Black Friday has only recently become ‘a thing’ in the UK, but it’s gone from zero to a very big deal in just a few years. According to research from GoCompare, UK households are expected to spend a total of £3bn during this year’s Black Friday sales.
As a result, the Black Friday marketing landscape is a very noisy one. How do brands stand out in this landscape? Our planning team at Indicia has a stack of experience when it comes to finding a Black Friday niche for a brand, based on first-class insight.
We spoke to planner Katie Banwell and planning director Chris Moody to find out their take on this year’s shopping mega-event.
Why has Black Friday gone from a US event based around Thanksgiving to something the UK has embraced with gusto?
The irony is that what was meant to stop people going into town in the 1950s has now become a shopping event
Chris: The term ‘Black Friday’ as far as I can find originated in Philadelphia in the late 1950s and 60s. On the day after Thanksgiving, huge crowds of people went into the city on their day off, which caused the Police a headache. They called it Black Friday to discourage people from coming in.
The irony is that something that was designed to stop people coming into town and going shopping has been appropriated into what is now a shopping event.
Katie: There are now so many British brands that have recognised the opportunity that it’s made it a big event. It’s created genuine excitement among consumers this side of the pond.
What are the benefits of Black Friday for brands?
If the media picks up one of your deals, you’ve potentially got yourself a million pairs of eyeballs
Chris: It’s a big retail event that has burrowed into the public consciousness. This means brands can piggy-back onto it, knowing that the words ‘Black Friday’ are shorthand for ‘great bargains!’. Smaller brands have learned that you don’t necessarily need massive ad or marketing budgets to get noticed.
Katie: And aside from the sales aspect, it’s an opportunity to do something different for consumers that reaches a wider audience and gets them engaged in your brand. I’m not 100% convinced that this event is sustainable as we’ve seen some cases where it just brings sales forward and reduces profit. There was a dip in the December retail sales in both 2014 and 2015 as a result of the growth of Black Friday.
However, some consumers do factor Black Friday into their plan for Christmas spending and its part of the retail calendar. Some discretionary categories such as electricals may suffer from the recent interest rate rise stretching consumers – Black Friday could provide a much needed boost.
How would you advise a brand to approach Black Friday?
Create an experience for your customers, something that sets you apart and gets you noticed
Chris: My first question would be ‘why get involved?’. How will it help you achieve your objectives? As planners, we get to the root of the brand’s objectives – then we can start to define what the strategies are. Is Black Friday going to help you?
Katie: Create an experience for your customers, something that sets you apart and gets you noticed. Make sure they see your discounts as genuine and you don’t lose brand trust or value. Have a strategy that mitigates against displacement of demand. I’d advise weighing up the opportunity to increase the volumes of sales in this period against the effects on your brand and overall profit. Think about what you have to offer that fits well with the event and remember that doing a Black Friday campaign is not compulsory.
Chris: Exactly – you need to be clear what the brand stands for. What are your brand’s values? Does Black Friday help you stand for those values?
What role does planning play in positioning this kind of campaign?
We can help you understand which audiences are right for Black Friday, and how to activate those people
Katie: Planning will assess whether your target demographic is right for a Black Friday deal and when to catch them; which channel is best and what proposition you need to compete at this noisy time of year. We’ll also look at forecasted ROI for campaigns and the effect it will have on later sales.
Chris: We find out more about your audiences, what you know about them and how we can enrich that. Black Friday is pretty much a sledgehammer across the board – it doesn’t discriminate between types of people. We can help you understand which audiences are right for this, and how to activate those people. It’s about helping you be smart around Black Friday.
How can you be smart when all around you are piling high and selling cheap?
Chris: Black Friday is about deals. If you’re using the selling of something cheap to get people in, you want to be able to keep them close to your brand afterwards. It’s a huge acquisition opportunity – and you need to be smarter than just hoping deal-seekers leave you their email address when they come in for a bargain.
Maybe try and deliver a longer term appeal with your offers. Black Friday is about being savvy at an expensive time of year – is there something you can do to give consumers something to look forward to?
This could work well for holiday retailers. Or what about those games consoles that you’re selling as Christmas presents – by the end of Boxing Day those bundled games will be finished. There’s potential to offer a deal with longevity in that situation.
Think strategically – imagine customers beyond the Black Friday weekend, and use it to do more than just prop up November sales figures. We want to help you identify the right people to talk to, and get focused on the right products, content and channels that’ll activate that audience.
What are the most interesting approaches to the event that you’ve seen this year and in recent years?
Use the buzz around the event to do something novel that will get your brand noticed
Katie: In 2015 it was interesting to see Asda (who were so instrumental in establishing Black Friday in the UK initially) decide to move away from it – an economic decision. Last year it was good to see more US brands emulating American outdoor retailer REI and actually closing their stores on Black Friday.
And this year? Amazon, arguably the biggest Black Friday player, is creating a pop-up in Soho to offer an experience for customers as well as low prices. I think someone like Aldi or Lidl could have some fun with their ‘middle aisle of mystery’ products and it wouldn’t damage their brand as they’re already seen as discount supermarkets.
However, I do think momentum is slowing for some sectors and some of the most interesting stories could be how more brands publicly opt out.
Chris: There are a number of great examples of deliberately opting out in the outdoor goods space – and this really demonstrates what we’ve said about fit. Outdoor brands stand for going outdoors and exploring – not shopping. Black Friday has presented a way for them to differentiate themselves.
For example, Patagonia has taken an on-brand approach by rejecting discounts, and instead donating profits to charity on Black Friday.
Fat Face in the UK took a similar approach with their ‘thanks for giving’ campaign which saw them donate a percentage of the day’s profits to local charities. Fat Face have also done a price promise. They promise that if you buy something in the months before Christmas, there’s no risk that you’d be better off buying it at another time.
This demonstrates huge confidence in the brand – which could be better in the long term than getting a few lower-margin sales in through discounting.
Katie: All these examples show how you can use the buzz around the event to do something novel that will get your brand noticed. You just have to be aware that there’s a lot of other campaigns competing for your customers’ attention.