These aren’t just customer insights. These are M&S customer insights. And according to the retailer, the “close relationship” it has with its customers on social media played a key role in the decisioning around its latest campaign.

In March last year, at the start of the first national coronavirus lockdown, M&S set up a Facebook account for every one of its stores. The original intention was to use the platform to communicate with local communities during the stockpiling rush, letting them know which stores had pasta and which had toilet roll.

Now, those Facebook accounts have evolved into a two-way communication channel for the retailer, reaching 2 million customers a week. According to Sharry Cramond, marketing director of food and hospitality at M&S, it became clear through these social media interactions that its customers have become increasingly interested in where their food comes from and how it is produced. This was only confirmed by the marketing team’s traditional insights work.

“They’re telling us they want to know the story behind what they’re eating,” says Cramond, talking to Marketing Week. “They want to make sure they’re feeding their family the best quality, best sourced, most delicious food.”

TikTok has been massive for us through the whole lockdown.

Sharry Cramond, M&S

For Cramond, this knowledge makes her feel like she has the “best marketing job in the country”. “We’ve got so many stories to tell and customers actually want us to tell these stories.”

As a result, M&S has relaunched its ‘Fresh Market Update’ campaign for another year, to show consumers how far it goes to ensure food is sourced ethically and responsibly.

The multichannel campaign will run for the next four months, with a TV campaign to run across ITV and Channel 4, both on linear programming and on-demand. The ads will also run on YouTube. M&S has produced a total of 19 ads to introduce viewers to its farmers, producers and growers.

Each ad will be presented by ITV weather presenter Lucy Verasamy and will also include recipe ideas from M&S chef Chris Baber. The TV campaign will be supported by a monthly in-store magazine called What’s Fresh and a bespoke 40-page Fresh publication featuring Select Farms suppliers and their food.

An estimated 50% of the population will see the TV campaign 18 times each, achieving “massive reach”, Cramond says. “But it’s very much a multichannel campaign.”

Additional activity will take place via direct mail, social, in-store and through email. Highlighting how email will be integrated into the campaign, Cramond says registered Sparks loyalty members who buy certain products from M&S’s Select Farms range will receive an immediate email with further information about the farmer behind the product, alongside recipes and inspiration.

It’s the retailer’s “biggest ever quality” campaign, aiming to improve the supermarket’s quality perception among consumers. M&S will also be analysing how its value perception is impacted by the campaign and will be tracking the number of family customers it attracts – the brand’s main target.

M&S also engages in “very detailed” econometric modelling and measurement to ensure a good return on the invested marketing budget, but Cramond expects a strong result based on the history of Fresh Market Update, which has run in different guises over previous years.

“This is our most successful campaign by a country mile. So we already know this is going to be a success based on running it before, and that’s why we’re making it even bigger this year,” she adds.

Bee-coming more than a slogan

Alongside the new campaign, M&S is reaffirming its commitment to British farming with its ‘Farming with Nature’ initiative, supporting its farmers against the environmental challenge of the declining bee population. This summer, M&S will introduce 30 million bees to 28 Select Farm sites located across the country.

“About a third of our food needs bees, because they’re such important pollinators. They’re really important in the food chain,” Cramond notes. The journey of the programme can be tracked through the interactive ‘Bee Blog’, and at the end of the summer, the supermarket will sell the honey made.

M&S will also be expanding its RSPCA Assured range to offer more products than any other retailer. RSPCA Assured is the only farm assurance scheme in the UK dedicated purely to farm animal welfare, with trained professionals carry out annual assessments and spot checks.

“At M&S we have our line: ‘This is not just food. This is M&S food’. But that’s not just an advertising line. When we say that we really do mean it,” Cramond adds.

“We’ve got the widest range of RSPCA assured products, a wider range than any other retailer. We’re the only retailer that knows where all of our beef comes from, right back to every farm and animal.”

Attracting Gen Z through TikTok

It’s not just Facebook M&S is using to engage with customers. The brand has also found a perhaps surprising level of interest on TikTok, with 100,000 followers to date. A store manager went viral on the platform towards the end of last year for his enthusiastic demonstration of the supermarket’s ‘scan and shop’ service.

“It’s gone off like a rocket,” Cramond says, adding that she sees TikTok as “such an important channel for us” in breaking its older customer pigeon hole and engaging with younger generations, like Gen Z.

She continues: “We’re increasingly seeing so much traction with younger customers and family customers, and that’s due to a lot of the social media that we’re running. TikTok has been massive for us through the whole lockdown.”

Commenting on what makes a good retail marketer, Cramond says one of the most important things is to listen to customers, whatever platform they’re on, alongside maintaining good communication with individual stores.

“I think it’s listening to customers, staying in touch with your stores, and making sure you have a very agile plan so that you can make changes and react as quickly as possible,” she advises.

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