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It’s very easy in marketing to slip into the trap of telling people why you’re so great, rather than showing them. What is it that that quote says?  “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” Well, whether you believe that that was a Chinese proverb, or straight from the mouth of Aristotle, the meaning is clear.  Effective marketing relies on a lot more than just a glossy brochure. Let’s look at some examples…  In fact, let’s just take one example and show how different elements of the same brand do things differently.  John Lewis is a brand that many look up to, not least for their apparent ‘nailing’ of internal communication and brand engagement.  But are they really that perfect?

Tell me…

John Lewis department stores rely greatly on ‘telling’ people what they’re so good at.  The website says it all – a scrolling homepage with slogans like ‘The perfect furniture’ and ‘We’re always here for the latest thing’.  The voice is unmistakably John Lewis.  The same applies to adverts, brochures and pretty much everything they do.  It’s as if the customers don’t exist.

Yet, they have a loyal following with online sales creeping up and up every quarter.  So how are they doing it?

Show me…

Where John Lewis is concerned it is no coincidence that their online sales shoot up after every new television advert (1/3 in the space of 2 days after their last Christmas advert went out).  It’s an old tactic but they do it well.  Communicate what you sell clearly and aspirationally.  It leaves one questioning why they aren’t doing more?  The 2011 TV advert, for the first time, focused on showing the products within the context of consumer lives… but where is the customer voice?  The involvement?  Why aren’t they using their loyal following to show people the value that they can bring more often?  If 93% of buyers are influenced by peer recommendations, why isn’t John Lewis doing more to trade on this reputation?

This sentiment is further compounded when we look at Waitrose.  Yes, good old Waitrose has undergone a major transformation in the last 18 months.  Perhaps John Lewis department stores can learn something from their little sister?

Previously Waitrose took the same approach as the rest of the brand – they told people what they did and just assumed that their loyal following of tweed-wearers would stay loyal… and then came Delia and Heston.  What a coup!  With the arrival of two chefs came a radical shift in their communication strategy.  For the first time they were not only showing people what it was they could offer… but also how to use it… how consumers could take it into their own lives.  The aspiration had taken on a real life quality.  The Waitrose Magazine underwent a change in format, bringing in more examples of reader experiences and reviews, as well as a change of focus onto recipes and ‘doing’.  Waitrose had a voice that was no longer John Lewis plc.  They were showing people what they did and the value it could bring.  Compelling stuff.

Involve me…

But it didn’t stop there for Waitrose.  Not satisfied with overhauling their magazine, they started to look at how they could get customers more involved with the process.  In-store, they increased the number of live product tastings.  Delia and Heston were put to work doing more than just endorsing – they had to do monthly recipes with video-casts and demos.  The products were positioned immediately inside the store entrance, so customers could pick up a card, buy the bits and take them home to ‘recreate’.  Television advertising and ‘advertorials’ were used to further hammer this ‘involvement’ home.  Customers were encouraged to support local charities (with the green tokens), with this fundraising reported in magazines.  The weekly magazine was launched, as well as the monthly edition, giving local and regional information, relevant to their personal lives.

The real success, however, has come for them in the last 6 months, with the introduction of LOVE life range (and the new, much hyped value range).  With these have come better email newsletters, online recipes, videos, reviews, blogs, discussions, competitions and (shock horror) Facebook.  Customers are no longer going there just to shop; they are sharing reviews and experiences and building a community around the brand.  The ultimate in involvement.

Of course there is no suggestion that John Lewis is failing as a result of the department stores obsession with ‘telling’ the story, rather than Waitrose ‘best practice’ in taking the consumer all the way through to involvement.  I just know which I find the most interesting… and that I personally have found myself shopping less and less in the department stores (preferring to look around online and seek peer reviews) and more and more in Waitrose (with choices often influenced by review, recipes and suggestions).  The fundamental offering of each store has remained largely the same, but the way in which they communicate has.

Some other great ‘involvers’…

Starbucks –!/Starbucks

Red Bull –!/redbull

Mulberry –

Google –

Daz –

Stuart Holmes –


Gifted Penguin –!/pages/Gifted-Penguin/381088303288