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Why it pays to play the long game in the build-up to Black Friday

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Black Friday has fast become the standout date in the UK ecommerce calendar. It may well be yet another transatlantic import to the UK retail scene, but it’s a date that consumers are looking out for and a date that ecommerce brands have very much marked in their calendars as the start of the festive spending spree.

In the run-up to Black Friday, brands will be putting together their promotions, finalising their creative and deploying an enormous volume of ads across both digital and non-digital channels. Estimates suggest that retailers in the US deploy just over a quarter of their annual digital ad budget over the Black Friday period. For UK retailers, the stakes will be similarly high and with much of that spend going into auction-based digital advertising platforms and pushing up the cost of those bids, that can have a big impact on your cost-per-acquisition.

But as Black Friday generates upward pressure on ad costs and competition in the market, retailers are also contending with the downward pressure that comes with such aggressive levels of discounting. It needs a different approach to prevent your ROI from being squeezed in the middle.

The usual tactics aren’t going to work

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The analogy that we use when it comes to Black Friday is that it is, in many respects, akin to a football team playing in the Champions League.

Whilst the rules and your team are very much the same as they are in your run-of-the-mill domestic league fixture, you need different tactics when you step up to compete at that next ‘Champions League’ level. The competition is harder, demanding greater levels of investment if you are going to be successful, the expectation from those looking on is higher and any failings in your tactics or strategy are going to be much more ruthlessly exposed. It means that your approach to Black Friday needs that extra level of planning and preparation.

But in order to get those tactics right, you need to be clear on what your brand is looking to achieve from Black Friday. It’s very easy to see Black Friday as an event in which you simply compete to generate revenue at (almost) any cost as your competition comes out with even bigger discounts and more aggressive ad bidding, but there are much smarter ways to take advantage of this increased consumer activity whilst at the same time, protecting that all-important margin.

Play the long game

A French Connection branch in London

One of the keys to getting your strategy right on Black Friday is to focus on a long-term strategy. 

Whilst Black Friday has become something of a short-term frenzy of consumer spending, those brands that take a more long-term view to capitalise on the peak in activity, without exposing their brand to the cost pressures that this period brings, are the ones that will succeed. 

Last year, French Connection played the long game impressively, integrating a customer based strategy, as shown by their VIP preview ads. Their creative was also incredibly consistent across channels, keeping it simple, and using visual creative such as vertical video.

One of the important aspects to Black Friday advertising is to understand your target audiences. Whilst many ecommerce brands will invariably focus on volume during the Black Friday period, the real difference is made in generating audiences that will carry much more long-term value.

Prospect your audiences before ad costs soar

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Black Friday isn’t like other promotional periods. Whilst other promotions have become much more fluid in recent years depending on the whims of retailers (Boxing Day sales, for example, no longer start on Boxing Day), Black Friday is a promotion that consumers have very much marked in their calendars. They know when it is going to happen, and they know what to expect. It’s therefore more important than in most promotional periods to get that preparation right.

Part of that planning will focus on your audience and how you are going to prospect those audiences in the run-up to Black Friday. Hunter Boots had a clear Black Friday tone of voice in 2018, across their paid search ad copy, with prominent references to the copy in the headline, descriptions and sitelinks. They also included location extensions, acknowledging that many sales journeys may start online and be completed offline during this weekend. Aldo also kept their creative simple, integrating a similar colour scheme and videos across both Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Knowing that advertising costs are going to ramp up as the Black Friday discounts take effect, look at how you can prospect and tease your audiences in the run-up to the event, allowing you to remarket at lower costs when the promotional period reaches its peak. 

Depending on the nature of your brand and promotion, channels such as YouTube, Instagram and Facebook stories can be particularly effective at both creating brand recognition, generating demand for your product and building the custom audiences that you can remarket to over the course of the Black Friday period.

Know which audiences generate value

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The other key factor in your audience planning is understanding which audiences offer the most value. Which audiences are those loyal, valuable customers who will come back again and again? Which ones are those promiscuous, discount-driven, voucher-code hoarding audiences that are only around because they’re seeking out that bargain purchase, never to be seen again? Which of the latter can you turn into the former? These questions should be having a huge influence on your bidding and segmentation strategies.

This is where your approach and planning should extend beyond Black Friday. If you are going to invest in acquiring those new deal-driven consumers, think about how you are going to convert those into more loyal customers in the long term. What branded content do you have to keep them engaged? How will you deploy up-sell and cross-sell messaging to generate repeat conversions? 

Last year Merrell created an eye catching custom-made Black Friday VIP gif, taking their audience list into account and showing that they are playing the long game. As well as rewarding the loyalty of their core user base.

Without this planning for the long term, you risk engaging in an ad budget arms-race to engage audiences that will offer minimal lifetime value. Cost-per-click will rise, your cost-per-acquisition likewise and, whilst you’ll be able to point to a short-term spike in revenue in the immediate aftermath of Black Friday, the longer-term result is that you have attracted a pool of low lifetime value customers at one of the most expensive times of the year for customer acquisition.  

Think about how to make your ad budget work harder by playing the long game. By investing in audience prospecting before the event, followed by engaging, targeted good content and remarketing after the event, your Black Friday strategy will help to both minimise your ad costs and protect that all-important margin.

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Sarah Barker is head of biddable media at Stickyeyes.

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