BRAND COMMUNICATION AND REPUTATION MANAGEMENT
Schillewaert and Rozelle (2016) have claimed that marketing and customer reach is a very important factor in the growth and survival of any major brand. In the modern days of increasing technology and the overpopulated markets, brands are having to come up with new and unique methods of marketing in order to ensure that their brand remains in the spotlight and still commands the attention of the people.
In accordance with this, a unique marketing plan was launched by a clothing brand named John Lewis whence they decided to use all of their 27,000 employees as brand ambassadors for their brand in order to exponentially multiply their reach and improve their brand image. In this report, the marketing communication plan of the brand, as well as the degree of integration of the plan has been discussed. In addition to that, the degree of creativity employed by the brand in its marketing strategies and the future extensions of this plan has also been considered. The report is then concluded.
The brand decided to use the method of using its employees as its brand ambassadors. John Lewis has over 27,000 employees that could be used for this purpose. However, there were several problems with this. The first, as identified by Parker et al. (2019), was that most of the employees were not informed or educated enough to know what to do as a brand ambassador. Another problem was that it was risky in terms of internal politics and a potential PR crisis. As commented by Saqib (2016), the company could also face a lot of legal trouble as it would be held accountable and answerable for anything posted by the employee of the company on behalf of the people.
However, it was decided that the potential benefits outweighed the losses, and the program was carried through. The firm was renamed to John Lewis and Partners, indicating that the employees were not just workers but partners of the organization, and that they would be together through the losses and profits of the organization.
Adequate training was given to the employees to ensure that they were aware of their duties and responsibilities as the Brand Ambassador of John Lewis and Partners. They were made to feel like a part of the family, thereby increasing their sense of belonging towards the organization. As evidenced by Ferinia et al. (2016), this made them feel responsible for the performance of the brand, thereby ensuring that they would work hard and diligently in their roles.
The objectives of the campaign were twofold:
- They were designed to make the employees feel like a partner in the organization instead of a worker. As researched by Wang et al. (2016), this would encourage them to promote the company using their social network, which would mean free promotions for the company by virtue of its employees’ large social networks.
- It was also designed to portray to the world that John Lewis and Partners is an inclusive organization that values the interests as well as the opinions of its employees. It was designed to show that a bond of trust and understanding exists within the organization at all levels. The fact that the employees of the companies were themselves using its products was a tribute to the quality of the products produced by the brand. It aimed at replacing traditional paid advertising by a form of word-of-mouth advertising carried out by the employees of the company. As stated by Baker et al. (2016) in their work, this would increase the authenticity of the brand and make potential customers more likely to believe it because it comes from a user of the brand instead of a paid advertisement.
The strategy: The idea for the campaign was to allow employees to promote the brand as they see fit among their own social circle. Pictures, videos, and other material posted by the employees was also featured on the official brand accounts, stores, and websites, thereby giving the employee a sense of recognition and appreciation thereby encouraging them to work harder. As argued by Bradler et al. (2016), this is a very good motivator for employees. They were also taught about the various things they must keep in mind while promoting the brand.
Target audience: The target audience that the brand was aiming to reach was the everyday customers. These were the friends of the employees of the brand. The amount of people that could be reached through 27,000 different employees and their social media circles was very huge, and much beyond the number of people that the brand could have reached on its own. Therefore, the target audience was the friends and family of the employees of the organization, who would take the advice from the employees and go and buy the products of John Lewis. As argued by Pitt et al. (2018), this was a win-win situation for all the three parties involved. The employee would get an opportunity to be featured on the website of the brand, the company would get the benefit of higher revenues and access to a new segment of the market, and the customers would get good quality products. Therefore, it was expected that this strategy would be very beneficial and would be useful to everyone involved.
Programmes: As evidenced by genchev and Todorova (2017), there are 8 main marketing communication tools that a brand can use in order to communicate with its customers and potential customers and induce them to make a purchase from the brand. These are:
- Sales Promotion
- Personal Selling
- Direct Marketing
- Social Media Marketing
- Mobile Marketing
- Public Relations
For the purpose of this campaign, the various marketing communication tools that were used by the business were advertising, personal selling, social media marketing, and public relations. Advertisements were done indirectly through the social media accounts and profiles of their employees. This became a form of personal selling, since the employees were personally encouraging their friends and families to try out John Lewis and Partner products. Social media marketing was used since a majority of the promotions were done through social media accounts of the employees. The most effective material from here was also displayed on the website and the stores of the organization, thereby giving it a good relationship with the public due to its image of inclusiveness and understanding with its employees.
Control and evaluation: The campaign was very successful and well received by the public. This is evident from the various parameters and analytical tools that can be used to measure the progress of the strategy. Several other brands have incorporated a similar strategy due to the success of the strategy and the great amount of reach it brought them. There was a 19% increase in reach and a 35% increase in the engagement of the page. There was also a 40% increase in the Revenue from Ad sales from the company, which are all positive indicators of the company growth and the success of the marketing strategy employed by them.
As per the works of Payne et al. (2017), integrated marketing refers to a new and unique approach to marketing that aims at connecting and combining all the tools of marketing so that a seamless and smooth experience can be created for the customer. This happens by combining all the aspects of marketing, such as advertising, personal selling, direct marketing, and social media marketing. This is done in such a manner that all of them can be used together and can work as a single unified force. This is highly effective and can convert potential customers into customers very quickly.
There are several parameters and criteria to measure the degree of integration of a brand. One example of such criteria is the POE model, which will be discussed below. There are three main components to the POE model; they are Paid, Owned, and Earned Media. Together, they can work effectively and seamlessly to create a good and smooth marketing experience for the customer.
The degree of integration for the marketing strategy adopted by John Lewis and Partners has been discussed below:
- Paid Media, as stated by Thomas et al. (2017), refers to the use of paid media channels in order to drive traffic to the brand. This includes the usage of pay per clicks, radio, promoted tweets, and Facebook ads. In the marketing strategy employed by John Lewis and Partners, the usage of Paid Media was not very low, since a lot of paid advertisements used the material and the content that had been produced by the employees of the business. However, it was still less than the ideal amount of paid media usage needed by a brand in order to successfully tick off the paid media checkbox in the Integrated Marketing Model.
- Owned Media are platforms that are partially or completely owned, managed, and controlled by the business. These include the brand website, the brand stores, as well as the social media accounts of the brand. This segment was optimally utilised by the company as it was used to show the best pieces of content that had been produced by the employees. This worked in the favor of the organization, since it gave the employees a sense of accomplishment and recognition, and also encouraged them to produce more similar content, which helped the business by improving its reach and driving up its sales. Therefore, the business used owned media optimally and to its maximum and full advantage.
- Earned Media is the acquisition of mentions and an audience for the brand that has not been gained through paid advertising. As commented by Colicev et al. (2018), it includes social media influencers, news coverage etc. This was also very well utilised by the business, and this was what formed the base for the entire marketing strategy of the business. The social media accounts of the employees of the business can be considered as an earned form of media, and it proved to be very useful in the overall management of the business and was a great factor in the success of the marketing plan.
Figure 1: POE model
(Source: Colicev et al., 2018)
Therefore, all in all, the marketing strategy of the business was well-integrated, however to achieve a better level of integration and make the entire experience more seamless and smooth, the business could have utilised paid media to a higher degree. This could have been in the form of promotions of the tweets and posts of the highest reaching content of the employees. While the company used owned and earned media optimally, especially in the case of the Christmas video, paid media was left underutilised and that reduced the degree of integration of the brand, thereby adversely affecting the score of the strategy in the POE model.
As O’Brien et al. (2018) has stated, the degree of creativity in the marketing strategy of an organizational plan refers to how unique its idea or strategy is. In the modern context, when the competition is very fierce and cut-throat, finding a unique and creative marketing strategy is very difficult, yet unsurprisingly it is the only and best way for the business to survive and thrive in the market.
The idea of John Lewis to use its employees and call them partners is not very unique. Several other major brands, such as Starbucks, have also done this in the past. Calling employees partners makes them feel personally invested in the success of the organization, and also gives them a sense of responsibility and belonging. As Jones et al. (2020) have said in their work, this will ensure that they will deliver their best performance to the organization. This move has been tried in the past and has always given good results. The trend of productivity and efficiency has always gone up as a direct result of this, consequently improving the level of customer satisfaction.
However, while the idea to use employees as partners may not be unique to the brand, the rest of their strategy is. They decided to open the social media account of their brand to all their employees and this is something no brand before this has ever done, for fear of the PR backlash and the potential legal consequences. John Lewis itself was earlier afraid to go through with this move because it was thought that the employees did not have any formal training on social media marketing, and that the investment would not be recoupable for the company. However, after a test was carried out in the form of a pilot, it was observed that it gave several positive results, and thus it was decided to carry through with the strategy.
The creativity of the brand then paid off, by bringing the brand very good results and a much higher reach and engagement than the brand had expected.
There are several ways in which this could be extended in the future. One of these ways is to increase the usage of Paid media in this strategy in order to make it more efficient and integrated. As argued by Blakeman (2018), this would also make the whole experience more comfortable and smooth for the customers, and thereby further increase the reach of the page. Another step that the company could take is to expand further, thereby increasing its number of employees, and consequently have more social media influencers for the brand. This will also work in their favour since it has a double benefit for them:
- They will earn higher revenues as a result of the expansion since their production capacity will increase, thereby increasing the sales and the profitability of the business. It will enable them to reduce the costs through economies of scale.
- It will also give them a bigger workforce, which can be used to further increase the reach of the brand by means of social media advertising after the requisite amount of training has been given to them.
Similarly, the brand may also choose to diversify into another segment of the clothing industry. This will not be very difficult for them as they rely primarily on word-of-mouth marketing. As stated by Ahmad and Laroche (2017), it is a much more reliable and useful means of promotion than any form of paid advertising that is being used by its competitors to promote themselves. Therefore, the business can easily tap into another market segment and get a reasonable market share quickly without much effort by virtue of its authentic and reputed sales force.
Instead of entering the new segment itself and incurring all the costs of diversification, the company may also choose to merge or acquire with a competitor and use their workforce in the same way as its own employees in order to boost the sales of the company. This will give it better and greater access to the machinery, workforce, and the brand reputation of the company it is merging with. This is a cheaper and more prudent alternative for the company to consider.
In conclusion, the marketing strategy that was adopted by the brand proved to be effective and useful for the brand and helped boost their sales and their customer reach. It was very well received by the customers. While it was not very well integrated, it was a creative approach to an existing approach that was being used by several other brands. In the future, John Lewis and Partners may consider expanding or diversifying in order to increase their profitability and expand their market share. They may also merge with or acquire a competitor in order to gain access to their machinery and brand name.
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