Is growth ever solely due to brilliant advertising?

Obviously not!  So why do marketers sometimes claim that it is?

 John Lewis Christmas Ad boost sales

This headline was in Marketing Week this week.  It has led me to a bit of a rant!

John Lewis Christmas Ad boost sales

Scene from John Lewis Christmas Ad

Contrast this headline with the headline in Retail Week whihc has a more operational focus.

John Lewis Christmas sales hit £734m as it plans to open 25 stores by 2023

The difference between the two headlines as they approach the same story is stark. Marketing Week make an assertion about the role of the advertising that is hard to prove or to be sure is correct.  Retail Week reports some facts and real news.

Marketing Week talk about the great results and imply they are down to the famous ad as well as mentioning the mobile communications campaign run by John Lewis and the role of online sales in driving outstanding sales performance.  The Marketing Week article makes no attempt to understand the relative contribution of the advertising to the growth.  It does not look at whether or how the advertising contributed to growth and how that fitted in with the rest of the business mix.

Whereas the Retail Week headline sticks to a few facts and goes on to discuss the different contributing factors that might have driven the growth as well as discussing the retail group’s expansion plans.  (John Lewis do believe the advertising had a role to play, but this is far from the whole story)

I fear this headline is symptomatic of common behaviours by marketers.  Making these claims can damage the reputation and credibility of marketing as an activity.  It certainly distracts marketers from their main task to help the organisation achieve profitable growth by meeting customer needs.

But the damage goes further as the headline implicitly dismisses the contribution of the work by thousands of John Lewis staff that has produced this growth.  It seems probable that all those customer service staff, the buyers who got it right, the long term effort to build the store groups reputation, the instore display building, the website builders, the delivery teams, the store managers, etc etc. each had something to do with the growth.

When marketing parades itself as the driver of growth rather than as a team player this does not help marketers or the business.  Marketers should act as facilitators that help the organisation deliver what customers want, as well as producing marketing communications that explain the offer to customers.

So what is the point of this rant?

This rant is another way to discuss the fundamental truth that high growth profitable businesses must have 4 characteristics in play.  They must

  1. offer something customers want in a way that is distinctive
  2. communicate the offer in a visible manner to all its target customers
  3. deliver the offer reliably every time
  4. and have basic economics that work

I suspect the the reason John lewis did much better than Debenhams and House of Fraser is because John Lewis were addressing all of these four points in a moe powerful manner.

  1. Customers believed their stores had more things that people wanted with better customer service at an attractive price.
  2. The cumulative effect of their marcomms over the years as led customers to expect this
  3. The experience instore confirmed that this would be true
  4. They have a business model that works

The more marketers discuss all the reasons for growth, not just their wonderful advertising, the more credible they will be with everyone else and the more influence they will have on the direction of the business.