Plenty of scope to put sparks back in Marks

The demise of Marks & Spencer’s brand St Michael could be seen as good news for design. For the ailing retailer to recognise that the brand has lost its equity with consumers through neglect sends out a message to other brand-owners that regular health ch

The demise of Marks & Spencer’s brand St Michael could be seen as good news for design. For the ailing retailer to recognise that the brand has lost its equity with consumers through neglect sends out a message to other brand-owners that regular health checks are necessary to keep a brand fresh – and that means more design work.

But it is nonetheless sad to see such a long-standing tradition die. St Michael sums up childhood for many of us, with new back-to-school underwear and the odd Christmas jumper creeping into most households at some time. It was a “label” long before we bandied around the term brand.

It has, however, been overstretched. Who would equate socks and ready meals with smart suits and dinner jackets? Would Gap – M&S’s arch rival on the young clothing side – consider throwing in the odd evening frock or even a fast-food offer to broaden its appeal to customers? Probably not. It might get away with a fashionably utilitarian lingerie line to underpin its utilitarian outerwear “uniforms”, but, like sports brands such as Nike, it is more focused on its target audience than M&S and its US management no doubt knows a lot more about brands.

It will be interesting to see how M&S fares, having recognised St Michael as a waning brand. With Interbrand Newell and Sorrell reviewing the retailer’s image, it has a chance of revival. One indication of its new direction is the Autograph designer womenswear, branded by FutureBrand UK. The next logical step would be a named “chef” range, courtesy of, say, culinary self-publicist Gary Rhodes, to differentiate between food and clothing offers.

M&S is, however, far removed from the new brands that have shaken up the FTSE100. Brands such as e-ticketing service lastminute.com, which floated on the Stock Exchange this week, don’t have the inconvenience of assets – shops, staff, or, indeed, stock. They don’t always have profits either, only a huge valuation based on future promise – in lastminute.com’s case £500m.

Here is an even greater opportunity for designers, given that differentiation is key to “virtual” brands. There’s none of the family tradition or customer loyalty attached to on-line brands. It’s about price, access and ease of navigation. Steering would-be consumers to your site is tough – and it needs strong branding to achieve the best results.

With packaging star Turner Duckworth having rebranded amazon.co.uk and Nucleus successfully turning its attention from packaging to digital branding a couple of years ago, the field is wide open. You don’t have to be a website specialist; it’s about branding experience.

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