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What John Lewis can teach small businesses about emotional storytelling

by | Business storytelling, Copywriting

Why identifying the emotions that work best with your brand is a powerful strategy

Have you seen it yet? 

John Lewis has released its Christmas Ad.

This year Elton John takes us on a trip down memory lane and shows us how gifts can change lives.

So what makes this Christmas Ad like John Lewis’s other Christmas Ads so special?

John Lewis is the master of emotional storytelling. It knows depictions of family, nostalgia and thoughtfulness are guaranteed sharable content.

Owing to its consistent approach and use of a strong narrative arc, the British public anticipates John Lewis’s Christmas campaigns with tremendous excitement.

So what can small businesses learn from John Lewis?

Know your audience

John Lewis gives its audience precisely what it wants. A thoughtful message. A hero to which the audience can root for and relate.  A famous song reinterpreted. 

Identify the emotions that work best with your brand

John Lewis’s heartwarming campaigns elicit emotion and show the department store’s human face.

On the surface, in its 2018 ad, John Lewis appears to have changed direction. No cute furry animals. No animation.

But dig a bit deeper, and you’ll see that John Lewis used the emotion “gratitude” as a basis for this ad.

It’s a simple tale about a boy and his piano and the gratitude he feels about receiving a gift that stands out from others.

Emotions you can link your brand to include:

  • Hope
  • Pride
  • Altruism
  • Satisfaction
  • Relief

Take storytelling further and weave it into your brand identity

People love stories. They’re memorable. They shape what people think about your business.

John Lewis is a partnership. Its mission statement states:  “The Partnership’s ultimate purpose is the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business.”

It aims to “conduct all its business relationships with integrity and courtesy.”

Furthermore, it wants to “contribute to the wellbeing of the communities in which it serves.”

The themes of happiness, courtesy and contributing to the wellbeing of others all flow through John Lewis’s Christmas ads. 

As a result, with each new ad, the company reinforces its identity.

Communicate motivation for buying over features

Have you noticed how John Lewis’s products are incidental to its stories? 

Instead of focusing on the store’s gifts (features), it chooses to focus on the motivation of ‘thoughtful giving’ for buying its products:

 ‘Give a little more love at Christmas” (The Snowman)

“Give someone the Christmas they’ve been dreaming of.” (Monty the Penguin)

“Give someone a Christmas they’ll never forget,” (The Bear and the Hare)


Communicate your story across social media platforms

Emotional storytelling is not intrusive. Therefore your audience is far more likely to share it. And as a result, you’re far more likely to build a following.

Before launching its ads, John Lewis builds excitement with teasers. Last year within 24 hours of its launch, the “Moz the monster” campaign became the most viewed Christmas ad on Facebook and YouTube.

Elsewhere John Lewis uses hashtags (#eltonjohnlewis, #BusterTheBoxer) to make its ads searchable, generate momentum and to encourage conversations.

Keep content relevant, engaging and sharable

You can see that John Lewis’s Christmas ads tick all Google’s boxes. And keep audiences coming back for more.

Let’s recap

Whether you sell products and services B2B or B2C, there’s plenty of research to suggest people do not make decisions logically, but emotionally.

With emotional storytelling, you aim to connect your brand to the positive emotions your audience is feeling.

And as a result, strengthen your relationship with your audience so that it feels confident buying from you.

To work emotional storytelling in the same way John Lewis does:

Now it’s your turn.

And finally

If you would like help writing content using emotional storytelling, then drop me a line to get information about pricing.

Claire Hawes, copywriter and owner of The Content BoutiqueAbout Claire Hawes

Claire Hawes is a marketing communications copywriter. She enjoys writing engaging copy that helps businesses to get noticed and attract enquiries. Claire’s experience mainly lies in the business to business sector. Her clients include both businesses and digital marketing agencies.

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