I was listening to the radio this week and the journalist asked whether brands are in favour of Black Friday, or whether it just dilutes the Christmas spend. Reasonable question, the response “well you definitely can’t ignore it” was a reasonable response. Curious, I asked Natalia, Account Director at Push, for her view and what I got was a masterclass in campaign planning that reminded me more of my time in Afghanistan than advertising.
As a Royal Marines officer, I studied campaign planning in the UK and abroad and the core principles endure; Plan early, Optimise, Execute and then roll straight into the next phase to Maintain Momentum. Black Friday, I quickly understood, needs to follow an equally rigorous planning cycle because, like any good combat operation, the one thing you can confidently predict is change.
Whether for combat or online sales, the advice is always to start planning earlier but the reality is that as we get closer to D-Day, the more targeted our reconnaissance so the better our ‘intel’. Natalia suggests planning Black Friday from early September but more importantly she suggests using the whole year as preparation for the ‘Golden Quarter’
“What worked last year, will NOT work this year…..
Brands need to use Q1-3 to experiment with Creative, Audience and Campaign Tactics.
In October you need to lock everything down and just focus on stability”.
I was taught some rubbish in Military Staff College but one concept I immediately loved was ‘Recce Pull.’ Ukraine is a live example of what happens to (Russian) military commanders who ‘push’ out their plans from an Ivory Tower condemning their troops to the slow predictability of ‘Command Push.’ The more enlightened commander knows that the latest reconnaissance picture determines everything and so allows reconnaissance (Recce) to “Pull” the plan towards opportunity.
In Marketing, Reconnaissance is called ‘Data Capture’ and in both scenarios, the better your data the better and more effective your Targeting.
With zero military training but plenty of Marketing smarts, Natalia and her team have developed the ‘Recce Pull’ model and brilliantly converted the data capture phase into its own revenue stream!
“Pre–Black Friday data capture campaigns work brilliantly, throughout November we focused on driving traffic from Social and Newsletters to enrolling people onto a Secret Black Friday offer that allowed them to access Black Friday Deals a week early
… our customers within the Jewellery sector got higher sales on secret Black Friday than the day itself!”
The A Team’s Colonel ‘Hannibal’ Smith favoured quote was “I love it when a plan comes together” but having commanded combat operations in Afghanistan I can promise you that the Post Op reality is a lot closer to dreaded relief.
Black Friday week is very tense in the Push Offices as everyone is on high alert, monitoring campaigns and ready to step in as and when anything stops working. Natalia and her team were not very quotable during Black Friday week but they got the job done with alacrity!
Maintenance of Momentum
Every good military commander knows that a good plan gets you to the fight, but it’s the ‘fight through’ that wins you the battle. Black Friday, or Secret Black Friday, is just the start as campaigns quickly roll into Thanksgiving, Christmas, Last Minute Christmas, NYE, New Year’s Resolutions and what Natalia calls Q5
“Q5 is such an important period for eCommerce. From Boxing Day people have time and often Christmas money and the cost of online advertising is VERY low. Brands that prepare for Q5 properly always do disproportionately well.”
In military doctrine these follow-on objectives are often referred to as ‘Be Prepared to’ tasks as the good commander has to be prepared to roll from one objective to the next and that is how momentum is maintained.
Military planning has a good rep, but the military has no monopoly on good planning. Statistically, eCommerce Brands will earn 40-55% of total revenue in the Golden Quarter but if brands are not prepared, they are operating in a collapsing timeframe.
“Every year we have brands that leave it too late and are scrambling with new creatives or last-minute offer changes throughout November. As they say, failure to plan is planning for failure!”
The only way to get ahead and build momentum is to plan ahead. As Natalia and her team have so clearly demonstrated, that means getting the planning done in September, so the campaigns are built in October and deployed throughout November & December (even all the way into January for Q5!) at exactly the right moment to deliver maximum effect.
That sounds very much like good military planning to me.