Black Friday – why your brand needs to go cold turkey on the mediocrity

It’s that time. Have you noticed? The trickle is about to turn into a stream, then a torrent, and soon you’ll be begging for mercy.

Yes, Black Friday is coming round the corner. Again. And I’m not much of a fan.

On the other side of the Atlantic, it springs from honest roots. Traditionally (well, since the 50’s – we’re not talking Founding Fathers here) it marks the end of Thanksgiving and the start of the downhill dash to Christmas. In context, at least, it has some shred of meaning. But here, 2000 miles away in Scotland, it’s an imported phenomenon that feels alien, forced, even insincere. Like the Halloween shift from neep lanterns to new world pumpkins, it’s as if another little piece of us just got washed out to sea, a casualty of creeping globalisation. And the salt in the wound? Those who seem to benefit most are the big players, not small local businesses.

Black Friday comes on the scene fast and hard – unlike Christmas, with its huge build-up that collapses like a balloon by the end of the big day – but drags relentlessly into Cyber Monday….and, in some cases, beyond (due to, er, demand).

Confession time: I’m a hypocrite. I’ll eye roll, complain, and swear to die in a ditch avoiding it (I suspect I’m not alone) – only to U-turn when presented with an irrestible 30% off on something I probably would have bought anyway. No doubt I’ll catch myself doing it again this year. In my defence, in these tough times, it would be daft not to grab the chance of saving a few quid, although that’s not to say I’ll feel good as I’m putting the credit card back in my wallet.

But if there’s one branding lesson to be learned from Black Friday, it’s this: great brands shouldn’t look, sound and behave like anyone else, let alone everyone else.

As November unfolds, email bingo is back in our lives. Inboxes start groaning like over-fed turkeys, and in a reprise of the early weeks of Covid (who could forget those hundreds of heartwarming “We’re here for you and here’s 2% off to show you how much we care” emails?), one identikit Black Friday mailing blurs into the next. The nearest anyone comes to standing out is an uncomfortable attempt not to sound like everyone else, with awkwardly-named Blue Thursdays and Purple Tuesdays – or fake empathy about how painful it is to wade through all those Black Friday emails (..but click here anyway, because this one is different, really it is).

As with the insincerity around Covid, I’m not convinced that Black Friday shenanigans do brands any favours, for a number of reasons:

  • for a brand that doesn’t want to be seen as “average”, going with the flock (because everyone’s got to run a Black Friday offer, right?) is never good;
  • false deadlines and kid-on offers damage your brand. Seen in the context of a Black Friday marketplace that’s awash with offers-that-aren’t-really-offers, they’re a turn-off that just erodes brand credibility. And in 2020, people are wise to them. Getting it right is easy: if the deadline’s genuine, shut the doors when you said you’re going to (ever opened the link to one of those time-limited offers a few days later, only to find that it’s still available?) and make sure your offer is genuine (no phoney “regular price” or add-on bonuses with ridiculously overblown values…no-one really believes that being given access to your private Facebook group is worth £5k);
  • in their desperation to join the throng, too many businesses show a depressing lack of imagination – or look embarrassingly over-eager. The only action the recipient is inspired to take is to hit Delete – either because there’s no believable offer (it’s always worth stopping to ask what you’re setting out to achieve when you send sales emails), or it triggers their innate insincerity alarm, or simply because it looks utterly unremarkable. In a sea of stuff that looks alike, the last thing you want is to blend in with the crowd, from your subject line to the copy. In fact, those that slip the net and catch the eye often pull it off only because viewers were already in the market for whatever’s on offer;
  • a lot of small businesses fall into the trap of copying the stuff they see big guys doing. It just doesn’t work. For the most part, these global mega businesses already have huge brand awareness that lets them get away with things that just don’t scale down well. You’ll just look like a poor copy, and people can spot your fail a mile off;

So do your small business a favour this Black Friday.

Before you come up with an offer, or start penning that email sequence, ask yourself if you really need to do it, what you hope to achieve, how you can do it differently, and – critically – how you can do it in a way that fits with your brand message.

Remember, average doesn’t get noticed – especially on Black Friday.

PS For anyone interested in our own Black Friday 50% off special, click here.