You might not have heard about it, but towards the end of last year, John Lewis quietly rolled out a small-scale revolution in social media marketing. The new scheme allowed 100 employees, or ‘partners’ to become social media brand ambassadors for the company on social media.
Where social media content is generally produced in a remote, centralised desk in the head office – John Lewis are exploring the potential for a revolutionary new shop-floor driven style of marketing. So could it work? And what could this revolution do for your international digital marketing campaign?
John Lewis is well known for taking a different approach to employment than the average large company. In fact, they’re not really employees at all. Everyone that works for John Lewis is considered a ‘partner’ and each partner has a proportionate stake in the ownership of the overall company.
The company also shares out its profits amongst its partners, with each person being given an annual bonus proportionate to the company’s overall annual profits.
This is the perfect context against which to trial a digital marketing strategy like this. As the managing director of the company herself has said: “Our partners do need to be brand ambassadors – that’s the direction of travel. As co-owners of the business, it’s in their personal interest for that to be the case.”
Using the #wearepartners hashtag, individual employees can personalise and tailor their own individual social media marketing using their own accounts. The original trial, which took place towards the end of 2017, was successful, with the one hundred employees making a total of 9 million impressions between them.
The brand has since commented that they’re planning on extending the trial even further. A quick look through the hashtag suggests that in the last few weeks they’ve done just that.
What does this mean for John Lewis?
Perhaps calling the new approach to social media a revolution is a little premature. True, John Lewis hasn’t exactly broken the internet with their new approach – respectable as the results may be. But as a principle, it lays the groundwork for a completely different approach to branding and marketing – at a time when the middle market sector in which John Lewis sits needs some radical rethinking.
While John Lewis itself still reported profits for 2017, they’d fallen by about 21 per cent from the previous year. Profits for Waitrose alone also fell by an even more staggering 32 per cent – despite overall sales having risen across all sectors of the wider John Lewis Partnership.
Profits across much of the middle market have been dwindling in recent years, as people seem to look towards more cost-effective alternatives in the years following the financial crisis. This isn’t just restricted to companies like John Lewis – their rival Marks and Spencer has announced the closure of 22 stores ahead of falling profits.
And while a shiny new Twitter campaign isn’t likely to change the tide of a sector-wide shift like this – it’s clear that the middle market giants like John Lewis and M&S are fast looking for something that’ll get customers back through the doors.
And what about your digital marketing campaign?
But enough about them, let’s talk about you. The true value of this to us as marketers and translators isn’t whether it boosts John Lewis’ profits. The value is in whether this new style of ground-up marketing is something that can be translated to an international marketing campaign.
The initial instinct of almost any CEO or marketing executive would be to keep control of marketing schemes in one centralised place. And there’s a lot of logic in this. Having a unified digital marketing strategy that can be applied across a range of platforms and channels is an important part of maintaining a brand image.
Back when we wrote about the remarkably successful social media campaign of Tesla, we spoke about how important it was for companies to establish a personal brand with their audience. People interact far better with people than they do with faceless, branded entities.
The real success of this project comes from infusing the company brand with what could potentially be hundreds or thousands of tiny, personality-driven interactions that all complement each other and create a wider, more dynamic brand image.
And what’s this got to do with international marketing?
As we’ve said plenty of times before, marketing in other languages and cultures is complex.
But if you can adapt your strategy to empower your employees or agents as international brand advocates in their native language and culture by translating your content (literally) and your approach (figuratively) then you could be onto something both innovative and bigger than you can imagine.
Language translation services providers need to navigate a whole range of complicated linguistic and cultural idiosyncrasies that simply can’t be translated by machine translation services.
Remember, if you’re looking to actively expand and market and sell in overseas countries, you might well be hiring new people in France, Germany, China or elsewhere. Wherever it is, there’s a good chance that nobody will know how to translate your brand image into the local culture better than the locals you’ve just employed.
The real question is: is your marketing department ready to relax its singular grip?