13 Apr 2016

Who are you? Who are you talking to?

Choosing is what strategy is all about says Lucia Di Stazio, Director of MRA Marketing.

Choosing is what strategy is all about says Lucia Di Stazio, Director of MRA Marketing.

Having worked wonders with Marks & Spencer’s food, Steve Rowe prepares to take over from Marc Bolland as the new M&S CEO. Will he reverse M&S’s clothing slump?

As its food sales soar, clothing is on a slide. Repeated attempts to shrug off its fuddy-duddy image and grab the younger, trendier fashion market have bombed. A further 5.8% drop in sales over Christmas can’t just be down to warmer weather.

M&S is a food brand that knows where it’s going and who it’s talking to, and a clothing brand with no direction that talks to anyone who’ll listen.

Its clothing advertising is classy, but its mish-mash of own label brands confuses even diehard M&S shoppers. Autograph, Classic, Indigo Collection, Limited Collection, M&S Collection, Per Una and Twiggy: who do they think they are? Who are they talking to? The M&S Collection seems aimed at everyone everywhere, for any occasion. Is Twiggy code for old but spry? It’s not just verbal cues and visual signposts, you’d be hard put to know which collection the clothes belong to. What do M&S’s target audiences know about them?

John Lewis’ customers know the brands it sells because it relies on well-known, well-marketed fashion labels like Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren etc to do the heavy lifting.

These fashion brands have spent years and a great deal of money investing in their labels. Their stories and targeting have been consistent. They know who they are and who buys their brand, and wooing and retaining those customers takes up 100% of their focus.

John Lewis is not a fashion brand, but it attracts fashionable shoppers with top fashion labels. M&S can’t because nobody understands who their own labels are, and who they’re aimed at. Its ads are slick and M&S spends around £40m a year to get its story across but its marketing misses the target.

M&S is losing touch with core customers. In the last 15 years it has risked all for faster more exciting growth to add sparkle to its shares. And that’s dangerous. In going all out for young, fast spending, fashion-conscious shoppers, it’s neglecting what it sees as the less ‘sexy’, slower spending over 50s. More numerous, more loyal with more disposable income, these older consumers are a large part of M&S’s market.

Alienating core customers who don’t understand who it’s talking to, but know it’s not talking to them, M&S is failing to attract new audiences who don’t know who it is, or what it has to do with fashion. It’s falling between two stools.

Anyone remember Marconi, the short lived successor to Arnold Weinstock’s massively successful but unexciting General Electric Company? When Weinstock retired he handed over a company worth £10bn with £3bn in the bank. His successor, Lord Simpson decided to jazz it up, renaming it Marconi. He sold the duller bits (the jewels in Weinstock’s crown) and bought potentially faster growing businesses. In 2001 the shares tanked and Simpson walked the plank. Shares which had once been £12.50 fell to 4p.

A company’s DNA defines what it is. Brands can and do move with or beyond their markets, but successful brands remember their roots and what they are. And the customers who made them great.

Need advice or help with your branding? Call Lucia Di Stazio Director MRA Marketing on 01453 521621, email lucia@mra-marketing.com or follow @MRAMarketing

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