Black Friday is undoubtedly one of the most crucial dates in the trading calendar for just about every consumer-facing business. It presents some huge opportunities for retailers, but winning the Black Friday battle to maximize sales is hard; there are challenges retailers need to overcome in order to capitalize fully.
At a recent Masters of AI event, our Retail Director Tom Summerfield chatted with Matt Holmes, Head of Digital Marketing at rapidly-growing fast fashion brand PrettyLittleThing. Here, Matt talked us through the ways PLT is preparing for this crucial period, the role that technology has to play, and his predictions for Black Friday 2020 and beyond. Here’s what he had to say…
During Black Friday period, cutting through the noise is especially important as money starts to fly around. How are PLT combatting this this year?
A key thing for us this year, above all other years, is going to be about better segmentation and better personalization on our digital channels. It’s going to be about getting better at sending the right message, at the right time, via the right platform, rather than – not to say we’ve ever done this – but that kind of “spray and pray” mentality. We’re not just throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks when it comes to Black Friday, because hopefully we’ve already honed that over the course of the year. I think to combat that noise we need to be better at insight and know more about who our customers are, but also need to be prepared with a lot more creative variances on paid social and YouTube. I think it’s about building better connections with our customers, we want to be understanding what they need and then showing that to them in the right way rather than having to just be the ones who shout the loudest on the day. I think that’s a good way to describe it.
As a consumer, you do expect a level of personalization in the communications you receive and this is how brand’s build up a great reputation. PLT is obviously a box office brand in its own right because of its extensive global marketing that you do, but to back it up with segmentation and great personalization.
From a personal perspective, I do see how important that segmentation is. Working for ten years in digital marketing, I know that I’ve become numb to online advertising. I don’t recognize banner ads a lot of the time, I don’t see advertising; on my browser I tend to have an ad blocker installed. But, when it comes to Instagram advertising, because I get served things that are so highly targeted to me, knowing where I’m at at that moment because the algorithms have gotten so good now, I engage with that advertising. I buy things, whereas I wouldn’t if it wasn’t speaking to me!
You mention digital advertising, and there’s a fine balance between not wasting money and not wasting opportunity. What’s your strategy to ensure you’re not missing out on customers?
With PLT, a lot of people see the pink brand, the unicorns and the influencers. But, underneath all of that, we actually do have a really world class digital team, and we’re supported by a really great business intelligence team. We’ve got the right tech partners on board, such as our partnership with Peak, so we’re already a business that’s extremely commercially-focused. We have to be on top of our numbers all year round, but even more so on Black Friday. Our business is fast-moving, it’s very reactive, and we have to react very quickly to changes. I think one of the things that’s going to be different this year is we’re going to be leaning into automation tech a lot more to make those decisions even faster. I think the pace of change during this Black Friday/Cyber Monday period is going to be so fast this year that we’re really going to have to optimize that with our tech and with our partners.
With data being so important, in your opinion, does working for a more pureplay retailer have more of an advantage over a more traditional retailer?
I think, for me, it’s probably a cultural thing. If you have strong data and a guiding force within the business who is data-led and that culture is dripped into the business, whether you’re an offline retailer, bricks and mortar or whether you’re an online retailer, I think it’s about how you embrace that and run forward with it. Having a good data team and using your customer insight has almost become table stakes for any business that wants to succeed; it’s not something that you can just put on the back burner anymore. I think we’re seeing that these data and insight-rich businesses are the ones pressing forward and starting to grow and be these new giants.
Is actioning decisions from your data easily said but not always easily done?
One of the things I learnt right at the beginning of my career was all about the ‘so what’ factor. We’re really blessed in digital marketing to measure everything, but I think the best brands are the ones who take that and ask ‘so what?’ What are we going to do with it? What stories are we going to tell? What’s the narrative we’re trying to confirm? They’re the ones who have the success.
How does PLT nurture customers in the build up to Black Friday to take full advantage?
Our team is much more integrated now than it was last year, and we’re probably thinking much more full funnel than we ever have. We have a lot of levers to pull, a lot of other activities to take advantage of. We’ve got amazing brand and social teams so all year round we have presence, campaigns, loads of other cool activations. But I think it’s about taking more advantage of that; our activity is always quite diverse and we’ve got some great learnings from the past few months while things haven’t been normal. I think Black Friday 2020 is probably going to be the noisiest it’s ever been, especially for brands like us. We’re thinking about how we can leverage more of those assets, more of that activity, into a strategy where we can take full advantage. When everyone is shouting, hopefully we’ve already made our presence felt.
It’s been an unusual year to say the least. Is there anything different about this year’s Black Friday – is it make or break for some? What should retailers do to prepare?
I think it’s going to be a really crowded market this year. Nobody knows what the pandemic will bring in terms of restrictions and whether there’ll be a second wave or second lockdown, we don’t have a crystal ball. If anything, I can’t see a year where bricks and mortar stores and that traditional style of shopping is going to be anything close to how it has been. So I think that’s just going to shift the battleground to online. E-commerce penetration has been dragged forward so much by lockdown. I think I saw some stats saying penetration grew 10% in those first weeks but it had taken them ten years to get to that level before. It’s going to be a completely different story, so I think budgets are going to need to be bigger, the costs are going to be higher, and I think there’s probably going to be more at stake for those who need to get it right.
I think businesses are going to have multiple scenarios. Everyone is going to have to know that there’ll be a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and just be able to switch between them where necessary. We’re quite well positioned as a brand; that’s what we do anyway! We’re always running multiple scenarios and switching as we need to because we’re an agile brand. But I think it’s going to be more important for brands that maybe aren’t as agile to really be planning ahead and thinking ‘what’s my next move?’
So, on the actual day, what does Black Friday look like in the PLT office?
Do you know what, I like to think that all of the hard work is done by that point! I think last year I was in the office by 07:30, but it’s actually more like a party in our office on Black Friday – although things will obviously be a lot different this year. We’re always watching the numbers, but there’s always a DJ, a bar, things happening – so it’s a party atmosphere but we’ll all try and enjoy it, watch the numbers and be ready to jump on as necessary. But maybe jump on with a cocktail in hand and just get things done! Keep an eye on what others are doing, make small adjustments and hopefully there’s no massive changes needed on that day – the game is already set by then – but it’s just making those small tweaks, especially with performance marketing channels asking ‘are we where we need to be? Let’s keep pushing,’ and spending a lot of time sitting in analytics watching the numbers.
Want to get more expert insight on Black Friday 2020? Watch our Masters of AI webinar, How to win the Black Friday battle, on demand here 👇