Black Friday, e-commerce and why PR must embrace the sales cycle

Credit cards at the ready, mobile devices to hand, finely tuned bargain-hunting instincts heightened: that's right, it's Black Friday.

Black Friday is here and PR should embrace it, writes Callum McCaig (pic credit: Matthew Chattle/REX/Shutterstock)
Black Friday is here and PR should embrace it, writes Callum McCaig (pic credit: Matthew Chattle/REX/Shutterstock)
If trends continue, UK shoppers will spend an eye-watering £3bn online this weekend. 

Last year Brits spent a record £1.1bn on Black Friday alone – and almost as much again three days later, on ‘Cyber Monday.’

In addition to some sales bargains, there’s a lot we can gain this weekend in terms of PR insights if we peer beyond the usual mountain of press releases, stunts and tenuously relevant surveys. 

Do brands still matter?

Early PR pioneers identified that the way people think about a business influences why, where, when how and if we buy a product or service. 

That hasn’t changed. 

But in the digital era, businesses that once relied heavily on brand awareness have had a rude awakening. 

Consumers are more connected, more informed and more powerful than ever, meaning even the most well-known names can struggle if they aren’t backed up by great products and customer service. 

Brands haven’t lost their magic – they can create consensus, cultivate communities (online and offline), engage, inspire and build trust. But, in 2016, that’s not enough.

A great Christmas ad is no longer enough.

The internet has triggered the democratisation of communications: Marketing is no longer just a playground for big businesses with big budgets. 

Savvy start-ups can bootstrap with switched-on community managers, a vast expanse of publically available information and tools to understand their audiences and shape their communications strategy.
 
While incumbents plough money into TV slots, challengers can outperform them in provocative PR and organic and paid search, stealthily gaining customers and market share. 

The playing field hasn’t been levelled, but it’s getting flatter.

A great Christmas ad is no longer enough. Consumers are relying less on defaulting to a 'known' brand when buying online. 

Instead, the ‘diligence vehicles’ of search engines, major shopping networks and review aggregators make it easier to find the right product, in the right place, for the right price. 

And with search engines shifting social media and review engines higher up in organic results, personal recommendation and consumer power are becoming legitimate forces in driving reputation and sales.

That’s great news for those of us in PR. 

Both big brands and challengers will need our skills and expertise to develop innovative campaigns that target and connect with consumers, to engage them and build an online reputation rooted in product quality and superior customer experience.  

Increasingly, we will also need to find ways of encouraging customers to provide positive online references where once we worked to develop word-of-mouth.

Brand and reputation are not just vital at the top end of the sales funnel (or customer journey) but throughout it, and we in PR must use all the tools at our disposal to engage with people at every stage throughout that journey through to final purchase decision. 

Get that right, and your brand might just be your biggest strength after all. 

Callum McCaig is a senior associate in the tech team at Burson-Marsteller

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