M&S’s marketing director on the challenges of communicating sustainability

Marks & Spencer is hoping to boost customer engagement around its sustainability work with ‘more visible’ marketing that aligns sustainability with the brand’s core products and values.

Marks Spencer

Speaking at an event in London today (24 June), M&S’s director of Plan A Mike Barry says the updated sustainability programme, which now runs through to 2020, will be “all about engagement”, offering customers, staff and suppliers a “simple brand promise” that offers transparency, operates at a local level and can help lead to a culture change. That promise, he says, is to “enhance lives every day” through four core values – inspiration, integrity, innovation and in-touch – that are linked to its core products and reflect the master brand.

At the same event, M&S’s executive director of marketing and business development Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne claims that 80 per cent of M&S’s 31 million customers are concerned about the future but only 10 per cent of those are currently engaged in sustainability issues. The disconnect, he says, is due to a number of factors including a lack of knowledge, the cost and the fact that ideas such as “curing the world” are too daunting.

He admits that M&S’s sustainability plan has so far been about modernising and evolving its supply chains, stores and factories but admits this is not “aspirational” and doesn’t engage with consumers. Instead, M&S must start talking about the “things people personally care about”, such as its beach cleaning programme, McMillan coffee mornings and Schwopping scheme.

Marketing Week spoke to Bousquet-Chavanne at the event on the challenges of communicating its sustainability proposition and how it is integrating sustainability across the marketing division

Marketing Week: What will M&S’s sustainability marketing look like?

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne: The key word is integral. Plan A should be integral to the way we communicate, engage and converse with the consumer. It cannot be just a one-time marketing effort, that will not sustain. The only way to sustain the effort is to make it part of everything that we do and finding a way in all our consumer communication channels the right moment. We have credentials now across the vast amount of our products, both in food and in fashion. It is a question of bringing that to the surface, making sure that our quality is understood and dialling the message up. You will see messages coming through much more than you have in the past. But there will not be a one-time campaign, that is not sustainable.

MW: How will you engage with consumers?

PB: There will be a variety of aspects that we will make visible to consumers and ask for them in a very interactive way to participate. I want disciples, ambassadors, people that want to go on that journey with us and that can positively contaminate their friends, families and communities to engage. We just don’t have the power by ourselves to do it all. But we have tremendous resource and conversations that we can engage and start, that is our whole objective here.

MW: What channels can we expect to see sustainability marketing in?

PB: You will see it permeate all the communications channel where it ought to be present.

MW: M&S recently made the decision to include sustainability training for all new marketers. What was the reason behind that decision?

PB: It is part of the fibre of the company and just doing it internally now – through engagement, workshops – you realise to what degree our colleagues are really engaged and passionate about it. We start with a workforce who is willing to learn more and very hungry for information and then by providing them with this incremental education they are converting this into the right message wherever they contribute and touch the consumers. It is very important for the marketers in the company obviously. This is not something I am pushing into the structure it is something there is an appetite for.

MW: Will it be necessary to hire marketers specifically to push through the sustainability agenda?

PB: What is fascinating is there is a whole new generation of young and talented men and women who really have it engendered in their DNA. It is pretty rare, especially when you start talking to millennials, to find that their purpose is not much larger than the pure economic purpose when they are joining a company. So we are well positioned for that.