Earlier this year Steve Rowe, CEO of M&S, said in a television interview that M&S had lost touch with its customers and that he was determined to put this right.

After M&S had established a new Senior Leadership Team, ABA was tasked with creating a session which would allow 35 of the most senior executives to come face-to-face with customers.

We decided to take the bold step of recruiting 12 friendship groups to come along to the session. We believed this would create richer conversations because, as friends, they would chat in a perfectly natural manner. In addition, we predicted they would feel more at ease talking to senior executives at an event which would have over 100 people attending.

Participants were found by mailing an invitation to M&S customers. We asked those interested to make a 1-minute video saying why they would like to attend and to introduce the 4 friends they would bring along. Within an hour of the invitation going out we had videos arriving in our inbox! Over the next 48 hours we handpicked 12 groups which, in total, represented all the key life-stages M&S caters for.

Each team leader was tasked with holding a pre-session discussion with their group. They were sent video instructions to guide them through this and tasked with creating an exhibition to bring along to the session depicting everything they had covered. The results were truly impressive!

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The day was a huge success. Each group was allocated an ABA moderator and given their own table. They spent the first hour creating their 'exhibition'. After this we brought the M&S execs into the room. Working alongside 2 other colleagues, each exec got to spend 1 hour with 3 life-stage groups - the rotations chosen to provide a broad spectrum of shopper types.

The day finished with a representative of each friendship group, along with an M&S senior executive, recapping on some of their key take-outs of the day.

The session was both revealing and uplifting. We titled the event 'Making M&S Better Together' and everyone agreed that the day lived up to this ambition.


"This was the best customer closeness session that we've ever run. The idea of recruiting friendship groups was inspired and made the discussions very honest and open. The vibe in the room was amazing and the collective resolve to come up with practical ideas for making M&S better was inspiring."

Hayley Ward - Head of Insight Partnerships, M&S