M&S is not currently performing well. Last week they announced annual profits significantly down, clothing sales are falling rapidly and their Marketing Director has stood down. There have also been a number of other departures over the past year, most notably Janie Schaffer after 3 months. Whilst these issues were all very foreseeable from the change in strategy, the question is whether it was avoidable.

M&S as a company is a strange mix. It is a department store than only sells own brand. It is a food supermarket than only sells own-brand (more or less). It is quintessentially British and has a strong name going back 130 years. Its strength and weakness is found in its older demographic.

When Marc Bolland replaced Stuart Rose, he had a challenge on his hands. Stuart had done a wonderful job in bringing M&S back from the brink of being taken over, but the company had started to go stale. Its demographic had grown too old and needed to gain a new audience. There was also a problem with their marketing. They had the same adverts for too many years – essentially the same models/actresses taking part in the same advert to different music. There is a difference between consistency of message and repetitiveness of marketing.

Marc Bolland did the right thing then in recognising an issue and setting out to solve it. However, I believe he has gone too far. Needing to move younger was not the same as competing with New Look. You need to bring in a new audience without alienating the old one. It is clear from walking into an M&S store today that their clothing is aimed at the 30 year old woman. However, that woman is shopping elsewhere as she is yet to be convinced that M&S is better than the alternatives. The older woman is put off by M&S clearly caring more about the other demographic.

It is nowhere near crisis time for M&S. Their food sales are too strong and their foothold in the British consciousness is still too great. On clothing, where do they go from here? The only solution is an amazing set of marketing campaigns that convinces their target demographic that their clothes are worth trying. Or they revert back. Since reversion is not possible for their embattled CEO, onwards they will march. It’s a long shot, but it always has a chance, regardless of the poor strategy in the first place. Even the embattled sometimes get lucky.