M&S looks to unify brand and culture after profits decline

Chief executive Steve Rowe has laid out the retailer’s plans to become faster, more commercial and ready to compete online.

Marks & Spencer (M&S) is looking to bring its business back together under “one brand, one set of values and one culture” as it prepares for a digital-first future, after posting a steep decline in annual profits for the year ending 31 March.

Following a difficult trading period, the retailer has seen pre-tax profits drop 62.1% to £66.8m, down from £176.4m the previous year, while more than 100 store closures over the next four years are set to cause more disruption as the retailer looks to migrate shoppers online.

Speaking at a press conference today (23 May), chief executive Steve Rowe said changing the culture within the business is the quickest route to making it faster, more commercial and “number one” for online sales.

“M&S has been bureaucratic, too slow, too cumbersome, not agile enough. We have to change this and those changes start with the people and the structure – too many layers, too many communities, too corporate, too many divisions and [management] roles that lack accountability,” Rowe said.

“We need to simplify that structure across the business and make sure there is true accountability if we’re going to change.”

If this were a marathon we’d [be at] about mile three or four. We have to remember this is the scale of the journey we are on if we are to truly make M&S special again.

Steve Rowe, M&S

Given the retailer wants to move at least third of its business online, M&S has arguably been slow to the digital race – and Rowe admits there is “so much more to do”.

Asked by Marketing Week why this transformation hadn’t started sooner, Rowe said: “We’ve been going through the motions of putting out some fairly substantial fires in the business.

READ MORE: M&S’s shake-up suggests its ‘one brand’ marketing strategy didn’t work

“We have of course been working on digital, but what we need to do is accelerate change there and part of that is making sure we’ve got the right people and the right teams in place, and making sure we’re focused in the right areas – on site speed, search, on making sure we’ve got the right front-end technology to make that happen.”

M&S currently has a number of technology partnerships in the pipeline, however it did not disclose who with or what for.

“If this were a marathon we’d [be at] about mile three or four,” Rowe said. “We have to remember this is the scale of the journey we are on if we are to truly make M&S special again.”

Yesterday (22 May), M&S confirmed it will close more than 100 clothing and home stores by 2022 as it looks to “radically reshape” its clothing and home space.

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  1. Joseph Baladi 28 May 2018

    It should not surprise anyone that any brand (particularly the larger ones like M&S) perceive “culture” to be a conduit to brand strength. Whilst the logic is plain (engaged people are likely to show more conviction and more effort representing their brands), most companies continue to pay lip service to this fundamental building block. Perhaps part of the reason for this is the extraordinary work that goes into culture creation and the its direct link to the brand proposition. CEOs are unwilling to make the effort on the former and are concerned about the implications on the latter. The former requires a more inclusive management style that actively solicits internal input for operationalization. Ultimately core values which are the bedrock of the most valuable brand commodity – trust – are embedded in these. For core values to be recognized by customers, they need to be believed internally and often this suggests co-creation, something else many CEOs shun. Increasingly we see core values linked to brand propositions – effectively manifesting as brand purpose brand strategies. This is a construct many CEOs continue to misunderstand. None of this argues against the paradigmatic shift digital has created on the business landscape and the way business and brand strategy needs to be re-formulated. But no amount of new consumer behaviour – via digital or social media – will sustainably build a brand unless there exists an equal perception of trust. Guess where that begins? At home with one’s own people. Its culture. http://www.brandasian.com

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