It’s that time of year again, when the marketing industry scrutinises each other’s Christmas marketing campaigns (read this article from Marketing Week for a good round up).  For most of us though, this is the season where we get bombarded with even more adverts, direct mail, email marketing etc than the rest of the year. So, setting aside personal annoyance, let’s look at the lessons we can learn from the big boys and their current glut of marketing.

1. Content is king
John Lewis’ “Bear and Hare” campaign has grabbed imaginations, mining the feel good elements of Christmas.  Key to its success though is that it is great to watch and has got everyone talking about it (literally and virtually). Its genius is that it doesn’t promote John Lewis’ products (oh, ok, an alarm clock) or brand heavily. It just tells a great story.

Those warm, fuzzy feelings it generates are hitting all the marketing awareness scales and translating into sales. In its first week after launch, John Lewis released figures that showed sales passed the £100m mark for the first time this year and were up 10.7 per cent compared to the same period in 2012 (source: Marketing Week)

Lesson: you don’t need to heavily promote your services or product or brand. You need great, engaging content that creates an emotion you want associated with your brand.

2. Learn from other industries
John Lewis and Sainsburys have both taken a “film” approach to their Christmas campaigns and they have managed them like a film launch.

They both ran teaser campaigns for their “film” adverts, consisting of their own “mini-ads” and social media presence; just like a blockbuster film would. The adverts have their own websites, their own Twitter #, and their own identity, separate to the brand that has produced them; just like a film does.

The John Lewis ad even had a big “launch”, showing during the X Factor breaks and needing the programme to reschedule its breaks for the launch (the fact that “Simon Cowell had to sign it off” added to the publicity around it). And, as mentioned before, both of these popular adverts have succeeded because they tell a good story; just like a successful film does.

Lesson: think creatively and use approaches other industries have successfully used.

3. Know your audience
Among the usual humdrum adverts hinting at how great mums are at Christmas, some have dared to be different.

The Hare and Bear John Lewis campaign has at its basis thoughtful friendship, not family, which appeals to the scattered generation where friends become the new family.

Boots have also branched out and their current advert appeals to younger people, showing a teenage boy independently buying and delivering a range of presents for people who have meant a lot to him.

The key with both of these, and the other successful adverts, is that they know who their target groups are and how to appeal to them. This might be something all the “samey” perfume adverts could learn…

Lesson: take time to think about the emotions that your audience feel and start developing your content from there. Really know your audience as people, not just as service users.

4. Measure results
These big boys haven’t just created and executed their campaigns. They are closely measuring results.

They are looking at how aware people are of the advert, their purchase intent, the “buzz” around it.

Next, they are measuring whether the warm feelings about their campaigns are translating to hard sales. I can guarantee now, that if the leaders in the awareness stakes find that it doesn’t translate to sales, then their board will be having a hard look at why. Great promotional marketing is nothing if the rest of your marketing mix is out.

Lesson: measure at every step of the way.

And finally…
With my professional hat on, I love this time of year as there are so many campaigns running and its possible to look at them all, side by side, and learn from them.

With my personal hat on, I am cross at the crazy amount of emails I’m getting from companies I barely hear anything from during the rest of the year and, if I see one more perfume advert featuring a willowy, model-cum-actress who wows the men around her with her sassy attitude and half-naked body as she leaps out of a window/ off a catwalk / onto a motorbike, while whizzing through a suspiciously traffic free Paris/Milan/generic European city, I might just scream. Bah. Humbug.

Kara Stanford is MD at KMS Marketing and has been helping SMEs use marketing to succeed for over 9 years.

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