M&S isn't concentrating!

For those of you who don't know, the bravest of all tag lines must be for Marmite. The polarising marketing for this, famously British, sticky dark brown mixture of yeast and vegetable extracts used for spread and flavouring is: you either love it or hate it. The forensic insight and incredible thing is, babies choose from a very, very early age and never change their minds. Some adore it, some propel it back to the giver with force….with families divided for life!

Strange then that London’s Oxford Street, one of the worlds most famous shopping districts, chose to encourage ‘everyone’ to enjoy the festive spirit by allowing Marmite to own the apologetic and meagre 2012 Christmas street decorations. Personally, I suspect the only thing going for these lights was they met the ‘not too over the top’ brief in these times of austerity. I hated it.

And stranger still, when walking down this atmosphere-less street in late November 2012, I happened into one of Marks and Spencer’s celebrated stores. Oh how I wanted my Christmas to be lifted by this self proclaimed ‘Pantheon store’ with a warm, inviting celebration of all that is uplifting at this time of giving and theatrical goodwill.

But I soon realised how clever the powers that be were to let Marmite set the tone outside. Marks and Spencer had also decided to major on ‘not too over the top’ and cleverly predict that if customers weren’t going to like their fashions and housewares (down 3.8% on last years disappointing figures) they weren’t going to bother to spend money trying to get customers in a Christmassy mood - presumably saving the money to underpin profits. What I saw was about as penny-pinching and soulless as anything I’ve ever seen from a major retail brand and shows a business without confidence - it was perfunctory at best. I hated it more than Marmite's festivities!

On a brighter note and in the interest of balanced-blogging (if there is such a thing) Marks and Spencer had marginally better food sales – so the hackneyed observations about turkeys and Christmas have been put on the back burner.

Increasingly I’ve felt Marks and Spencer doesn’t really know what it ‘stands for’ and for what it's worth, my view is the only stuff you ever find in the 'middle-of-the-road' are dead animals and lines people mustn’t cross. Oh, how life is being sucked out of this famous retailer (presumably on cost-cutting grounds), oh, how nice it would be for this wonderful institution to grab hold of the customer agenda again. And oh, how nice it would be to be able to talk to a sales person on the shop floor, so they could then let management know what customers love and hate and importantly how they’re feeling - that's a festive oh,oh,oh ....but these are all at the heart of Zara's phenomenal success along with all the others stealing customers from Marks and Spencer.

Modern retail demands you embrace and celebrate emotions. Be brave, be different, make life easy but most of all, don't just listen, conentrate on what your customers are feeling – if you do, they’ll love you, if you don’t they’ll leave you…..maybe Marmite was simply an inspired aide memoire to all the retailers on Oxford Street – but somehow I think not.