What I learnt from supporting 15 small businesses in 2020.

For Christmas 2020 I set myself a challenge. I like to call it ‘Operation Big Up Small Businesses’. But ‘The Non-Amazon Gift-Giving Challenge’ and ‘A Very Etsy Christmas’ were close runners-up.

Side note – have I unintentionally given Etsy their next Christmas Campaign tagline?

Anyway. Back to the challenge.

The goal: to buy as many (if not all) my gifts from small and/or local businesses.

The reason: in a year where we have seen too many small businesses go under, I wanted to do my bit and support those still fighting.

Traditionally, my Christmas cash has gone into the pockets of the big brands. They make it seem so easy. Quick search online, chuck it into the cart, throw in a cheeky discount code and away we go.

This year my gift searching process took a fair bit longer. That’s because I didn’t go through the one-stop shop that is Amazon.

Instead, I bought my presents from:

  • 7 Etsy sellers.
  • 3 eBay sellers.
  • 2 local gift shop owners.
  • 1 local pop-up shop supporting local artisans.
  • 1 local candle maker.
  • 1 family member who makes beautiful Scrabble art.

Being completely transparent here – I ended up buying a few items from Nintendo, Boots and Tesco. Nobody’s perfect…at least I’m not.

But you know what I learnt from this challenge? (Aside from the fact you can find some amazing and unique presents when you shop small.)

I learnt that big doesn’t always mean best. In fact, when it came to customer service, the little businesses outshone the big brands. By miles.

Let me give you one example (it’s not the only example I have).

Back in October, I tried buying a pair of Nike trainers. Plenty of time ahead of the Christmas rush, you say. WRONG.

The day the trainers were due to arrive, I got an email saying my order had been cancelled ‘as per my request’. Uh…nope! I definitely still wanted the trainers.

Several calls and countless emails later, I was still none the wiser as to why they had cancelled my order.

Nike messed up big time and have likely lost my business for good. But I have a hunch they don’t really care.

Fast forward to mid-December and I ordered a gift from an Etsy seller. Unfortunately, the item arrived damaged (thanks to the courier). Yet, ONE quick email was all it took for the issue to be fixed.

The business owner was polite, quick to respond and sent out a fresh item no questions asked. He made me feel like I was his one and only customer. He cared, 100%.

The shopping experience was one of the nicest I’ve ever had. Safe to say I’ll be recommending this small business to family and friends.

I’m not a fan of making New Year’s resolutions. But I think I can make an exception for 2021. And it will be to continue ‘Operation Big Up Small Businesses’.

NB I originally wrote this post for my LinkedIn page on 6th Jan 2021.

The best in Christmas TV adverts – part 5

Friday has come around fast and, with it, my final TV ad review of the week. If you were hoping you were getting Saturday and Sunday too – sorry. It’s Christmas tree decorating I’ve got planned this weekend!

Anyway, back to ads. To finish off the five-part series I’ve brought out the big guns. Sainsbury’s. Let’s do this.

What’s their core message?

Food is Home, Home is Christmas

Sainsbury’s has released a series of three Christmas adverts for 2020 (part 1part 2 and part 3). In them, we hear family members speaking over the phone, making plans on how they will spend the big day together. Each conversation is simple, relatable and charged with emotion. Storytelling at its finest.

previously mentioned that emotion alone isn’t an effective selling technique. The viewer needs a justifiable reason to buy the product or service presented. This is where Sainsbury’s core message comes in – food is home, and home is Christmas.

Buy at Sainsbury’s and you’re not just getting groceries. No, what you’re getting is a feeling of comfort and warmth. You’re getting precious memories, both old and new. And you’re closing the distance COVID-19 has thrown between you and your loved ones.

That’s a whole lot of love in one shopping trolley. And who doesn’t want that?

These ads are great examples of where copy and visuals come together to create something timeless and beautiful. The voiceover is set against a backdrop of Christmas home movies that are familiar to so many Brits. Busy kitchens and smiling faces, present-opening and cuddles. You can almost taste the gravy.

Makes you wonder how some people can feel such hatred towards an advert celebrating human connection. Yep, I couldn’t not talk about the racial furore that has stormed Twitter.

Christmas is not exclusive to a select few based on the colour of their skin. It’s families united. It’s traditions passed from one generation to the next. It’s the food we share together. It’s Home, for all of us.

Well done Sainsbury’s for showing us this.

My score: 10/10.

Image credit: freefoodphotos.com

NB I originally wrote this post for my LinkedIn page on 27th Nov 2020.

The best in Christmas TV adverts – part 4

In yesterday’s post I mentioned I was avoiding the Black Friday online sales. One of the reasons for doing so is to save my own pocket. A Which? report exposes the many scams tricking unsuspecting shoppers on the hunt for a Christmas gift bargain.

But another reason is to support small businesses. It’s been a tough year for all. But especially for independent stores, local cafes, artisans and solopreneurs. They’ve had to hustle even harder in the face of two UK lockdowns. Many of them can’t compete with the big corporations peddling their Black Friday deals.

As a small business owner and a consumer trying her hardest to shop ethically, it’s something close to my heart. That’s why today’s ad review is on Notonthehighstreet.com.

What’s their core message?

The magic of small things

There’s a lot of things this ad does right.

  • They present the products. From baubles to blankets, it’s clear what sort of goodies you can find at Notonthehighstreet.com.
  • They tell short, sweet stories of different families and their Christmas traditions.
  • They use consistent language that reflects exactly what their brand is all about.

But there’s one thing in particular that stands out to me. And it’s the fact they don’t try to people-please everyone. They know who their target client is – the ethically conscious consumer wanting to do their part. And they connect to them in their language alone.

Often companies think success means being liked by everyone. They think they’ll gain more customers this way. This is not true. You’ll actually turn them off. Why? Because you’re not addressing any one person.

The best kind of copy reads as though the writer is talking to the customer in person, one-to-one. It’s personal and friendly and relevant to their situation.

Clients want to know you’re dedicated to helping them solve their unique challenges. Notonthehighstreet help their customers help small businesses. It’s as simple as that. But oh, so effective.

NB: if you’re attempting to connect with everyone – from retired accountants looking to buy a holiday home on the Costa del Sol, to young single mums searching for a crash course in business administration – you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Identify your target market. Understand what they need. Show how you solve their problem.

My score: 8/10.

Image credit: Shutterstock

NB I originally wrote this post for my LinkedIn page on 26th Nov 2020.

The best in Christmas TV adverts – part 3

Christmas is exactly one month away. And to celebrate (even the littlest things are worth celebrating these days) I’ve got another ad review for you.

So, if you’re fed up with trawling through Black Friday online sales (or completely avoiding them like I am) then sit down with a cup of tea/hot chocolate/G&T and have a read.

Lidl, you’re up next!

What’s their core message?

Big on a Christmas you can believe in

Lidl is the champion of winning over sceptics. Their tagline – ‘Big on quality, Lidl on price’ – demonstrates that great produce doesn’t mean big brands. As a result, they now have over 800 stores serving a loyal customer base across Britain.

For Christmas, Lidl’s clever copywriters have tweaked their typical slogan to attract the biggest cynics – the Scrooges. And the script for the ad itself? Comedy gold wrapped up in exactly one minute. Funny sells – when done right, of course. And Lidl know funny.

Aside from poking some fun at the competition (that means your carrots, Aldi!), they have created genius lyrics to present their products in Disneyesque fashion. In fact, they list a total of 11 different products and throw in a couple of prices too, for good measure. Viewers don’t even have to write out their Christmas shopping list. Lidl have done it for them.

My score: 9/10. Watch the ad and you too shall believe.

Now, I’m off to get some cheese that will make me feel so glad…

Image credit: StockFood / Morgans, Gareth

NB I originally wrote this post for my LinkedIn page on 25th Nov 2020.

The best in Christmas TV adverts – part 2

Another day, another Christmas ad. And today we’re taking a look at Zalando.

What’s their core message?

We will hug again

Zalando offers fashion and lifestyle products to customers in 17 European countries. They had their work cut out creating an advert that would resonate with such a diverse target market. Were they successful?

Nope. And here’s three reasons why:

1.     The product is never presented to the viewer.

Zalando sells clothes and, yes, everyone in the ad is wearing clothes. Standard stuff unless you’ve made a trip to the local nudist beach.

But the spotlight is not on the outfits. Instead, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the faces and physical interactions of the actors.

I forgot what I was watching and when the ad finished my final thought was: ‘what are they selling – hugs?’

2.     There’s no call to action (CTA).

Most copywriters would agree that you learn the rules only to break them. But a CTA? It’s the one thing you never mess with if you want any chance of attracting new customers.

People are lazy. Don’t make it harder for them by having to think what steps to take next. Tell them what to do.

3.     The emotion is not justified by logic.

Using emotion in TV adverts is nothing new. David Ogilvy – the ‘Father of Advertising’ – recognised its power in winning over viewers’ hearts and their cash.

But he also said, ‘consumers need a rational excuse to justify their emotional decisions.’ (Ogilvy, 1983, p.109).

Zalando go full throttle on the emotion but have no objective reasons to back it up. The message falls flat and viewers are left confused.

My score: 2/10. Sorry Zalando.

References: David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising, 1983.

Image credit: Getty Images/EyeEm

NB I originally wrote this post for my LinkedIn page on 24th Nov 2020.

The best in Christmas TV adverts – part 1

It appears we’ve all come to a general consensus that Christmas should start earlier this year. And I’m no Grinch. So, I’ll welcome the premature festivities with my take on some of the latest Christmas ads out there.

I’ll tackle one TV advert a day this week. And, to keep things more interesting, I’ve applied my own festive scale for clarity:

1 = as terrible as burning the turkey to a crisp and forgetting the pigs in blankets.

10 = as glorious as a flaming Christmas pud with a vat of homemade custard (no lumps!) to serve.

Today, I’m kicking it off with Waitrose and John Lewis.

What’s their core message?

Give a little love

Waitrose and John Lewis have a track record of bringing out the fuzzy feels at this time of the year. They’ve cottoned on to the power of music and fancy visuals that grab our attention in under two minutes.

My personal favourite comes from 2013. This ad gave us Lily Allen’s beautiful rendition of ‘Somewhere Only We Know’.

And this year is no different. We have the colourful images, we have the joyous music (Celeste is splendid), and we have storytelling. Overall, a job well done, Waitrose.

But apart from that, it’s nothing earth-shakingly compelling. There’s no call to action shouting to the audience, ‘hey, better get on the John Lewis website and start ordering presents for your in-laws’. And, in amongst the many adverts playing the sentimental card, this one struggles to stand out as anything different.

I think I’ll get back to baking mince pies, thank you very much.

My score: 6/10

Image credit: Universal/Getty Images

NB I originally wrote this post for my LinkedIn page on 23rd Nov 2020.