With the rush of Black Friday fast approaching, should email marketers consider the benefits of not rushing and stretching it out for longer?

Black Friday can be a stressful time for email marketers — last year, Campaign Monitor recorded that 116.5 million emails were sent on Black Friday alone. More than any other day in the year. It's not surprising though. These campaigns are usually high in volume, full of offers and sent in quick succession.

But 2020 has been unpredictable. As the world still deals with the effects of Covid-19, what does this mean for Black Friday? Is there a valid argument to turn the fast-paced and frantic week leading up to Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) into a longer-lasting 'Black Friday season'?

Why Covid-19 may extend Black Friday into a season

Covid-19 has changed how we, as consumers, shop. Thanks to social restrictions, many people are reluctant to go to stores to purchase items. This may, in itself, prevent the Black Friday rushes we have seen in the news in years past. Retailers themselves may even be hesitant to open their stores due to the pressure this may put on their social distancing efforts. All this may actively push customers towards buying online, particularly if companies do so through their own marketing. And we have seen that, during Covid-19, those who do not offer an online option or find it hard to offer their products online (e.g Primark) have struggled financially.

But even before we were all locked indoors, online was becoming increasingly important. Recent statistics from Adobe show that online sales have steadily increased by $1.2bn each year for the past 3 years.

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Adobe data from nosto.com shows the growing influence of online in Black Friday since 2013

But 2020 may bring a much larger increase due to Covid-19. Tesco, for example, have seen a 90% increase in online sales, which drove overall profits up 29%. Great right? Absolutely, but this brings other issues not seen before on this scale. Namely a larger stress on warehouses being able to fulfil orders. In the 'normal' Black Friday rush, there is considerable logistical pressure for deliveries to be made in time. For 2020, this could be made worse thanks to a large increase in online orders as well as warehouses and packaging facilities not working at peak efficiency due to social distancing measures. If Black Friday 2020 is primarily online, this may result in delivery delays, out of stock items and unhappy customers.

With this in mind, is it sensible to make Black Friday into a longer-term event for 2020? This would relieve pressure on warehouses and manufacturers to cope with the increased amount of online orders. It would also greatly help the high street, as a longer-term sales schedule would mean there isn't the rush to get to a store. The footfall would be more spread out, meaning that social distancing measures can be held up better and stocks can be more easily replenished. Though, if this happens, it's more important than ever for email marketers to communicate effectively with their customers.

How can email marketers take advantage of a Black Friday season?

Outside of logistics and footfall levels, there are some considerable benefits to a Black Friday season for email marketers. As consumers move even more purchases online, email becomes more important — becoming the 'shop front' for your brand. So how can we adapt our email strategy to support this?

In a basic sense, it could be more emails being sent. The longer sale period means more opportunity to send emails containing offers and discounts. In 2017, people who received email offers were 138% more likely to spend more than those that didn't. And if email becomes the new shop window, more emails means that customers are more aware of your brand and your offers, which leads to increased interaction. That’s the theory, but this is quite a brute-force approach, that can quickly lead to brand fatigue.

With a longer Black Friday period, we have more opportunity to be strategic, and build a relationship with our customers. Instead of the frantic, quick-fire emails that are usually associated with Black Friday, marketers could spend more time:

  • Taking a funnel-led approach over multiple emails, building on discounts and offers with those that interact
  • Achieving more intricate and accurate personalisation. At Litmus Live Week this year, Salesforce noted that emails with good personalisation have a 26% higher open rate than those without, and achieve an ROI ratio of 44:1.
  • Spending more time on the message of our emails; improving copy and exploring more advanced design techniques like GIFS and animated backgrounds.
  • Checking our work — working on QA and catching mistakes before they cause bigger issues.

Email marketing funnel

Sales-event emails typically only fit into the first three steps in the email marketing funnel (awareness, consideration and conversion). This is because they have signed up to your mailing list (awareness) and the reason they have done so is because they want to receive information and offers (consideration). And then conversion is actively purchasing a discounted product. However the step to conversion in a purely offer-led email series can be difficult — they may not want the product on offer, they feel jaded from too much (or too little) email, or something has changed externally to stop them purchasing.

The final two steps (loyalty and advocacy) turn converted customers into long-term customers who come back time and again thanks to having had a relationship built with them through sequenced / funnel-led email campaigns. And this is a huge opportunity for a Black Friday season.

Establishing an emotional, value-led connection between your brand and the customer, whether new or existing, can yield long-term sustained success. Consumers are becoming more conscious about their purchasing choices and what brands stand for, so brands should use the opportunity to highlight their values to them and create a shared connection. Black Friday will always be dominated by hard-sell offers and discounts but in the long run this is not what sells. Instead, focus on building a long lasting relationship with your customers by using creative and well thought out welcome sequences and nurture campaigns. This can create sustained customers and income far beyond Black Friday.

Could a Black Friday season become the new normal?

For 2020, it makes a lot of sense to extend Black Friday into a season of a few weeks. It could even release pressure around the Christmas sales. But could this be the new normal, even once Covid-19 (hopefully) is no longer an issue? There are obvious benefits, but other considerations should be noted:

  • The increased time to not only offer more savings and discounts on products, but also build brand loyalty by creating a sequence of campaigns will immediately be attractive.
  • The extra time may help marketing teams be more effective — they can maintain a more sustainable level of efficiency, as the fast-paced nature of Black Friday can lead to rushed workflows and shortcuts being taken.
  • As a knock on effect — stress levels in teams may reduce as they are working in a more structured way.

However there are questions. Would consumers grow tired of, or uneasy towards, a longer cycle of bare-faced discounts and deals that they know is designed to get them spending money that many can't afford? And would this unease make them turn against certain brands? Has the financial crisis from Covid-19 taught consumers to be more careful with their money, and so they would prefer to save rather than spend, even in discounted periods? And does the strength of Black Friday itself lie in its fire-sale style? If you don't get the discounts now, they'll be gone - meaning people rush to buy them in vast numbers. Whilst there are no definitive answers, they are worth keeping in mind before raising the banner for a Black Friday season.

And some may say we already have a Black Friday-esque season. Since Amazon Prime Day starts in mid-October (the 13th in 2020), with huge discounts and savings, it's not long to wait from then until Black Friday.

What considerations should email marketers make for Black Friday campaigns?

Whatever you decide is best for the future of Black Friday, as email marketers it's always great to share advice and help at our busiest time of year.

Prepare your campaigns ahead of time

Being as prepared as you can be in advance will enable you to navigate any pitfalls that may suddenly appear. It can help you to be agile and react more quickly. Getting content and assets pre-made, such as GIFs, branded banners and imagery, and headline text can help you populate your campaigns faster. Also, if you can, be aware of what product offers you will be promoting. This will help structure your emails, as well as when quality assessing.

QA test as much as possible

Given the pressured and fast-paced nature of Black Friday email marketing, it can be easy for mistakes to creep in.Having a rigorous and effective QA testing procedure, that you can enact as much as possible, will go a long way to stopping this from happening.

Automate as much as possible

Automation is super helpful if you are up against tight deadlines with a lot to do. It can leave you free to concentrate on creative areas that require your attention, such as the copy and imagery. If you can automate as much as your build as you can, such as the dynamic content, certain branded modules and also the sending process, you can get a lot of time back. Which, in the Black Friday rush, will be of real help.

Optimise for mobile

In the USA in 2017, 40% of all purchases were made via mobile. Making sure that your emails render well on mobile devices will enable your offers and content to be interacted with more easily by more people.

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