The Social Media Strategy of the John Lewis

Introduction

The John Lewis Partnership is a well known British retailer that functions in the department store, supermarket sectors, insurance credit cards, limited manufacturing activities and other business lines that serves the up market consumer segment in the UK that is comprised of middle and upper class customers (Logicalis, 2014). This study will explore the social media strategy of the company's department store segment.

This analysis has important implications as social media has been hailed as the newest and highly significant addition to marketing and promotion activities for companies (Mangold and Faulds, 2009). Kietzmann et al (2011) advise that social media, in a business sense, consists of the utilisation of low cost tools using words and visual presentation to further the aims, exposure, marketing and promotion of companies. A survey by Hubspot found that 92 percent of companies indicated that social media was an integral part of their marketing efforts (Infused Digital, 2013). However, 85 percent indicated that they are unsure of the best ways to utilise social media tools, or how to link them together (Infused Digital, 2013).

As an aid to this examination an article in Forbes' magazine that cited the "top 10 benefits of social media marketing" will be used to help in this analysis (Infused Digital, 2013, p. 1).

Table 1 - Top Ten Benefits of Social Media Marketing

Top ten benefits of social media marketing

(Infused Digital, 2013: Statista, 2014)

In terms of this exploration concerning the manner the John Lewis Partnership uses social media, some theories and applications will be explored: It needs to be remembered that the theories on social media are still evolving, thus result not all of the theories proposed could be included here:

The John Lewis Partnership Social Media Strategy

The social media strategy of the John Lewis Partnership represented an outgrowth of the company embracing digital marketing as it understood the key to competing in the UK retail sector entailed reaching current and potential customers on an ongoing and consistent basis (Mari, 2015). The company's commitment in embracing digital marketing saw it embark on a defined strategy approach in 2012 to aid in building its brand popularity and enhance the effectiveness of its marketing efforts represented by print, email, mobile marketing, broadcast and its online store (Mari, 2015).

As shown under Table 1, converting new customers, increasing brand power, and enhancing inbound traffic were key elements of a social media campaign. In the instance of the John Lewis Partnership Dosanjh (2012) explained that its overall digital marketing strategy encompassed computer use of online sources such as its website, online store and social media websites on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks along with including these applications on smartphones and tablets. These aspects were mentioned in the points covered by Infused Digital (2013) that represented the strengthening of brand's storytelling.

The above functionality across varied electronic platforms is an essential aspect of the company's social media strategy as it offered consumers convenience and accessibility to all of its digital platforms in a framework that maintains a consistent look and functional feel (Dosanjh, 2012). This heightens the customer experience as explained in Table 1, along with increased customer perception (Infused Digital, 2013).

As a further means to understand the effectiveness of the John Lewis Partnerships social media approach, Chaturvedi (2014) provides insights regarding an effective approach;

Table 2 - Tips and Approaches to Effective Social Media Strategies

Tips and approaches to effective social media strategies

(Chaturvedi, 2014)

The John Lewis Partnership developed a comprehensive social media strategy that entailed concentrating on customer ease of use, multichannel flexibility and service features under an omnichannel approach. This represents the first area on the above table, along with two way communication that is one of the key aspects of social media. Under 'control of content', the John Lewis Partnership oversees all facets of its digital marketing, social media and traditional media in-house or through contracted ad agencies and other relationships (Mortleman, 2014). Other aspects in the above table will be explored in the following section.

Social Media Theory Applications in the John Lewis Approach

In further exploring the social media strategies of the company, Table 3 looks at varied social media theories, and helps to provide insights regarding contributors to successful campaigns and consumer experiences.

Table 3 - Social Media Theories

Social media theories

(Brown et al, 2007; Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010; Griffin, 2011; Durham and Kellner, 2009; Owyang, 2010)

John Lewis' social media strategy made a commitment to become an omnichannel company back in 2011 (Brandweiner, 2013). Andy Street, the company's marketing director, stated that this approach stated "We know that about 60% of our customers buy both online and in shops so the approach is to make it absolutely seamless for them to move from one to the other (Brandweiner, 2013, p. 1).

The John Lewis' new Chief Information Officer in 2010, Paul Coby, determined that the company's product promotions, point of purchase and marketing strategies had different variations for retail, call centers and online operations (Mortleman, 2014). In crafting the company's social media strategy, Coby stated that it was imperative to change that situation to a uniform ordering platform in order to facilitate a coordinated shopping experience to serve as the foundation for all marketing, and other efforts (Mortleman, 2014). Whilst the above does not seem to be directly associated with social media strategies, Coby stated that the objective was to have a smooth and seamless internal mode of operation to make it easier for consumers to do business with the company regardless of what shopping mode or division they were interacting with (Mortleman, 2014).

This new unified approach was lauded in social media, as it created buzz for the company (Johnson, 2014). The significance of this multi channel approach as a foundation for the company's social media strategy was contained in Johnson's (2014) article. It stated that in excess of 60 percent of adults in the UK use two or more electronic devices (computer, smartphone or tablet) every day, but just 7 percent of companies are able to deliver consistently across these platforms (Johnson, 2014). The connection between omnichannel marketing and social media was lauded in a Deloitte study that found that companies having a multi-channel approach are able to integrate this into more effective social media campaigns (Raj, 2014).These link to the first theory contained in Table 3 represented by word of mouth. Termed as influencer social media marketing by The Retail Bulletin (2015), it represents the efforts of a company to use a strategic approach that targets customers most likely to share stories on products, or the company (The Retail Bulletin, 2015).

Blogs represent one of the major communications components in the influencer process as 81 percent of women trust information conveyed in blogs, and 61 percent wind up making a purchase based on what they read in this social media form (The Retail Bulletin, 2015). From a company perspective, the John Lewis Partnership is able to track buying activities for products featured in blogs, which represent an important measurement factor (The Retail Bulletin, 2015). This was pointed out as an important aspect under Table 2 that looked at performance targets. In terms of negatives, the material reviewed was used to compile a strength and weakness table in the next section.

The John Lewis Partnership Christmas Campaign

As a basis for having an assessment of the company's social media efforts, its Christmas campaign was selected. In order to evaluate the campaign, the following points will be looked at, along with McLuhan's media theory and socialgraphics:

Table 4 - Benefits of an Effective Social Media Strategies

Benefits of an effective social media strategy

(Chaturvedi, 2014)

The campaign represented a brand promotional effort that was aimed at increasing consumer connection with the chain during the Christmas season as the place to shop (John Lewis Partnership, 2011). It utilised various cartoon based animals in differing settings to cause consumer identification with the playful aspects of their youth to spark a warm and positive mental association with the company (John Lewis Partnership, 2011). This potentially ignored single adults and the older generation that might not connect with their child orientation psychological aspects. The campaign ran the risk of not reaching its single adult and older demographic categories that did not have children or strong family ties. However, judging from the success of the campaign, this aspect did not seem to be an inhibiting factor in terms of consumer reach or response. The Bear and the Hare segment for 2013 served to remind consumers of the giving nature of Christmas and featured an interactive downloadable eBook for computers, tablets and smartphones (Devine, 2013). The Monty (the penguin) digital campaign for the 2014 Christmas season continued the frameworks (Butler, 2014).

The above approach represented the content orientation to marketing and social media that McLuhan described concerning the subject matter or influence aspect, which in this case were cute cartoon characters, is more important in establishing a consumer connection than the product or service (Durham and Kellner, 2009).This approach included the theory of socialgraphics that Owyang (2010) described as representing the demographic or psychographic content of the audience.

Concerning overall benefits mentioned under Table 4, the company's campaign in one weekend generated 7,000 new followers on Twitter, 12,000 new Facebook followers, and 4,600 new YouTube followers (Brownsell, 2013). In terms of Twitter, the campaign generated 86,000 responses and for the entire campaign, the Hare segment generated 4,796,086 views on YouTube, and The Journey had 4,711,086 views (Beable, 2014).

The two-way communication aspect of the Christmas campaign sparked a rash of social media communications with the company regarding the creativity of the ads and how they caused consumers to have a warmer connection with the holiday and what it meant (John Lewis Partnership, 2011). This also had the benefit of sparking performance measurement as brought forth under Table 4 as it caused a dramatic increase in social media followers and interest (John Lewis Partnership, 2011). The company's control of all aspects of its digital marketing and social media programmes was a key foundation in the creation of its approach to strategies as mentioned by its Chief Information Officer Coby (Mortleman, 2014). In terms of the benefits of an effective social media campaign, the John Lewis Christmas campaign met all of the categories mentioned by Chaturvedi (2014). The following provides a summary of strengths and weaknesses based on the exploration of areas covered:

Table 5 - Strengths and Weaknesses of the John Lewis Campaign

Strengths and weaknesses of the John Lewis campaign

(Mortleman, 2014; Brownsell, 2013)

Conclusion

This analysis for two different years of John Lewis' digital marketing efforts revealed that the social media approach was based on heightening consumer buzz through interactive elements based on the consumer influence theory approach espoused by McLuhan's media theory. As a retail operation, the John Lewis Partnership offers essentially the same products as its rivals, thus the difference represents the delivery of services and attention to serving customers. The company's strategy entailed the promotion of the brand through campaigns that were directly connected to the ideas and themes of Christmas that used cartoon characters and interactive storytelling approaches that were downloadable.

The strategy of creating an aura where the company was portrayed as being in the spirit of Christmas through the story telling aspects of the campaign represented an approach that created media buzz and millions of views on social media. Whilst the campaign seemingly appealed to children and the younger generation, the strategy positioned the company as having the Christmas spirit as it gave consumers a reason to download the free animated versions and also helped to connect with older consumers through the socialgraphic theory that drew on social media to prompt downloads and seek out the company's social media site. This strategy translated into sales as the company achieved a stellar Christmas sales rise in both years (2013 and 2014).

The downloadable aspect of the campaign that helped to heighten interest in the chain and appeal to the Christmas spirit represented a definitive strength of the strategy devised. The weakness represented the youth skew of the campaign that basically ignored the over 35 demographic. This meant that single consumers, adults without children or those where the children were grown were not the focus of the campaign strategy. This approach relied heavily on the media buzz and approach of the campaign to put the company in the public eye, whilst basically ignoring the single or older generations. Whilst this represented a risky approach that banked on the media and consumer buzz of a campaign that focused on children and the younger generation, it also had a broader appeal as all generations have some sort of psychological connection with Christmas.

Whilst the above skew of the campaign was not directed to single adults and the older generation, this omission did not leave them out entirely due to the psychological implications. The campaign resulted in unpatrolled social media views and hits on YouTube, as well as other social media sites. From a recommendation standpoint the only suggestion that could be made is that the next campaign might include an adult oriented version. This sis stated because the unique approach taken by the company resulted in the most successful Christmas campaigns of the past two years.

References

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