Case study: Transforming M&S into Britain’s fastest-changing retailer for clothing and home

As specialists in marketing transformation, Oystercatchers worked with M&S to ensure its challenge to become a customer-first business, which could react in an agile way to the rapidly changing needs and habits of British shoppers, was met.

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The British High Street has long been under threat from the phones in the palms of our hands. We can shop from our social feeds, set up automated orders and get shoes delivered in under an hour. The landscape is changing, so retailers have needed to transform to keep up. Those that are hip to these changes see a reputation intact and a big return on profits. But how can a 135 -year- old brand like Marks & Spencer change its marketing to match the needs of the customer?

At Oystercatchers, we’re specialists in transforming marketing from within to get the best creative output and growth. M&S’s main challenge was to become a customer-first business, that could react in an agile way to the rapidly changing needs and habits of British shoppers. Focusing primarily on clothing and home, Chairman, Archie Norman, is clear about his ambition for the business “to become Britain’s fastest-changing retailer.”

Challenge accepted, we soon got to work. We believe in the value of first-hand experience and building relationships, so we embedded ourselves into M&S from day one. In five months, our team and the client co-created a new model and structure the clothing and home marketing function to accelerate the business in a highly competitive market.

Modernising the model

Our first job was to build an agile marketing model to help M&S achieve its goal. This meant transforming what M&S currently had in place.

For us, the first step in the process is to get under the skin of how things tick in-house, getting well- oiled ops up and running and processes in place that work for everyone. The Oystercatchers team gathered invaluable stakeholder views, ensuring they spoke to teams across all departments: from product to finance to comms. Helen Gorman, one of our Consultants, was keen to look at how marketing interacts with other teams in the wider business, as in her experience, “most CMOs are reviewing their talent, skillset and capability versus a much more omnichannel and customer-orientated and so need to be as effective working cross functionally as they are specialists in their own function.”

Running weekly hothouse sprints with the core senior client team, we quickly helped M&S reshape the teams, bolster existing talent and develop a clear creative process to create a robust and modern marketing team.

Diving deeper into the creative process

Having established a new way of working, it was time to look at the work itself. How are creative briefs dreamed up internally and realised by agency partners? What were the ideas that resonated and how did this compare with other relevant agency models in the market?

In finding answers to these questions, it was agreed that a refresh was needed. The search for a new lead creative agency began. With an enviable black book of over 400+ agencies, we were well placed to make our recommendations and helped manage the creative agency process from start to finish appointing the specialist fashion agency ODD.

ODD is a smart choice for M&S’s home and fashion departments, as they bring a wealth of experience from their work with Dr Martens, River Island, Primark and Levi’s. Clothing and Home marketing director Nathan Ansell’s brief was to bring “targeted, inspirational and relevant” customer-led creative to the fold.

An agile future

ODD already seem to be delivering on that promise. The first Christmas campaign for M&S, ‘Go Jumpers’, was a playful, refreshing celebration of cosy knitwear set to hip hop classic Jump Around. ODD proved its mettle as an agile agency too, and quickly released an unplanned follow-up, ‘Go Pyjamas’ in response to positive feedback to the first ad. The agency also joined in on the festive fun with retail rival and reigning monarch of the Christmas ad game, John Lewis, tweeting this year's Christmas creature ‘Excitable Edgar’ with its own ‘Jumping Jinty’ the ‘jumper hound’ star of both ads.

The success of this new agency model paves the way for a more integrated approach overall and there is now an opportunity for M&S’s agencies to move towards an embedded agency model. Brands such as News UK, RBS and Toyota have seen success with this approach, bringing together disciplines such as communications, CRM and media planning and buying under one roof. Integrating will ultimately help M&S achieve its goal to become the fastest-growing UK retailer, with real-time customer marketing and a newsroom approach shifting the focus to the needs of shoppers.

In short, Oystercatchers successfully helped M&S reimagine a corporate marketing department into a dynamic, modern model that puts the customer at the heart. Estimated savings in year one looks to meet the cost-saving target set. But more importantly, the new model energised and motivated teams internally, freshened up creative and sets up home and fashion to thrive as a dominant part of the M&S brand.


Oystercatchers accelerate commercial growth & ROI for all our clients through world class marketing transformation, leading- edge agency models and selection of world-class agency partners.