Shaken & Stirred - Influential Brand Profiling and Positioning

M&S : How well do you really know your core customer? / Comment from Vince Kerrigan

Exclusive comment from Vince Kerrigan who is a strategic solutions manager at Vital Communications.

Steve Rowe’s promise to ‘cherish’ and get to know more about ‘Mrs M&S’ in a bid to revive the high street retailer’s fortunes is a refreshing expression of a brand that wants to re-connect with its core customer. It is also a reminder to businesses to invest in strong consumer research in order to understand how to position their brand.

But who exactly is ‘Mrs M&S’? Finding out will be the marketing team’s first challenge. To be successful, any brand marketing and communications campaign needs to be perfectly in tune with its customers’ likes and dislikes, while giving them a tantalising insight into a lifestyle that they might aspire to have.

As a 50s-something woman, Mrs M&S visits the store about 18 times a year and is looking for good quality ‘essentials’ for herself and her family. Rowe is clearly making a play for the purse strings of Middle England’s households – and why not? He has recognised that the brand once owned this space but has somehow lost its way in recent years and needs to take corrective action.

As it happens, targeting mums of any age is relatively safe ground for marketers. Procter & Gamble’s ‘Thank You, Mum’ campaign to mark the Olympics in Rio features athletes such as Jessica Ennis-Hill, now a mum herself, thanking her own mum for the support and inspiration she provided whilst getting her career underway. This campaign could almost be a response to Rowe’s own marketing brief to ‘cherish’ our mums.

To uncover the real ‘Mrs M&S’, however, the retailer needs to avoid jumping to conclusions and go back to basics. It needs to take a step back and employ the latest consumer research tactics, such as iBeacon technology and social media analytics, to capture data and deliver insights about consumer-buying behaviour. Even more importantly, it will need to obtain qualitative information in order to fully understand what this core group of customers really wants.

Most brands are aware of the importance of qualitative customer feedback – but it can’t always be relied upon. Feedback given at the point of sale could be pointless, self-serving or both if it only goes as far as asking customers if they are happy or not with the product or service they received. More probing questions are needed to deliver valuable insights.

On the other hand, lengthy surveys can be off-putting and leave the customer with a negative brand sentiment – so a balance needs to be struck. Limiting surveys to just five or six questions and incentivising feedback by offering cash rewards to spend at a later date or entry to free prize draws can help to drive up the number of respondents.

To get an honest view of what customers really think of their brand, retailers are increasingly using observational tactics designed to interpret consumer buying behaviour. For example, smartphones can be used to track shoppers and in-store facial recognition software can provide information about how they are using the store. User-friendly apps can also deliver reliable insights about buying behaviour unobtrusively.

While Rowe’s decision to shift the brand’s positioning is a bold one, it could fall flat if the business fails to invest in the right way to find out who ‘Mrs M&S’ really is. Organisations don’t become more customer-centric just by declaring this is their intention, it must be implicit in everything they say and do. Actions speak louder than words.

If this troubled retailer is to succeed in re-connecting with its core customers, then it must demonstrate that, first and foremost, it is willing to listen to them.

It will then need to engage them with appealing content and an aspirational brand promise and finally empower them to become brand ambassadors who are proud to say that they shop at M&S.

Exclusive comment from Vince Kerrigan who is a strategic solutions manager at Vital Communications.