Black Friday Outlook: Brands Should Focus on Messaging Amidst Exceptional Circumstances

November 20, 2020

The 2020 holiday season is shaping up to be an uncertain one, with new lockdowns in place and experts recommending that consumers avoid holiday travel when possible. So, what do those changes – and an apparent second wave of COVID-19 – mean for Black Friday shopping trends? We looked at that question both in the United States and the United Kingdom to identify how brands are reacting to a decidedly different shopping season.



Exceptional Circumstances


Traditionally in the US, Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season, and it was once uncommon to see holiday advertisements ahead of the end of November. However, one trend emerging in 2020 is the appearance of holiday messaging far earlier than normally seen.


The timeline has certainly been creeping up over the past several years as we explored in last year’s Black Friday coverage, but as with all shifts, this trend has been accelerated due to the exceptional circumstances created by both the pandemic and the presidential election. Many brands have only recently ramped up marketing spend again, and until this point they have been faced with more limited inventory and higher cost because of the election. With the political season coming to an end, brands are anxious to amplify their holiday messaging as soon as possible.


In the UK, the concept of Black Friday isn’t anchored by a nation-wide holiday like Thanksgiving, which means the idea of a “holiday shopping season” is not considered within the same rigid time constraints as it is the US. Combined with the absence of the kind of inventory shortage seen in the US as a result of the election, the UK has blasted forward with holiday messaging without some of the constraints faced by brands in the US. The uniting factor for both the US and the UK is, of course, the pandemic – and how it has changed consumer shopping habits.


The Importance of Embracing Omnichannel


One of the clear shifts in consumer behavior has been the move to more online shopping. In the US, this has also accelerated a shift in Black Friday, which has traditionally been an event focused on in-store shopping that has grown in the digital realm with the introduction of Cyber Monday. In the UK, this is not so much a shift as it is the continuation of the ongoing Black Friday trend to focus on digital deals.


Across the board, brands should be focused on expanding their presence to account for new consumer trends during the 2020 holiday shopping season. Research from our ROI Genome found that a combined physical and digital presence can help brands drive increased impact by 32%, and some experts estimate that in a matter of months, the pandemic has enabled the acceleration of ecommerce that would have normally taken years.


Understand the Drivers of Your Business


The shift to ecommerce may have some business leaders consider a “quick fix” to marketing spend that places more dollars and value on digital media, but it’s critical to note that offline media is a highly effective driver of ecommerce.


Lockdowns in the UK and restrictions in the US have dramatically altered the connected world in new ways, and pulled into sharp focus the rise of “omnishopping”: researching, or experiencing the product in one channel, but converting in another.

It is for this reason that both offline and online media have a key role to play in the customer journey on Black Friday and beyond. Our research has shown that even in recent time periods, offline efforts are still often the primary drivers of online behavior. For one large US omnichannel retail business, over one-third of its website traffic was actually driven by traditional TV advertising – more than all of the digital channels combined.


Messaging Matters


A national holiday advertising strategy has always been a staple for brands, but this year has brought a plethora of new challenges for those who also plan regionally. With differing restrictions in different areas, especially in the US, brands that do typically engage in regional advertising must by hyper-vigilant to ensure that the right messaging is appearing in the right places. For brands that are able to do so in an efficient way, the payoff can be strong. However, the ability to tie back to a core brand equity message is critical, rather than treating each regional strategy or promotion as an isolated tactic.


This is where the balance of brand equity versus promotional messaging come into play. Black Friday has historically been an event focused wholly on promotional messaging, but there is a vast range in strategy for brands tacking this year. Some brands in the UK are heavily adjusting their pricing strategy and have been doing so for months leading up to Black Friday due to the general financial strain of the pandemic. Other brands have adjusted relatively little, banking on the idea that consumers will buy goods, such as electronics, during the holiday season regardless of whether or not special offers are available.


Those taking part in the former strategy may see quick wins and short-term gains, but there is a clear danger in being too focused on promotions, which can hurt long-term brand health. Our research indicates that brand messaging actually outperforms promotional messaging in 80% of cases. While consumers may be more focused on cost efficiency vs. brand loyalty this holiday season, brands need to be careful not to overcorrect – moving so far into the promotional realm that they damage longer term success. Rather, a combination of brand equity messaging and some promotional messaging where appropriate has the potential to earn new brand loyalists who may not have previously considered the brand.


Have a Cup of Cheer


Pandemic fatigue has become an increasingly common complaint for consumers, so early holiday messaging and the tradition of Black Friday may well create a sense of normalcy that many are seeking. Brands should embrace the opportunity to move forward with a positive holiday message as appropriate. Where the start of the pandemic found many brands caught in messaging paralysis – uncertain of what to say or falling victim to the trap of radio silence out of fear of saying the wrong thing – the 2020 holiday season represents the possibility of some sense of normalcy during a year that has been anything but normal.


Whether or not Black Friday delivers on the continuous growth it has seen over the years remains to be seen, but brands that are focused on an omnichannel strategy and putting the right messaging out on the channels that truly drive their business will see success this holiday season.


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