How Digital Marketing Trends Have Changed Black Friday

November 9, 2016 Jonathan Crowl

Black Friday shopping has expanded beyond a single day of activity.

Last year, like almost every other year most Americans can remember, Thanksgiving evening faded into the predawn hours of Black Friday. In typical fashion, millions of shoppers emerged from their homes in their comfiest outfits, in search of great holiday deals (and probably the closest 24-7 coffee shop).

If you’re a retail brand, 2015’s Black Friday likely wasn’t much different from any other. As always, it was the start of an incredibly high-stakes shopping season—and because marketing trends historically showed that performance between Thanksgiving Day and the end of the calendar year could make or break a company’s success for a fiscal year, you probably started prepping your content strategy months in advance—resulting in your success.

Phew.

But have you looked at the calendar lately? From the time of this piece publishing, there are 16 days until Black Friday.

To make things more complicated, the holiday’s role has drastically changed. Don’t get me wrong: it still wields a very significant influence over retail shopping behaviors, and it is a critical point of focus for those brands and their marketing staffs. But digital channels have played a big role in decentralizing the influence of Black Friday. Every year, the best practices and winning strategies seem to shift just slightly, creating new challenges and opportunities for brands to navigate.

Are you ready? Let’s make sure. Here’s a close look at the trends that will flex greater influence over retail marketing success in 2016.

Black Friday Is a Mentality

It’s no longer true that driving big business on Black Friday is a necessity. While it will remain a big battleground for some retailers, other brands have found that their resources are better spent elsewhere. They may run Black Friday specials in store, but they’re more focused on driving high ROI than driving high sales volume—especially when that volume only applies to one of 365 calendar days.

In fact, some retailers have even pushed back against the singular emphasis on Black Friday, particularly as a shopping event that comes right after a national holiday. Outdoor gear brand REI has made a tradition of staying closed on that day, instead opting to give its employees some time to spend with their families, either at home or off on exciting adventures. This keeps the company’s brand aligned with its goal of encouraging people to get outside and enjoy the natural world. It only makes sense that REI would zig on Black Friday, while other retailers zag.

And the blowback against Black Friday doesn’t end here: While Black Friday now often spills over into Thanksgiving evening, with many shopping centers across the country turning into a madhouse even on Turkey Day, this year one major mall has decided to close operations on the holiday. Minnesota’s Mall of America, one of the largest shopping complexes in the United States, will reopen Black Friday morning.

Interior of Mall of America

In a way, the decision by retail brands to opt out of Thanksgiving Day shopping isn’t a rebellion against Black Friday—not entirely, at least. These businesses are also acknowledging a shift in what Black Friday represents. It isn’t a pair of high-volume shopping days: it’s a mentality. More than a date on the calendar, Black Friday represents a willingness to be aggressive and impulsive if it means landing an exclusive, limited offer. According to a spokesperson for the Mall of America, the decision to close on Thanksgiving came after a thorough evaluation and “looking at the numbers,” per the Star Tribune. That’s a subtle hint that the shopping mall doesn’t see the surrounding days as do-or-die retail events.

Black Friday represents a consumer determination to score great deals, and to find them however they can. Between Cyber Monday and other retail strategies taking place outside of that well-known day of retail mayhem, retailers are finding new ways to target that consumer mind-set.

Black Friday

Reward Your Loyal Shoppers

Brand loyalty is under assault on Black Friday, when shoppers will go anywhere to snag the best deal on the market. Lazy retailers risk losing their dedicated consumers to competing brands if they don’t position themselves well with comparable discounts and similar experiences.

In this case, the best defense is a good offense. With brand loyalty at risk, retailers should use those loyalty channels to reward consumers for their business, and to remind them of why they’re committed to those brands in the first place. Social media is the perfect example: by offering social-specific offers and promotions, brands can reward their current followers and build positive brand experiences at a critical juncture in the sales calendar.

The same principles can be applied to retail mobile apps. Reward active users with mobile offers delivered via push notifications or accessed within the app. You can even publicize rewards programs that deliver promotions randomly to consumers when they enter your store. These strategies leverage existing loyalty channels to build engaging experiences and retain consumer business that competitors are aggressively targeting. What’s more, they will teach those shoppers that when they’re looking for a deal, your brand is the first place to check.

(Some) Oldies Are Still Goodies

Between social media, mobile marketing, mobile retail apps, dynamic in-store content, and other digital innovations, it’s easy for brands to get caught up in a marketing arms race, spending on the glitzy new campaigns and channels that promise to deliver holiday sales by the truckload.

There’s no denying the value of staying agile and pursuing innovation in both your content strategy and your overall marketing strategy. But brands should also remember the enduring value of time-honored digital marketing channels that continue to pull in steady ROI.

As Marketing Land noted, email marketing is a classic that still rewards its dedicated users: In 2015, Black Friday retailers say more than one quarter of all online orders are being driven by email.

Organic search and paid search ranked second and third in terms of their online order rates, accounting for 21.1 and 13.3 percent of all online Black Friday orders. Given the stakes, marketers should pay attention to marketing trends and try to stay on top of the newest emerging strategies—but this desire to innovate shouldn’t come at the expense of content campaigns that have proven their value year after year.

Tensions run high during the holiday season, for retailers and consumers alike. While shoppers twist themselves into knots trying to find the best Black Friday deals, savvy retailers can use smart content strategy to strengthen their brands, deepen shopper loyalty, and drive ROI—not just on Black Friday, but on every day before and after it.

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