Digital transformation at John Lewis

Digital transformation at John Lewis

Yesterday I attended an excellent seminar by Andy Street, ex MD of John Lewis. Although the topic was about Ethical business, for me it was really another fascinating transformation story.

What was most interesting for me was how JLP’s ethical approach helped them to respond to, and transform their business in response to the double whammy of digital disruption and the Credit Crunch.

Back in 2007, JLP were just starting their foray into multi-channel and had purchased to  to establish their online business.  However soon after, the credit crunch hit and their revenues declined dramatically.

This required a major restructure of their business, but it was impressive to hear how they stuck to their guns and continued to focus on their future growth – their online business. They were one of the pioneers of click and collect and at a time when their competitors were reducing investments, they also opened more stores as they realised that, in order to compete in the online world, they had to have more points of presence.

The results ?

  • Online sales grew from 12% in 2008/9 to 36% in 2015/6
  • JLP has evolved from a Multichannel to an Omnichannel model: stores run as local businesses

Last, but not least, JLP’s business is still based around bricks and mortar (I look forward to the new JLP shop opening in Oxford) . It t seems to have successfully weathered the storm and come out of the digital / credit crunch stronger and fitter for the future…

I’m a Freelance Marketing Consultant. Contact me to find out how I can help your transform your business for the digital world.


Growth Hacking for Corporates – Too Young to Rock n Roll, Too Old to Die

Growth Hacking for Corporates – Too Young to Rock n Roll, Too Old to Die

Grow fast or die slow (Samir Patel) is the mantra of Growth Hacking. But, for corporate long timers like me, Jethro Tull’s Too old to Rock ‘n Roll, Too Young to Die sums things up more accurately.   We feel that we are missing out on something exciting but we are not entirely sure what we are missing out on.

Not any more.  Recently I went to an excellent seminar on Growth hacking by Vincent Dignan . (If you get the chance – go and see him!).  I found it very inspiring and also full of great tips and advice to growth traffic and users and build your social media presence rapidly.

But what really stuck me was that, although, Growth Hacking is seen as mainly for startups there is a lot that Corporate marketing teams can learn.

So here’s my advice on Corporates could deploy these techniques..

It starts with the strategy

It was great to see that, even in the fast moving and murky world of growth-hacking,  some universal truths apply.   Namely that if you don’t have a clear strategy of who you are targeting, with what products and offerings, and know which channels to use … then you are likely to fail.  Likewise if your products or services don’t deliver what your target customers want, then you are not going to be successful.

Or as Vincent put it in millenial-speak: “you need to know who your target is, where they hang out and what problems they have.”

Yet how often do organisations start with the tactics and then try to retro-fit a strategy ?

Plan to succeed but learn from your mistakes

One of the great things about the Growth Hacking movement is speed to market, and risk taking.  In my earlier career I have been involved in guerilla marketing projects (we didn’t call it “growth hacking” back then) – these are great fun.

However for someone trained in the traditional CIM values of Segment / Target / Positioning it was reassuring to have so much emphasis in the seminar on planning.  This came through in a number of ways..

  • Plan your approach to your target audience
  • Plan your onboarding strategy
  • Plan how you will grow your traffic, through identifying which channels to use

I think the key thing here for Corporates is that you can manage the risk of trying new techniques and approaches, provided you have clear objectives of what you are trying to achieve.  You have to be bold enough not just to try new things but also – the difficult bit – to admit to failures.  I’ve certainly found in my career that I’ve learned a lot through mistakes..   As the old saying goes “nothing ventured, nothing gained”

And, when you find something that works – keep doing it:  rinse and repeat !

Digital isn’t the only way to reach your audience

Digital may be what captures the attention of Corporate Marketers, but it’s not the only way to reach your audience. Remember that you need to get your messages to your target audience “where they hang out” – which may well mean offline.

So it’s no surprise that the leading digital brands are using more and more traditional – ie offline – media. In 2016  TV advertising revenue hit record levels of £5.27bn in 2015 as digital brands including Facebook, Google and Netflix become the second biggest investors in the medium.[Marketing Week]

Facebook launched a big campaign to promote Live Video in October 2016 using Tradtional Media

Or a well crafted Direct Mail piece is a proven way to get attention and drive people on line.

Keep it simple: it’s the invisible things that will make a difference

OK you may have a fabulous website but how easy is it for your target audience to do the bread-and-butter things?

The key thing for me was that it’s not just about the website / app etc. The back-end processes – the ones that aren’t visible –  that are just as important.

For instance, how easy is it find where to sign up,  what happens when someone signs up – do they get a thank-you email ?  Have you thought through the whole process of onboarding ?

I’m constantly surprised at how simple (and dare I say it obvious) things really make a difference… Like moving a paper-based system to an online one. Or using simple Marketing Automation to ensure that every new user or interaction gets a thank you.

Content: Weddings and Babies

It goes without saying that content is a key component of any Marketing activity. However in the crowded, fragmented world of the internet, it’s even more important to make your content stand out. As Vincent Dignan said, you need to make your content as interesting as Weddings or Babies.

Although the typical Corporate launching your  new Widget 3000 isn’t trying to outcompete weddings and babies, the content still needs to be relevant, interesting and – ideally, depending on what you are selling – compelling.

Yet, according to the Havas’ latest Meaningful Brands survey, “60% of the content created by the world’s leading 1,500 brands is ‘just clutter’ that has little impact on consumers’ lives or business results”. [Marketing Week].

So here are some techniques for improving content…

Personalise your messages to your target segments. Again this may seem obvious but how often do you see Press Releases sent out as-is ?  In my view Press Releases are formal documents, intended  for Journalists and can very dull…   If you’ve done your homework, you’ve identified your target market and their wants and needs. Use this information to point out to your audience WHY the content of the Press Release is relevant to them..

Call to action.  Think what you want people to do when they read your content. When I was working in Marketing Communications in IBM we used to call it the “So What?” Test. In particular choose buttons for your website which actively encourage your users to take action…


And no, “Sign up for our Newsletter” does not appear !

And, last but not, least ..

“Don’t sweat the small things on day ONE”.  In other words, it’s better to get your content out, than worry too much about presentation and design.

Innovate but don’t go over to the Dark Side

It’s not for nothing that it’s called Growth Hacking as some of the techniques that are used by Growth Hackers are, frankly, of questionable legality !  Scraping a competitor’s site to extract key information or gathering emails  is probably a big no no for Corporates with a reputation to uphold.

However there’s nothing wrong with seeking out great models (including your competitors), and copying the best bits. Rather than reverse engineering growth (as the Growth Hackers say) or simply copying, I would find ways of improving on what your competitors are doing.

Which brings me on to my final point.

Growth Hacking is a state of mind

For me, Growth Hacking isn’t about techniques or strategies: it’s really a state of mind.

Vincent Dignan said in his seminar that, to be a good Growth Hacker, you need to be a “be a mixture of Mad Men and Math-Men”. What I took this to mean is a combination of the risk taking, can-do attitude of Mad Mean, with the level-headedness and focus of a strategic planner.

That’s why, for me, Growth Hacking and Social Media don’t have to be the Wild West anymore, even for Corporates.

Gone are the days of Social Not-working….  bring on the days of Sustainable Growth Hacking !

I’m a Freelance Marketing Consultant. Contact me to find out how I can help your transform your business for the digital world. 

Digital transformation – a brave new world ?

There’s a lot of talk nowadays about Digital Transformation, with a number of people pushing the need to innovate and transform. So here is my advice for business leaders.

The e-business story: a lesson from history ?

Deja vu ? an article from Feb 2000

Remember back in 2000 ?  This was the time when the internet was really starting to take off. There were many people very excited about the opportunities that this new thing called the internet could bring for organisations  – hence “e-business”.

There were even a number of trade magazines devoted to e-business.

At the time I was working in IBM, as Global Marketing Communications Manager. My key focus was to launch IBM’s new e-learning solution globally. Except we weren’t allowed to use the term “e-learning” because, the IBM CEO Lou Gerstner (with amazing foresight) dictated that “e-business” was really a passing phase. And he was completely right (although we all complained at the time of having to talk about Distributed Learning Solutions when our competitors and customers were talking about e-learning).

e-business was not, in the long term, a revolutionary change. It was just a new way of doing business which, after a few years has become business as usual.  (And, not surprisingly,  the e-business magazines are no more).

So what’s different about Digital Transformation in 2017 ?

Roll forward to 2017.  The vast majority of businesses have a digital presence, they have websites, social media etc and they may even have eCommerce capability.

So why the interest in digital transformation ?  In my experience, I think the focus on digital transformation is really about fundamental changes in business models. Let me give you an example.

Digital transformation in the Publishing Industry: Brave New World

When I started my project at Ricoh Europe to target the Publishing Industry in 2014, I was genuinely surprised how much people were much concerned about digital transformation. I was told that this was all due to consumers buying eBooks instead of printed books. The key symptoms were:

  • print book sales were falling
  • new technologies (ie ebooks) were growing rapidly
  • Publishers were losing money and asking serious questions about their business models
Interquest 2016 banner.png
The mood amongst attendees at Interquest 2016 digital book printing forum was definitely positive, compared to the 2014 event

However in just a few years the situation seemed to settle down, and the mood changed from pessimisim to optimism.

  • book sales have stabilised and have even started to increase in some categories
  • ebook sales had reached a plateau and stabilised
  • And, last but not least, many Publishers have started to make money again.

So what has happened ?   Well, this is how I interpret it.

Consumer behaviour has been changing…:

People’s buying habits have been changing. There are many things  competing with books: music, film, and other entertainments.  Publishers have had to respond to this new situation.

An inefficient supply chain model has been made more efficient

The traditional supply chain was organised around buying books in bulk from China, and storing in large warehouses.  It was not uncommon for up to 30% of stock to remain unsold.  This was OK so long as Publishers were making money….

However the adoption of the latest digital print technologies has meant that Publishers can now almost print to order. As a result, they have significantly reduced inventory (and costs), speeded up time to market and opened up new revenue opportunities from backlist titles.

eBooks have carved out a niche

The launch of the Kindle and other ebook platforms, along with subsidised prices for eBooks created an accelerated demand for ebooks. Initially this caused significant disruption for Publishers. However, as soon as the subsidies ended, eBook sales have reached a plateau.

The new normal

I think it was the MD of HarperCollins at the Futurebook Conference in 2015 who coined the phrase “The new normal”  – a great expression ! What has happened is actually not digital transformation  – it’s far more profound than that.

To me, the new normal isn’t about transforming the business to make it more digital: no more than mainstream businesses became e-Businesses after 2000. Rather it’s about responding to market changes, and adapting the business model. It’s also about taking advantage of all innovations such as digital print – not just IT.

The book publishers of 2014 still make most of their money selling books. Now they can expand their revenues by selling a wider range of books, printed more cost-effectively using digital print technologies. They can offer a wider choice of formats to their readers – print and ebooks. And they can reach their end-users directly using Social Media.

What’s not to like ?


I’m looking to build a business as a Freelance Marketing Consultant. Contact me to find out how I can help your transform your business for the digital world. 









Out with the new, bring in the old

Out with the new, bring in the old

New Year is traditionally a time of renewal, change and reflection. Out with the old, bring in the new, as the saying goes.

So I was really interested to see that, at the very end of 2016, vinyl sales in the UK even exceeded digital sales –  Tables turned as vinyl sales overtake digital sales for the first time in the UK. This is the first this has happened.

Now I can remember back to the days when all music was vinyl. I used to think my record collection was a bit like my DNA and I used to choose carefully which records to take to a party, depending who I was trying to impress… (Well, I was young!)

Then along came CDs. CDs promised a number of advantages over vinyl, principally CDs were supposed to be much more robust (no scratching!), used less storage and offered more control. You could actually change tracks without getting up.. You could even play tracks in a different order..

On the down side, to me (and my friends) the sound quality of CDs wasn’t as rich. However as my music tastes changed from classical to prog rock, rock and pop then this was a price worth paying…  (In fact I can remember the look of sheer horror and disdain from the staff in an upmarket music shop when I put on Supertramp to test a music system I was buying).

Then of course download replaced both CD and vinyl in the steady march of progress..

But the recent uptake in vinyl demonstrates that technology does not always progress in a linear fashion. In many areas – such as print, radio – one technology rarely completely replaces or supersedes another.

And, as the latest generation of millenials are finding, newer doesn’t necessarily mean better. This is a summary of a conversation I had over Christmas was some 25+ year olds, which took me right back to when I was discovering vinyl for the first time.

  • Isn’t it great to listen to a whole album
  • Vinyl record covers are great – it’s like having a record of your tastes in music
  • I love the depth of the sound
  • Isn’t it fun to browse through records in a store – you never know what you will find

Last but not least… I know someone who wanted a vinyl record player for Christmas even though she has no vinyl records at all !

And, of course, “older” technology rarely stands still. The last time I bought a vinyl record (it was last year), it came with a code for a high quality digital download. That’s a great idea as it enables me to have the best of all worlds.

So is calling one technology “new” and another “old” really that useful ? After all, to a millenial, vinyl is a new exciting experience ….

So maybe old is really  the new new?

I’m looking to build a business as a Freelance Marketing Consultant. Contact me to find out how I can help your transform your business for the digital world.