clothing, areas like school wear and denim see more focus on value, she says. However, across the board, the retailer offers strong value for money.

“Customers know we’re not necessarily the cheapest, but we’re the best quality for any price point,” she states.

According to YouGov BrandIndex, M&S is not just the best-performing retailer for quality and value perceptions, it also has the highest brand health score of any UK brand measured by the platform.

With its return to the FTSE 100 index last week, boosting these brand metrics have clearly also translated into commercial success. While Braithwaite does say marketing is playing a “critical” role in getting customers to reappraise the brand and drive footfall, she notes it is one of “many success stories” across the business.

As for the success of the business in returning to the top 100 listed companies last week, she echoes the sentiments expressed by CEO Stuart Machin. “It’s kind of just another day, there is so much for us to go after,” she says, noting her focus is gearing up for the start of a “huge season”, which will see the launch of the first menswear campaign in six years and the build-up to Christmas.