Tips from agency pros on how to win on BFCM

As ecommerce retailers gear up for Black Friday Cyber Monday, teams at agencies help them create and execute strategies that will take their brands to the next level.

We asked two seasoned ecomm agency pros—Allen Burt, CEO and founder of Blue Stout, and Peter Starr Northrop, senior content manager at MuteSix—for insights into Black Friday strategies. They shared what they're telling their clients about everything from offering deep discounts to analyzing last year's data.

What's different about Black Friday Cyber Monday for ecommerce merchants this year?

Peter Starr Northrop: Every year, we're going to see Black Friday Cyber Monday get bigger and bigger. Brands are trying to stand out and make sure that it is, in fact, the most profitable moment of their entire year. However, the slice of profit for each individual brand is going to go down year over year, because of how much more competitive it becomes.

The noise is much louder, and the landscape is much broader in terms of being able to re-market to folks. Not only that but with a lot of ecommerce marketers really figuring out the mobile and onsite experience, for a lot of ecommerce and B2C folks, it's even easier to set up a process by which it's easy to buy.

Allen Burt: It's not so much that there's been a big change recently, it's more the culmination of the changes during the last year with rising advertising costs. CAC, the ability to acquire a customer, is much more expensive than it was two years ago.

Last year, it was an issue, and this year it's going to be an even bigger issue because it's not only that the cost has gone up, but now the demands for that time of year are going to be exponentially more.

There are more merchants in the market, more players in the space. And so paying for a customer is going to be incredibly expensive this year.

Try post-purchase email sequences that drive people towards upsell, or drive them towards brand affinity, so they feel that connection with you.

—Peter Starr Northrop

How do you recommend brands stand out in this hyper-competitive landscape?

PSN: The major thing brands need to think about is maximizing the amount of revenue they're getting from each transaction. And making sure the bottom-funnel actions are pristine across the board.

That's why having this conversation with CartHook is awesome because one of the most important things you need to do to make sure you're building these high-lifetime-value relationships is getting people to do that second purchase as soon and smoothly as possible. Post-purchase upsells are critical because it's like, "Hey, you had a good experience with us buying this gift. We have other things for you that make it a whole deal."

The checkout process is important, then you should try to get that repeat purchase set up as quickly as possible. If you get that repeat purchase, that's the number one leading indicator in terms of boosting lifetime value. If someone buys two things from you, they're going to come back for a third one much easier than that second purchase. Keeping that in mind, get your post-purchase email sequence down perfectly on a product-by-product basis.

Try post-purchase email sequences that drive people towards upsell, or drive them towards brand affinity, so they feel that connection with you. When you reach out again next year, it's not quite as jarring, because they have a firmer idea of your brand. 

During the holidays, merchants need to be more targeted with who they send emails to because you're going to be sending into a really noisy environment.

—Allen Burt

AB: You have to look at it the same way you look at your Revenue Growth Model in general. Advertising and paid performance marketing spend is just one lever, right? It's just one of the things that you're able to pull.

It just so happens it's been the easiest and fastest lever for the last few years. And so it's been the one that everybody's pulling on the hardest. But what you need to be doing is a better job of planning ahead this year and looking at the other levers of opportunity in your business. Specifically, grow revenue, or grow profits that allow you to take the brunt of a higher acquisition cost and do more with the traffic you're already generating with the budgets you've allocated.

You've got to look at AOV, and you've got to look at how you're higher driving retention and your repeat purchase rates. That's what we're talking with merchants about. We say, "Okay, let's look at your full customer journey funnel and let's see where there are opportunities to bolster those three things, so we know what it's going to cost you to buy customers this year."

So, how can we make sure those are profitable buys? And how can you maximize that on the back end? Then, what are the other channels that are driving sales? And the one that is the biggest is always emails, especially for the holidays. Make sure you're doing a ton of preparation leading up to the holidays to get your list segmented out.

During the holidays, merchants need to be more targeted with who they send emails to because you're going to be sending into a really noisy environment. What are you going to be offering customers that's unique in the market to help your brand rise up above others, and not get lost in the noise? 

What are you going to be offering customers that's unique in the market to help your brand rise up above others, and not get lost in the noise?

—Allen Burt

What kind of offers should merchants consider for the holidays?

AB: Know where there are opportunities to build in offerings as a bundle. As opposed to just saying, "Hey, we're running a 60% off sale," can you do that in a unique way that offers more value? Everybody else is doing discounts. What can you do that's unique? Can you bundle products together to create your own new set of products?

Can you create tiered incentives? So, if somebody's coming in, create a holiday incentive. Say, if you buy $50 worth of product, you get a free gift. If you buy $50 worth of product, you get 20% off your order. If you buy $100 worth of product, you get 50% off your order. These kinds of tiered incentives almost gamify the shopping experience.

Talk about these kinds of offerings in a unique way in your communication and email. Then you can follow up from your funnel by actually building those systems into your sites. When people come to the store and they add a product, you can automatically, through dynamic messaging, incentivize them to continue shopping, so they can continue to build and gain more of those holiday discounts.

How can post-purchase upsells be part of a Black Friday strategy?

AB: Upsells are one of the low-hanging opportunities when it comes to improving AOV. So, when you're trying to battle higher acquisition costs and ad costs, beyond conversion, the next thing to look at is AOV. What can you do to improve the average order value of the customer who's coming through and buying? An upsell is one of the best ways to do it.

What if you can use your existing customer base and not just new customers? Take those folks and try upselling them into a continuity program, like a subscription program, and use a Black Friday Cyber Monday discount incentive.

If you came in and bought a product and you've enjoyed it, consider upselling them into a subscription program buy instead of just giving them a discount, which sometimes can sometimes degrade the brand or brand equity. Say, ‘the first shipment is free, or ‘first shipment's on us.' Your first box and your first box of product and subscriptions is on us, then we start billing for box number two. Those types of upsell offerings have been really effective.

Is Black Friday a time to focus on acquiring new customers?

PSN: This is one of the most important times to be thinking about new customer acquisition, because the intent landscape expands massively during the holiday season. Not only do you have buying intent, which is what you're used to, you're trying to find new customers when you're doing a lot of these acquisition strategies.

Finding and figuring out the kind of people who would buy your products as a gift is really huge as well. It gives you the opportunity to really expand that acquisition pool, which will drive up your costs, but it allows you to sort of discover new folks and build those connections that are going to help you build really high LTV relationships. Even if they're people who buy on Christmas because they're doing it for gifting purposes. 

What kind of advice do you give brands that know their audience?

AB: Look for things that are unique surprises for your audience. What are those little surprises you can provide? Free gifts with purchase or bundling opportunities? Unique product? Limited runs, things that aren't offered on a regular basis that you could use as sort of a bundling opportunity that makes the total offer more exclusive because it's something they're not going to be able to get any other time of year.

You really have to understand what your brand stands for and your target and average targeted customers are to do this.

What should brands do if they're not where they wanted to be at this point in the year?

AB: It depends on whether you want to think short-term or long-term. A lot of brands that haven't done a good job of building brand equity freak out and move very quickly towards a discount mindset to drive sales.

You see other brands that really understand brand equity playing the game of not even running sales on Black Friday Cyber Monday. They're going to drive more value over time from building up the equity of not discounting products than they would from overly discounting just to make numbers in November and December. It depends on the business.

That's an easy thing for somebody to say who's not running the brand. I think that's the hard decision brands have to make. What's more important for the brand right now? To make sales or to build brand equity?

You see other brands that really understand brand equity playing the game of not even running sales on Black Friday Cyber Monday.

—Allen Burt

PSN: Now's the time to completely ramp up. If you're reading these words right now, stop everything. Go increase your acquisition budget this very second. It's going to be cheaper to acquire a lot more customers right now and acquire a lot more people into your marketing flow. It's going to be much cheaper to re-market to those people when everyone else is just maxing out their acquisition spend and competition goes through the roof.

Because if you do that right now, and get people in your marketing flow right now, you get them so that you're fresh in their minds come November. Then when you're doing acquisition campaigns in November, when that real estate has spiked, you already have people that you can re-market to.

This is the time to take a little bit of a hit in CPA, no matter how painful and heartbreaking that feels, because it's going to pay huge dividends come November and December.  

How should brands take into account what happened last year?

AB: It's worth looking back to see what performed well, especially when you're looking at channels like email. Say okay, with our lists, what performed and what didn't? What campaigns performed? When did we see people buy, when did they not buy? What segments work better than others?

Because at the end of the day, if you're growing the business, you should be growing the business with very similar customer types. So what worked last year should work this year, assuming you didn't pull a rabbit out of the hat.

What are some common mistakes merchants make on Black Friday?

PSN: A lot of DTC brands try so hard to get every individual channel right, and they think about it in too siloed of a way.

Make sure you have well-established lines of communication across your entire promotional stack. You have to make sure that everything is aligned, and everything moves in step with each other. Not every one of your Facebook campaigns should have a dedicated landing page, but you should have a dedicated landing experience that ties into post-purchase email sequences.

Honor the context of each individual relationship. While it's impossible to do that on a person-by-person basis, the marketer can make sure that each individual presumed buyer's journey is as easy as possible.

If someone comes into your site for a very specific campaign, they go to a landing page that is dedicated directly to that offer. On that offer you have, you tag it so that whatever email provider you have, that sequence is going to be directly tied to that landing experience. Make sure there's never a moment when you jar the customer.

The most important thing is that you always level up people through their intent. You must make sure that you have as little conversion friction as possible. You do that by just establishing the details across all of your platforms.

You don't necessarily have to make the language of your Google paid search campaigns match your Facebook acquisition campaigns. But you have to make sure that they're along the same thematic lines, so that there's never a moment when someone's re-engaging with your brand where they have a jarring moment like, "Why are you talking to me about these red shoes, when I've been trying to play this yellow shoe situation?"

AB: I see a lot of brands getting caught up in overly discounting. You see that happen more so with brands that have somebody in the head of marketing or a marketing manager role, who's responsible for hitting numbers, and that piece of the business is disconnected from the CMO or COO role, whose job is to drive long-term growth.

Folks get bogged down with this idea of hitting certain numbers and doing it through aggressive discounting. That puts them in a poor position going forward because now people view the value of the product differently come January, February, and March. It hurts overall brand equity.

What's the danger of focusing too much on BFCM revenue?

PSN: Your goal is to establish LTV. That's the only way you, as an ecommerce brand, are going to survive. You can't live off of impulse purchases. You need to make sure that you're getting as much revenue out of each individual acquisition you do as possible.

Otherwise, you'll always be stuck in the margins and not be able to grow. Getting these high LTV customers, getting repeat purchasers, that's going to be your main goal. Don't get lost in these impulse purchases. Don't allow yourself to get high off the short-term revenue that happens in December.

The last thing you want to do is promise somebody two-day shipping on December 21, and have something arrive on December 27. You cannot have that happen.

—Peter Starr Northrop

Make sure you clearly communicate your campaigns, your shipping deadlines, your urgency, and make sure that all your logistics are buttoned up so that you can stick to that no matter what. The last thing you want to do is promise somebody two-day shipping on December 21, and have something arrive on December 27. You cannot have that happen.

For brands that are looking to scale, and need to maintain that brand equity, which frankly should be everybody who's building a brand, look at opportunities to not just offer discounts on product, but offer other unique things. Limited run product, limited bundling opportunities, your free gifts with purchase, other types of incentives. That's the approach people should be looking at versus just applying aggressive discounts.

AB: Brand equity compounds over time. And that's ultimately what's going to drive scale. Customer acquisition cost going up isn't just to be a problem for the holidays. It's going to be a continuing problem. As the space just gets more competitive and the best way to combat against that is better brand equity.

How can brands take a fresh look at their customer at this point in the season?

AB: There's never a bad time to do customer research. Dig in and look at your audience data. Who's buying?

But also, talk to customers. The best information we ever get is when we work with folks who are doing customer interviews and surveys, so they really understand what prompted them to buy.

What drove the purchase decision? What was going through their minds three minutes before they decided to buy from you? What was their mindset? That's going to tell you more than any analytics would.

To sum it up

Think about Black Friday sales in terms of the big picture. Use smart discounts and bundles to drive revenue, but don't sacrifice long-term brand equity for short-term sales.

Learn more about how CartHook can help you customize your Shopify checkout with post-purchase upsells and funnels that move your customers from an ad to a landing page to the checkout page for Black Friday and beyond.

Not using CartHook? Apply to work with us.

Want to see more content like this?

Thanks, you're all signed up!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Join the world's fastest-growing indie brands.

Request a Demo