Monday, July 23, 2007

Mary, Queen of Marketing

Thanks to the wonderful invention that is the PVR, over the past two weekends I've been indulging in a little retail marketing therapy. Mary Queen of Shops is the BBC2 series during which celebrated retail clever-clogs Mary Portas takes four down-in-the-dumps boutiques, gives them a proper shake by their shabby lapels and transforms them into bustling fashion emporiums.

"I'm Mary," narrates the show's star consultant at the beginning of each episode. "What I don't know about shops isn't worth knowing." With this in mind, I must admit I wasn't too sure how I'd get on with Mary. I know that some business owners don't take too kindly to consultants who are too quick to profess their superior intellect and my first instinct was that I'd dislike her know-it-all attitude.

The big surprise then was that I instantly fell in love with her no-nonsense but caring approach. Sure, she's met with the typical brick walls - no belief in the marketing function, zero budgets, marketing myopia, etc. - but she excels at overcoming them by communicating her unwavering belief in what she knows is right. What she might be saying is, "it's my way or the highway," but she also manages to convince her clients that she only has their best interests at heart. It's a powerful motivator.

Whilst I wouldn't dare belittle her achievements in the fashion retail industry (after all, her reputation in the sector speaks for itself), I'd argue that what Mary really knows about is marketing. In the two episodes I've seen so far, what's common is that the retailers are missing a proper understanding of their customer needs. Indeed, without a clear and resolute focus on customers and their unique tastes and habits, these businesses have dangerously lost their way in the jungle that is the fashion market. As Mary teaches them, all they need to do to turn their businesses around is obtain some insider information about what makes their customers tick, then aggressively deliver exactly that.

And it works. With some clever market segmentation - customers are described as "Disciples of Beckham" and "The Forever 40s", for example - some real insights into what makes these segments unique and some inspired marketing communication, these boutiques see sudden and often dramatic turnarounds in their fortunes.

The truth is that what Mary is teaching them isn't rocket science. But she's brilliantly showing us all how marketing can take a tired old business and transform it into a powerful, dynamic and ultimately more profitable one. Need a reason to love marketing? Personally, I can't think of a better one.

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