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Black Friday lessons for B2B marketing

Black Friday lessons for B2B marketing

Is there room for Black Friday promotions in the world of B2B marketing?

If so, what lessons can we learn from the retail world?

Black Friday has become a retail marketing phenomenon in the UK, despite the event that spawned it; Thanksgiving, not really being relevant to most Brits. After years of in-store fights and website crashes, many retailers have adapted their strategy to try to avoid a situation where their sales are concentrated into such a small window. Amazon launched Black Friday promotions a full month before the day itself and many others followed suit before Halloween was out of the way.

In an effort to share in the spoils of the buying frenzy, an increasing number of those with a B2B audience have also been running Black Friday offers and they are also getting in there early.

B2B Black Friday early offers

At the time of writing, Adobe is already discounting software subscriptions and Dell are offering server savings, yet we’re still weeks away from Black Friday itself. 

Black Friday is borne out of a mutual expectation by retailers that customers will spend more at that time and by customers that retailers will discount more at that time. 

I’m not a retailer though 

Every now and then, you have to unlearn what you know and hold dear. B2B is different from FMCG, but 2020 has accelerated a trend towards B2B buying behaviours more traditionally associated with retail.

I recently attended a Facebook B2B marketing webinar about trends they had observed, and this statement resonated in particular:

“Millennials brought their consumer habits into the B2B world and expect a swift, purpose-driven customer journey.”

Facebook

Beyond the Millennials label, lockdown and the sudden switch to remote working caused many companies to relax their usual procurement processes.

Operational teams were empowered to make small purchasing decisions quickly using their own credit cards with a reassurance that they could claim it back later.

This has left many B2B vendors in a state of flux. Sales teams who were used to trade shows, demos and physical meetings left messages for procurement people who had long since been furloughed. Whilst this was going on, their competitors who offered the instant gratification of a digitally enabled customer journey enjoyed a lockdown bonanza.

The unique circumstances of your business and how your customer base act may vary from the above, but the shift in behaviours, generally speaking, is undeniable and likely to be permanent for many.

This is, in no small part, why looking to retail for B2B marketing inspiration has probably never been timelier. Here, I’ve distilled 5 Black Friday activities employed by retailers into the B2B marketing equivalent.

1. BLACK LIGHTBOX

Website popups and lightboxes offer an easy way to drive attention and interest in receiving updates from you. Online retailers will use these attention-grabbing tools to highlight offers, but also as a way to gain email signups.

Black Friday email signup lightbox example

There are many different schools of thought on when and how to use popups on your site and like most things, it is sensible to test different options to optimise for your site. The Exit popup – triggered when someone is about to leave the site is very popular with retailers who combine a deal-led proposition with a newsletter signup.

This works particularly well in the run up to Black Friday whereby the promise of signing up to emails is rewarded with being the first to know about deals in due course. Many retailers also offer an introductory discount for email signups regardless of the time of year.

In B2B, popups often seek newsletter signups, but that does not necessarily sit well with that swift, purpose-driven customer journey that Facebook talked about.

Don’t be afraid to offer a more transactional relationship via email. Tiptoeing around the desire to sell something with whitepapers and webinars is great, but if all they want is a deal, then give them a deal.

Pro Tip – if you are using a Preference Centre, giving email subscribers a choice between categories such as “News” and “Promotions” can work well to enable contacts to self-segment.

2. EMAIL EXCLUSIVITY

Other marketing channels tend to get very expensive around Black Friday. Paid search and social are hotly contested and a combination of heightened activity and increased bidding can burn through budgets very rapidly.

Even if you’re not running Black Friday offers, you are likely to experience an increase in cost and a decrease in conversion from PPC in late November.

Mailbox with Black Friday offer

Email offers a relatively inexpensive way to reach your entire audience multiple times in quick succession. Therefore, many retailers offer additional savings to their email subscribers on top of generally promoted Black Friday discounts.

 If your email subscribers believe that they will find your best offers via email, it helps to improve engagement and may also help to keep your PPC spending down. 

Make your email subscribers feel special in general. Their permission for you to market to them is of increasing value to your business. 

3. PRESENTATION

One of the biggest problems with Black Friday is that your great offer is competing with 101 other great offers – especially in the Inbox.

Megamind presentation


Take a lesson from Megamind and focus on presentation to turn your offer into a super offer! 

I have seen some rather unconventional presentation in social ads from Amazon already this year and the eternal cynic in me did wonder if this was actually a deliberate mistake. That is one curious looking selfie stick!

Weird Amazon advert for a selfie stick

This reminded me of customer who enjoyed their best ever response to an email campaign when they made a spelling mistake in their subject line. The intended subject line of “Public Training Courses” got a bit hairy for them.

Again, I couldn’t possibly endorse the notion of a deliberate spelling mistake, but it probably does require something unconventional to stand out amongst “50% off this” and “70% off that” on Black Friday. 

A snapshot of my own Inbox from Black Friday 2019. All of those fantastic email designs do not matter a jot if the email does not get opened.

Subject lines from Black Friday 2019

Your subject line is the small space that makes all the difference in email especially. Other tried and trusted ways of presenting your offer in the subject line include:

  • Posing a question
  • Using emojis 😎
  • Adding personalisation

You may also note a mix of B2B and B2C brands – I am far from alone in using a personal email address to sign up to work-related emails, so you are competing with retailers in the Inbox even if you’re not competing with them in the conventional sense.

4. PRICE VS TRUST

It is important to remember that price sensitivity is very different in B2B from retail. Value is subjective and being cheapest might not attract B2B buyers in the same way it would in retail. Therefore, it is important to consider how your offer may be perceived and how it encourages urgency.

  • If not a discount, do you offer added value?
  • Would your audience respond better to upgrades and extras instead of money off?
  • How can your offer remove perceived barriers to purchase?

Trust is also a factor in the offer itself. Is this genuinely your best deal? Many retailers now publish details of the previous pricing on their Black Friday offers, so that customers can see that it genuinely is the best deal.

Urgency requires customers to believe that the product/service or the offer on that product/service is limited in its availability. In psychological terms, we are influenced by scarcity – fear of missing out.

This matters after Black Friday too. Is the offer extended? Does your Christmas offer look very similar to your Black Friday offer?

offer extended poster

In my local town centre, there is a shop that has been closing down for years! The “CLOSING DOWN SALE” banner has been hanging there for as long as I can remember. I have learnt to be somewhat cynical of their sale as a consequence. As your relationship with your customers and email subscribers is likely to be in the long term, how you act on Black Friday matters in the long term.

5. REMARKETING

The other key part of the Black Friday battle for retailers is getting visitors back to complete their purchases. With an expectation of offers everywhere, many will abandon shopping baskets as they seek alternatives elsewhere.

Using shopping cart abandonment techniques may seem difficult if you have no shopping cart on your website, but it is actually relatively easy, even in complex B2B sales.

For those without e-commerce, start with defining buying behaviour on your own website. Which pages and interactions are seldom visited by casual browsers?

  • Pricing pages – Why do you want to know how much it is if you’re not interested in buying it?
  • Case studies – Who reads case studies for fun? 
  • Company performance – Did somebody say due diligence?

There will likely be others unique to your website and proposition – think about it as the shopping basket equivalent of your own customer journey. How far through the journey is the page?

  • Shopping basket = Pricing
  • Checkout = Case studies
  • Payment = Company performance

Once you’ve established your trigger pages, it is then a question of automating a remarketing email. This does not have to necessarily reflect the content already accessed. Think of it more as a nudge. What will help progress the sale?

Adidas shopping cart abandonment email

In the context of Black Friday, don’t delay either. Many email remarketing campaigns send within 2 hours of the tracked website interaction.

If you do have your own transactional website, then you will usually find that your e-commerce tool has inbuilt shopping cart abandonment functionality. You can then pass contacts to e-shot to automate remarketing emails.

FIND YOUR OWN BLACK FRIDAY

If joining the Black Friday bunfight leaves you with a feeling of cold dread, then fear not, you can still learn something from it without directly taking part in the madness.

Part of the appeal of Black Friday to retailers is the certainty that people will spend. The assured buying behaviours associated with Christmas do not occur en-masse at any other point of the year. You may find that it is not the right time of year for your business though.

Remembering that lesson from Facebook from about 1,800 words ago (well done for sticking with me by the way) it is also important to remember that we’re not dealing in absolutes and many businesses will still conform to structured procurement of B2B solutions, complete with frameworks and tenders and all that fun stuff that inflates cost of acquisition.

Depending on your industry and your customer profile, it may be better to take the principles of Black Friday and apply them to a more customer centric date.

Budgeting time – That joyous point of the corporate calendar when potential customers are asked to tell the business what they want to spend and who with.

New financial year – This is a double whammy. There is a fresh budget to use up and there may also be a rush to spend last year’s.

Renewal dates – No other industry has this nailed quite as comprehensively as the Insurance aggregators such as GoCompare and MoneySupermarket. They have perfected customer-centric, date-driven email marketing. Every time you get a quote for car insurance or home insurance, regardless of whether you buy from them, the clock starts ticking for your next renewal and their email offers are timed perfectly to coincide with that renewal window – when propensity to buy is greatly increased.

Go Compare date driven email

Lost opportunites - In your own CRM, look at previous quotes and opportunities.

Tracked data - Beyond your own data, you can often find other sources of information on when prospects may be in the market. Builtwith is a website with a handy Chrome extension that will give you a wealth of technical information about any given website you may visit. Registered users can then see when specific technologies were first detected on the website – this can be very useful for working out when a competitor’s tech may be up for renewal.

Armed with a relevant date for each prospect, you can then use Date-driven campaigns to promote your proposition to the right people at the right time.

These work on the basis of triggering emails a number of days, weeks or even months before a date held against a contact record. If you know a prospect will be up for renewal in May and they would usually make a decision on changing 3 months in advance, you can target them with heightened email activity in February. This could be offer led or it could be content that simply drives them to the website. That website visit, in turn, can drive other automations such as the Remarketing campaigns cited earlier.

BE PREPARED

From an email marketing perspective, Black Friday is a is a time of heightened activity, with many brands sending multiple messages every day both on Black Friday and in the days either side of it. Even if you are not promoting any Black Friday offers, the competition for attention presents challenges for all email marketers, so you should review your campaigns irrespective of your plans around offers and seek ways to achieve stand out in a crowded inbox.

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