The Marks & Spencer brand needs an experiential makeover to win back consumers

Marks & Spencer has been hitting the headlines recently for many of the wrong reasons, announcing an 88% fall in half-year profits earlier this month.

This once mighty brand and high street god has been under scrutiny like never before. A period of reinvention beckons that needs to be more than cosmetic – it needs to be structurally, creatively and consumer driven. What M&S needs is to reinvent how people experience its brand.

M&S has been out to revamp its clothing brand over the past few years, enlisting the help of big names such as Alex Chung and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in an attempt to attract younger and trendier audiences, but this strategy has not paid off sufficiently to move the dial.

You have to question, does the brand, loved by so many, still know what its audience wants? The jazzy ads and the celebrity glamour are good starting points for a brand strategy but it’s almost redundant if this isn’t being translated into all of its consumer touchpoints. The instore and online experiences do not match what the brand is saying through its advertising which is creating gaps in the customer journey.

A cursory trip to the Trafford Centre in Manchester recently saw me bombarded with messages about the upcoming free fashion show in the mall. Why isn’t M&S taking a leaf out of the same book? Today’s consumers are spoilt for choice and they need more than a product offer to visit a store. They are looking for an enjoyable, engaging experience that expresses what a brand stands for.

Brands like Asda and Topshop have done a wonderful job to drive footfall. These brands put branded experience at the heart of their strategy – whether that's during the World Cup, Halloween or London Fashion Week. These retail events enhance the shopping experience and create the feel good factor that M&S is so sadly missing.

Investment in retailtainment helps to drive traffic, create buzz and ensures that the store becomes more than just a shop, it becomes a destination.

Steve Rowe, CEO of M&S, has continued to (rightly) laud the ‘Plan A’ sustainability project the company has undertaken.

"We've never hesitated to update Plan A, because after all, change is the only constant of business life.”

Indeed “change” is. So why has the instore experience been so conservative and underwhelming for years, seemingly refusing to adapt fast enough as the world and consumer needs change around the brand?

I would argue that alongside ‘Plan A’ there needs to be a Plan E – the commitment to revolutionising the experience of M&S. Every square foot of retail space need not be a battleground; but instead with a little thought, creativity and investment it might be the secret weapon to help consumers rethink the once mighty brand.

Luke D’Arcy is president, UK, at Momentum Worldwide

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Luke D'Arcy

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