One brand. Two audiences?

So Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) profits have fallen again in the first six months of its financial year. This is not an unfamiliar story. The 135 year old High Street retailer has been declining in size for a number of years, culminating in its relegation from the FTSE 100 in September.

So Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) profits have fallen again in the first six months of its financial year. This is not an unfamiliar story. The 135 year old High Street retailer has been declining in size for a number of years, culminating in its relegation from the FTSE 100 in September.

But another part of the story has also remained consistent. Clothes (and homeware) sales may be down, but food sales – once again – are up.

There have been a number of different reasons given for the slide in clothes sales – from supply chain issues and tough competition, to “too many slow moving lines”.

But what no one seems to mention is brand.

Yesterday I visited M&S’s new-format food store in Clapham, which opened 6 weeks ago. And let me tell you, this Soho House frequenting 30-something urbanite loved it. The glitterball pizza oven; the ethical coffee bar; the fresh herbs grown in store via a vertical farming unit. The store’s contemporary style and artistically lit food isles made me feel like I was shopping inside a movie.

So did I care that my few bits of shopping which didn’t really add up to a meal cost over £20? Of course I didn’t. I’d had such a positive brand experience that I was firmly deposited into the cosy comfort of M&S’s culinary grasp. And with food sales up almost 1%, there are clearly many other people who feel the same way.

When it comes to food, the brand has a very specific target audience – affluent, time poor individuals who are generally well educated and aware of current issues; people who are prepared to spend more to feel good – whether that’s through product quality, ease of cooking, treat-like status or sustainability.

Of course M&S is a single brand so logically the retailer must be targeting the same consumer audience with their clothes too, right?

Well, apparently this winter season’s clothing range offers a “better value product.” Sorry, but how does that appeal to people prepared to spend more to feel good?

In our current economic climate, of course brands that compete on price can do well – Primark is a great example of this. But so are Aldi and Lidl, and M&S isn’t trying to compete with them.

I understand that M&S has a reputation for sensible clothes, and that trying to break into the more high end fashion market is a gargantuan task. But what they’re doing now clearly isn’t working – so maybe it’s time for a different vision.

My rallying cry to this much loved brand is to apply your success in food to the other areas of your business. Try listening to your food customers, because their brand loyalty is already there.

unsplash-logoChantal Garnier

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