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Bethan Rainford runs the day-to-day operations of the paid media team and heads up the paid media offering. Bethan has spoken at a host of ecommerce events and has been working in paid media since 2015, previously managing accounts for the likes of BMW, Nintendo and MUJI.
It’s never too early to start planning your Black Friday Activities. It’s one of the few times of the year that you can make trading decisions in real time as you make adjustments to pricing and media spend in response to performance, competitor activity and product availability. However, to do this effectively you need to have a solid plan that everyone can work off and we hope the below can help guide you with this.
Every Black Friday is different from before, but you should have access to enough internal and external to set out a decent forecast for spend and return.
Before jumping in to creating a media and promotional plan, it’s worth considering the strategy that you’re going to pursue. A common mistake is just to look at the couple of weeks of high promotional activity and create a plan about that. But the context is much different; it’s one time of the year where you are fighting for share of wallet and share of voice not just with competitors in your market, but with any company that sells to your customer segment. In other words, a customer may be deciding to spend on a new phone, or a chair, or a holiday all within the same two to four week period. However, the normal rules of brand awareness and consideration still apply. If anything, in an environment where customers are being bombarded with advertising and promotions from all sides, brands that have strong recognition and desirability are much more likely to attract attention, clicks and sales - simply put, it’s much easier for them to stand out from the crowd. This being the case, it’s worth including a ramp up phase in your plan. Any type of brand promotion advertising has a window of effectiveness, whether it’s paid social, YouTube, display, TV or out of home. This effect is known as adstock, and for most brands, this is between two and six weeks, which helps to define the period during which you should have this as a focus before you transition into more promotional based marketing. The precise value of this for your brand isn’t that important for the purposes of planning - Q4 is typically a valuable period for any brand and in terms of strategy, the general effect is what matters.
Creating a Black Friday Plan
1. What are you going to promote
Generally, businesses that coordinate well across departments are more efficient and more successful. This is especially true during periods like Black Friday and Christmas, where your promotions are generally product based. This may not be universally true - companies like REI have been successful in positioning themselves as an alternative to an intensely commercial period, which resonates well with their audience. However, for our purposes here we’ll assume that your brand will be running a series of discounts and similar promotions. This is where working hand in hand with the commercial team pays off. Generally, there are two types of product promotions that they will enable - discounts on slow moving lines (in the same way as a normal sale), and buying into certain lines for the specific purpose of being able to offer attractive discounts to your customers. As an e-commerce function, you have a lot of data to share that can be useful in both parts - on site searches, price elasticity, Google Shopping and search volumes, plus any competitor activity that you are gathering.
2. Creating a promotional plan Once you have the details of the product promotions you have available, you can turn these into more coherent merchandisable groups - ‘for example, 20% off all tops’, as well as identifying what the hero products are - the products that have the greatest appeal and will be most attractive to customers. In this grouping, you don’t need to just confine yourself to categories or similar products - you may want to present selections of products that have the deepest discounts, or low availability; this is where all the customer testing that you do during the year pays off. This should also allow you to make decisions on how long to run your Black Friday campaign. There are various options open to you - some brands will run Black Friday promotions for the whole month of November - but the most important thing is that you have the volume of offers to cover the full length of time. If you are attracting customers to your website early on in your campaign and they are underwhelmed with what you have to offer, they are less likely to open your emails, click on your ads and return to your website.
3. Creative and Merchandising This is where you nail down how you are going to present offers to your customers. Whether you do this in house or you outsource to a creative agency, it’s important that you provide them with a brief that covers your full range of promotional channels as well as what you need for your website. As with any large scale campaign, you want a coherent effect across all of your customer touch points, including email, paid social and any third party partnerships that you may want to engage in.
4. Media Planning
As mentioned above, your media plan should fall into two parts. This first part is fairly straightforward - you can set this out like a standard media plan using awareness and consideration as your KPIs. If you don’t have a specific campaign planned for the second half of Q3 / first half of Q4, then it will be just as effective to fall back to your normal brand positioning and use that for your messaging. The second part of your media plan should cover your core promotional period. A helpful approach can be to list out the different promotions and then detail the execution by channel, whether that’s email, social or whichever other. This is your best opportunity to sell the product you have bought in and are discounting, so you won’t benefit from holding back on promotional activity. Once you have your activations set out, you can start to set out proposed media spend. There are two parts of this - expected audience size and search traffic, and commercial performance. The size of the audience you can reach gives you an upper limit on what your spend could be, and the commercial performance allows you to set out your most likely spend.
So how do you go about estimating these things?
Black Friday has existed in the e-commerce space for over ten years now, and while each individual market will always react differently in the context of whether it’s growing, what competitors are doing and so on, we still have plenty of data to look at. The first step is to look at how your performance compares to the rest of the year - in other words, asking the question, how do our key metrics (traffic, media costs, sales, margin, etc) normally compare to the preceding three months (or longer, depending on when you are making the calculations). This should allow you to make estimates and assumptions, for example that sales are likely to be 80% over Q2 while margin improves by 5% (you might think that margin per order goes down as you discount more heavily, but increased customer spending can often lead to greater basket size - as always, your mileage may vary). This then allows you to create a working model based on your desired profitability - how much you expect to spend and how that translates down into traffic, conversion rate, revenue and margin. As your plan comes together, it’s key to share the details with the rest of the firm - there’s likely to be an impact on customer service and operations and they’ll need to weigh in on the practicalities of delivering for your customers.
Any plan you make should be a guide to how you expect business to go. As you trade, you should react to your website performance. This means having a process in place to quickly analyse and make decisions; under normal campaign trading this may be once a week, but you may well want to make these meetings more frequent. During the Black Friday - Cyber Monday weekend, you may want to have several check ins in place. Decision making is made much easier by being able to compare performance with your initial plan; you may want to change spend up or down or create more offers to counter competitor activity. Make sure that you include all relevant decision making parties in these meetings. In summary, these high activity periods present a massive opportunity each year; to take full advantage you need to be able to react quickly, which means planning well and reviewing frequently.