Well-established British retailer Marks & Spencer has long been the darling of the UK High street, although that reputation was strongly challenged as the global recession hit. There is no doubt that Marks & Spencer has had to adapt to changing market conditions, but the brand has stuck to its core values throughout.
Now that the environment on the British high street is finally improving, the company's approach, in spite of potentially damaging headlines and forecasts, remains steadfast in heavily utilising the value of their brand. Marks & Spencer has never positioned itself as a discount retailer and while many of its competitors began cutting prices and slashing margins in an attempt to make it through the recession, Marks & Spencer held firm to its premium pricing strategy.
One of the firm's core messages that it has constantly communicated to its customers is that they can expect to find high-quality clothing, food and household goods on its shelves, and that Marks & Spencer is a brand that can be trusted. Getting that message out there to the public has always been central to the company's success – never more so than during times when money is tight for many shoppers. Investing in brand-building through advertising has helped Marks & Spencer retain its position on the high street.
For a period the future looked bleak for Marks & Spencer, particularly at the start of 2008 when £5bn was wiped off the company's share price following an announcement of a fall in profits. But despite the dark days, the public's perception of the firm refused to waiver, with attitudes towards its brand momentum never falling into negative figures. A positive uplift in sales saw the firm's share price lift by 12 per cent in April 2009.
Advertising and successfully communicating the brand's core messages of quality, honesty, value, sustainability and ethical trading has been central to Marks & Spencer's ability to compete in the retail environment for more than 130 years. Of course, Marks & Spencer is not a brand that has stood still and refused to move with the times since the company was founded in 1884. This is reflected in its approach to advertising and brand-building.
The use of celebrity endorsements to promote the Marks & Spencer brand has played a key role for many years. When brand perception began to falter at the turn of the millennium, the retailer realised that urgent action needed to be taken. This came in the form of an advertising-led recovery operation with Irish actress Dervla Kirwan playing a key role by voicing the retailer's "This is not just food… this is M&S food" campaign, alongside the "Your M&S" message. Other high-profile celebrities have been brought in to promote the business and reinforce the brand, including 60s model Twiggy, actress Dame Helen Mirren and singer Dannii Minogue. Additional campaigns such as the firm's "Dine in for £10" and "M&S Christmas" promotional activity have all helped to promote the brand's core messages and win over customers, old and new.
While the retail environment in the UK is set to remain challenging for retailers despite the upturn in discretionary consumer spending, the future appears bright for Marks & Spencer thanks to its belief in holding onto rock solid core values, while employing dynamic advertising and promotional activities.