Looking back or moving forward? Mrs M&S and The Co-op

If you keep your eyes on the brands, you might have noticed that both Marks and Spencer and The Co-operative have decided to shake-up their marketing. But what’s behind it?

Well, when known and loved brands come out and overhaul their branding, it’s usually for two main reasons:

1, There’s a past to be buried

2, They’re failing to reach out to customers old and new

We all know The Co-operative has been through turbulent times over the past few years and M&S profits have been falling – but how can a change of branding help?

In short, it’s all about perception. The Co-op has reverted back to its 1960s’ clover-leaf logo, doing away with the long-form handle and its suffixes: The Co-operative Food, –Bank, –Funeral. This might have something to do with the fact that they’ve shed quite a few of their franchises.

But undoubtedly this reversion to an old and nostalgic logo is intended to win back former shoppers. It radiates heritage, it’s friendly and informal and less institutional that the long-form branding was. In essence, it wants the customer to know it’s getting back to its ethical roots at the same time as unveiling its reward scheme – further showing how the business is less profits-oriented and more about giving back to the community.

Meanwhile, M&S CEO Steve Rowe recently announced the retailer was setting out to win back its own once-loyal customers, customers he feels have been neglected. And the chain believes it knows just who they are: a certain ‘Mrs M&S’.

While both tactics aim to look back before moving forward – seizing on past success and moulding it for the future – have they got it right? Only time will tell. Yet is strikes me there is a fundamental difference between the two.

The Co-op, on the one hand, seem to be using their new (or old) branding as a way of pretending the difficult few years of late never happened, and focusing instead on their new policies and systems. Their message is positive, even if it does hinge on nostalgia.

Yet M&S seem to be using this ideal shopper, the seemingly innocuous ‘Mrs M&S’, as the font of their future success. Although Steve Rowe assured customers they would be implementing some changes alongside this new marketing strategy, these minor revolutions to slash prices and become less fashion/more contemporary-casual oriented seem to be something of a regression for the retailer, not to mention inconsistent with their recent decisions.

It’s unsurprising that some shoppers were offended by this portrait of Mrs M&S. For starters, it’s not a great idea to come out and tell your potential customers how you’re pigeon-holing them. Moreover, in the 21st century, fewer women are choosing to get married, so this title carries less importance than it once would have done. The Mrs M&S of their profiling seems more like a profile of their ideal customer thirty or forty years ago than today. And in being slow to realise this, M&S bosses have overlooked another massive cultural shift that has happened. Our shopping habits. We were once very brand-loyal, but with the advent of internet shopping, our new loyalties lie most with one-stop-shops like eBay and Amazon. In essence, the cheaper, the better.

Something else that Mrs M&S doesn’t seem to account for is that women have become less focused on their age. While some might be content to sidle into a pair of elasticated slacks from the Limited Collection, most others have got their eyes on the latest magazine styles and don’t want to look like a conventional 50-something from a newspaper insert. In fact, they’re just as likely to order a few staples from ASOS as their children are. But if M&S is moving away from fashion just as cheaper sources of clothing and the digital revolution open up the latest styles to more and more people – not to mention after appointing Alexa Chung (one of the biggest fashionistas of the moment) to curate a new collection – then forgive me, but doesn’t that way confusion lie?

It strikes me that it’s not necessarily M&S that has let the customers down – the customers have let the store down, as is their wont in the age of Primark and internet shopping. Today, it is impossible to have one dominant high-street retailer the way there was fifty years ago. But not only has M&S been too slow to react, it also doesn’t seem to understand what the 21st-century woman is looking for, never mind what it is prepared to offer her.

Regardless of whether M&S has got it right, establishing a profile of your ideal customer is one of the first things you should do when you set up business. It helps you define who you are marketing at and helps you keep your selling strategy clear, succinct and powerful.

But how do you get started? What questions do you need to ask yourself and how do you know your ideal customer is attainable? All this and more will be answered next week when I’ll show you: how to identify your perfect customer.

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