Marketing lessons small businesses can learn from the John Lewis Christmas advert

Marketing and brand

7 November 2018

The annual release of the John Lewis Christmas advert has become a highly anticipated event, with millions tuning in to watch the latest advert each year.

Known for their heartstring-tugging storylines, accompanied by pared-down acoustic soundtracks, this winning formula has since been imitated by a number of large brands.

And the ads are successful too. John Lewis head of marketing Rachel Swift has said: "Our TV campaigns at Christmas are our most profitable ROI, which demonstrates that when you invest in creativity and in creating memorable brand building campaigns you not only create short term commercial success, you build the brand over the long term."

And while it may not be possible for small businesses to imitate the big-budget production values of these famous advertisements, there are some marketing lessons that can be learned and applied in different ways for businesses of any size.

Here’s a few ideas you could take from the John Lewis ads to help your small business benefit.

Emotional advertising performs better

According to the Harvard Business Review, the most effective way to maximize customer value is to move beyond customer satisfaction and instead connect with customers at an emotional level.

The John Lewis ads have become synonymous with tugging at the heartstrings, whether it’s Monty the Penguin’s search for love or the story of one boy and his friend, Moz the Monster. By focusing on family, love and community (rather than financial benefits), marketing can build an emotional link between your customers and your brand.

Why not tap into this idea by getting in touch with the emotional side of your products or services? Find out more about how to tap into emotional marketing in our guide.

The unexpected creates memorability

Another successful aspect of these Christmas adverts is the originality of the storylines. The 2015 advert featured a young girl befriending an old man living on the moon, while in 2016 Buster the Boxer waited all day just to play on the new trampoline.

Another aspect of the ads is the feature of a ‘plot twist’ or unexpected ending. In 2011, the advert was all about a young boy counting down to Christmas Day, presumably to open his gifts from Santa. The twist: he actually couldn’t wait to give his parents a present, his own gifts an afterthought to seeing the joy on his parents’ faces.

Stephan Vogel (Chief Creative Officer at Ogilvy & Mather Germany) explained the need for this type of creativity in advertising: "Nothing is more efficient than creative advertising. Creative advertising is more memorable, longer lasting, works with less media spending, and builds a fan community…faster.”

In your small business, it helps to stand out by offering an unexpected customer experience. Whether its increased personalisation, home delivery at a time that suits the customer or just a glass of water while they browse, take a look at our guide to some methods you could employ to keep your customers coming back for more.

Advertising aligns with brand identity

Emotive adverts like the John Lewis examples aren't just successful at Christmas, they also create longer-term brand loyalty.

Getting customers through the door at Christmas is one thing, but it’s important to remember that the best customers are for life, not just at Christmas, so creating loyal customers and brand advocates are more valuable to your business in the long run.

Offer discounts or sneak-peek access to sales, exclusive content or rewards to your most loyal customers could be a great way of making potential advocates feel special. That way, you can build on the positive impact of your festive advertising efforts, and the customers you make at Christmas-time will keep coming back time and again.

John Lewis may appear to have the Christmas market all wrapped up with their run of successful TV ads, but as consumer behaviours continue to change, this represents an exciting opportunity for independent retailers and businesses to focus on providing bespoke products and services to meet their needs and set themselves apart from larger chains and internet giants.

Find out how your small business can compete in the battle for customer loyalty.

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