Which is your favourite Marks & Spencer shirt? Perhaps you don’t know because you don’t own one.
Retail is detail, and the retail landscape is changing dramatically. Marks & Spencer (M&S), like many peers, is feeling the squeeze from both fast-fashion chains like Zara and online shops. M&S stores aren’t exactly inspirational and are in dire need of an upgrade. A former icon of British style and quality, M&S may do OK as a food brand, but for fashion? You decide. The list of M&S’s long-term issues is longer than its fashion cycles.
Ailing M&S has now dissolved its central marketing team and let its two top marketers, Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne and Rob Weston, go. Could Patrick and Rob have seen it coming? What can marketers learn from the M&S case?
M&S’s marketers did a lot to improve the brand’s long-term odds. They pushed the firm’s digital capabilities (yes, you can now shop M&S on Instagram). The Paddington Bear Christmas campaign was the nation’s most effective (if you trust the research by tech firm Unruly). And investment in its ’Spend It Well’ campaign was probably money well spent.
But at M&S, the pendulum has swung towards the short-term in a pretty big way. In its 2017/18 annual results, the firm’s high-margin UK clothing and home revenue contracted by 1.9%, its (lower-margin) food revenue was down 0.3% and group pre-tax profit dropped by 62%. The retailer has already replaced Marc Bollard as CEO, with Steve Rowe, as well as key managing directors and the chairman. Shareholder patience is running out. Rowe must produce visible results and he must do it now.
There’s no long term without the short term. And when short-term survival is on the agenda, no marketer will win admiration with long-term campaigns. M&S looks like a classic example of marketers who have dropped out of the ‘value creation zone’ (V-zone), where their work matters for both customers and the company. Bousquet-Chavanne’s and Weston’s work mattered for customers, but, it seems, no longer mattered for the CEO.
Every customer experience impacts on sales and profit, both in the short term (people buy something) and in the long term (people buy again). But in today’s fast-paced business environment, long-term brand equity building is an increasingly hard sell, especially if a firm is in a crisis.