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It’s not uncommon for online publishers to hit the stands with their best tips for Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM) marketing in early November. 

This tactic, unfortunately, puts marketers at a bit of a disadvantage. If you’re a marketer searching for holiday campaign tips a couple of weeks before the holiday hits, it’s better to be safe than sorry and to make sure team expectations are aligned. 

The problem with many “timely” articles this time of year is that they don’t account for the real time it takes to actually launch a marketing campaign that succeeds.  

Let’s take REI, for example. 

Their #OptOutside campaign, launched a few years ago, wasn’t a decision made over the span of two weeks. It was brainstormed, presented, and calculated well in advance of the launch itself.

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Source: Adweek article (linked above)

And yes, I know they’re a big brand with big budgets, teams, and an established following — easily at the ready to propel efforts forward. 

All of this still doesn’t negate the fact that thinking big around timely marketing campaigns, well in advance of when they actually happen, is better for ROI than thinking small at the last-minute.

Now that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are behind us for the year, it’s a good time to reflect on the planning process around brand promotions for these major shopping holidays.

Rather than haphazardly rallying your company around a marketing campaign you threw together at the last minute before a holiday, make a case for a timely marketing planning process with these tips.

Here’s why you should start planning your BFCM promotions for next year now:

Reflect and Evaluate on Your Efforts (And Those of Your Competitors)

To keep things simple, we’re going to speak in terms of planning for Black Friday marketing and/or Cyber Monday campaigns. 

But these considerations could be applied to just about any campaign.

If your company has launched holiday campaigns around Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday in the past, you’ve got some benchmarks to work with. 

These benchmarks might include things like:

  • Total sales
  • Site visits
  • Email opens and clicks
  • Affiliate referrals
  • Social media engagement

And if you don’t have any benchmarks to work off of, it’s time to do some research.

Take note of what your competitors have done to get in front of your target audience during the holidays. 

Check out their social pages — paying attention to things like how they market their products on Instagram, whether they’ve made use of any paid advertising, and the levels of engagement across each.

Expert marketers keep their ideas fresh thanks to a swipe file of their favorite campaigns.  So take some screenshots and copy text from the campaigns that stick out and organize them in a document that you can refer back to for inspiration during next year’s brainstorming sessions.

Additionally, sign up for their email newsletter (if available). Keep tabs on the messaging they use for addressing target audiences and how they incentivize them to take action with different deals, promotions, and discounts — plus elements like email subject lines and wording around calls to action. 

The point here is to iterate on what’s been done before in an effort to further amplify your brand, drive sales, and build awareness. 

Take inspiration from what’s going on more broadly in the world around us as well — like REI did in evolving their #OptOutside Black Friday marketing campaign, five years later, to incorporate messaging around climate change.

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Source: GearJunkie article (linked above)

Make Insights Out of the Analytics

Now, when it comes to the competition, you’re probably not going to have direct access to their performance metrics. A lot of the analysis here will likely involve vanity metrics, which are still validating from a “big idea” standpoint.

Relative to your own past efforts, approach your campaign review from the perspective of those KPIs that matter most to your clients and/or business. 

While your creative team might ooh and aah over a viral number of shares, likes, and comments, other key stakeholders are probably going to be most interested in the bottom line. 

How did the Black Friday marketing and/or Cyber Monday campaign(s) drive sales?

You’re going to have to use the numbers you pull from past campaigns to tell a story — one in favor of bigger, better, and more planned efforts in the year ahead. 

Tailor your pitch based on the stakeholders you’re presenting to and present them with not just the data, but a clear understanding of what it means relative to your intentions.

If you don’t work in house but rather as a freelance social media manager, your pitch will be more than just about the campaign itself but how you’re the right person to lead it to success. Prepare to pitch the company on how you can sell their product on social media — and all of the details regarding copy, visuals, cadence, and goals that you're attempting to hit for their business.

While you’re pitching the management of a social media strategy that includes help with BFCM promotions, be realistic about what you think it will all cost. The client will likely need a budget not just for your help, but the tools and creative assets needed to properly achieve goals.

Milestones for Black Friday Marketing and Cyber Monday Campaigns: A Marketing Planning Process

Having reviewed the data and decoded learnings worth incorporating into future efforts, it’s time to start moving forward.

You’ve got to start your marketing planning process and acting on the intentions.

Doing this in advance won’t be easy. By nature, people are bad at long-range planning. This makes sense if you think back to our caveman days where we were lucky to look forward to the next meal.

In other words, you’re going to have to be diligent in driving the team toward necessary milestones and holding them to the deliverables.

Here’s a quick look at what that should involve:

  • Before the end of Q1: Pin down high-level ideas and goals
  • Before the end of Q2: Source the creative
  • Before the end of Q3: Polish the setup
  • In Q4: Launch the campaign

Before the End of Q1: Pin Down High-Level Ideas and Goals 

While pinning down a specific idea for Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday in January might seem a little over-eager, there’s a method to the madness. For starters, these holidays and past efforts are going to be fresher in team member’s minds come January than they will be by September.

Second, if you start brainstorming ideas early in Q1, you give yourself more time to actually evolve those ideas over the span of the quarter. Then, hopefully, land on one everyone feels solid about — management included.

Before the End of Q2: Source the Creative 

Once you’ve settled upon an idea, use Q2 to start organizing all the different puzzle pieces. 

You'll want to consider distribution tactics (e.g., email, social, display ads, blog content, etc.) and how you’ll be positioning the campaigns from a creative standpoint.

If you have an in-house creative team of copywriters and graphic designers at your disposal, put brainstorming around these assets on their radar early in Q2. You want to account for other priorities that are sure to rank higher than your request throughout the quarter.

You’ll likely also need time to review, edit, and recreate graphics — as well as pin down the most enticing messaging. Pending available bandwidth, it probably wouldn’t hurt to have multiple variations of copy and graphics to choose from for the sake of A/B testing.

If you don’t have an in-house creative team to work with, use Q2 to do all of the above in addition to vetting potential freelancers. 

Or teaching yourself Photoshop. 

Kidding. Kinda?

Before the End of Q3: Polish the Setup

If you’re following these steps so far, by the time July of next year comes around, you should feel fairly ahead of the game. 

But as marketers, we can only control so much. Even if you’ve only completed a fraction of the prep work detailed above in planning for your Black Friday marketing and/or Cyber Monday campaign(s), you’re likely further along than you were in the year prior. 

Progress is still progress.

Use the duration of the third quarter to either catch up on what’s fallen to the back burner or polish up final assets. If there are tweaks to be made, make the decisions needed to move them forward and get everyone on the same page. 

With all of this under your belt, you should be in a good place to start staging the campaign for launch come Q4.

Final Thoughts: Black Friday Marketing: Crafting a Timely Marketing Planning Process

When you’re a small team (or the only one on the team), your marketing planning process can feel more like a fire drill than a calculated strategy. And if that’s an all too relatable statement, know you’re not alone. We’re all just out here making the most of the resources, creative bandwidth, and higher-up sign-offs we have to work with.

When it comes to planning for timely marketing campaigns, be realistic about the goals you’re setting relative to expectations. By the nature of giving yourself more time in advance for planning, you’re also giving yourself more of a chance to succeed.

Frequently working on things last minute is not a recipe for success but it can certainly be the cause of a lot of unnecessary stress. Just because this particular article focuses on BFCM promotions doesn’t mean that these same principles can’t be applied to any marketing campaign throughout the year! The further ahead you get with planning, the better the end result. 

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Maddy Osman is an SEO Content Strategist who works with clients like AAA, Automatic, Kinsta, and BigCommerce. Her background in WordPress web design contributes to a well-rounded understanding of SEO and how to connect brands to relevant search prospects. Learn more about her process and experience on her website and read her latest articles on Twitter @MaddyOsman.  

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