M&S still in ‘catch-up’ mode as it promises more digital marketing investment

Despite a “disproportionate” increase in digital marketing spend over the last six months, Marks & Spencer’s marketing boss says the brand is still in “catch-up mode” as he plots a greater emphasis on mobile and on developing a connected customer experience.

In its half-year results, M&S revealed that its marketing investment was up 4.7% to £86.9m. However Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, executive director of marketing and international, justified the increase by pointing to the increase in sales, particularly online where they were up 34% year on year in the first half.

He said investment would need to continue, although maybe not at the same levels and with a greater focus on efficiencies.

“The primary driver [of the increase in marketing spend] was a disproportionate increase on the digital side. But we also see the direct benefits in terms of conversions in stores and online. I think there is a strong probable correlation,” he told Marketing Week at an event in London today (4 November).

“I am still in catch-up mode, I have not brought M&S to the [level of] digital footprint we need to have.”

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, executive director of marketing and international, M&S

M&S launched its ‘The Art of’ campaign in the period, with CEO Marc Bolland crediting it for helping shift consumer perceptions of the style and quality of its products. While sales at its general merchandise division, which includes clothing, fell by 1.9% in the half its gross margin was up.

M&S credited its 'The Art of' campaign for boosting perceptions of style and quality
M&S credited its ‘The Art of’ campaign for boosting perceptions of style and quality

He pointed to an 11% increase in the sale of suits following ‘The Art of Tailoring’ spots and the sale of 900,000 items from Rosie Huntington-Whitely’s new collection. Customer perceptions of style were also up 2% and quality up 7%, he claimed.

Making Christmas mobile

Next up will be the Christmas campaign, which launches on Friday (6 November). Bousquet-Chavanne said the aim is to make it “the most digital Christmas ever” with social once again at the heart but a renewed focus on mobile.

“We want mobile to be front and centre so that we have a clearly connected consumer experience across food and GM,” he explained.

He also pointed to the new Sparks loyalty card as an opportunity to communicate with customers in a more personalised and digital way. The scheme has already signed up 1.8 million members, ahead of expectations despite the fact it has not been heavily advertised, and consumers are engaged with the number of reviews doubling.

“It was important to have Sparks in pre-Christmas because we will be able to look for the first time at how our customers behave in the bricks-and-mortar and digital worlds combined. We never had access to this before,” concluded Bousquet-Chavanne.

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  1. Shoppers are in general feeling more positive and whilst they are spending carefully in other areas, they are indulging in their food habits which at M&S, is consistently good. Their investment in strong advertising, new product lines and a great management team is bearing fruit.

    The clothing side of the business is as always a real game of nerves on margin – remember anybody can discount and sell products for less, but it takes nerves of steel and a strong belief in your products to hold onto your pricing from a financial perspective. We applaud them for staying strong.

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