Black Friday Review: How we tackled peak in a cost of living crisis

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How did Black Friday 2022 look for our clients? Connor Hyslop reviews how this unprecedented peak period impacted our paid search performance

Black Friday Review: How we tackled peak in a cost of living crisis

The Black Friday/peak period for 2022 represented a unique year in a number of ways. The ever-looming cost of living crisis, which dominated the news, presented our team with a difficult consumer landscape which, coupled with a peak period dominated by a World Cup (with the extra challenge of an England fixture on Black Friday itself!), left our team and agency as a whole with a number of obstacles to overcome.

The Black Friday Football Team

With these obstacles and challenges, came the chance for unique planning and strategy in the lead up to the peak period. This planning, ironically, could be encapsulated through a football analogy, which ClickThrough shared through our social platforms. Planning began earlier in the year with the foundations (or Goalkeeper), ensuring any technical issues were solved, as well as ensuring all accounts were optimised ready for peak. Next, required the initial messaging (the defence), building a customer awareness and anticipation which our later strategy decisions would then look to capitalise upon.

CTM Black Friday World Cup Infographic-1

The next stage, and arguably the most critical, was the testing of – and crucially the learning from – our initial strategy ideas. This required collaboration across our team and the agency as a whole, as we shared insights of strategies which were successful, alongside those which did not perform as we may have expected. Staying as close to our consumers’ behaviour as possible was as critical as ever this year, so this testing phase was pivotal to the ultimate success of our peak period. Once this testing had been completed, and learnings taken, we could then look to the final aspect of our preparation (the strikers) – creating urgency through messaging designed to guide consumers toward our tried-and-test Black Friday strategies.

Our expectations for Black Friday 2022

Regarding our expectations – assurance was difficult to conjure, as the uncertainty in the external environment ultimately led analysts and experts alike to hold differing opinions of what lay in store. This is a point noted by our very own Head of PPC Alex Copping, who noted the difficulty in making predictions in this unique peak season, as he explained;

”With the cost of living crisis, Royal Mail strikes and winter World Cup, it was almost impossible for the industry to anticipate exactly how peak period would play out this year. Whilst a typical Black Friday period would be led by forecasting and a predetermined strategic approach, as marketers we've had to be more agile than ever in order to navigate the challenges thrown at us in 2022.

This difficulty in making predictions was made more complicated when analysing our main e-commerce clients' unique challenges too. With each of our clients facing their own obstacles and needing a bespoke approach to their strategy, this required collaborative, outside-the-box thinking, in order to overcome. These challenges included;

  • A jewellery client experiencing a decline in demand in the months leading to November,
  • Intermittent demand levels for the year as a whole, making peak performance challenging to predict for a bedding client,
  • A heritage cookware brand facing aggressive competitor behaviour,
  • The aftermath of a website migration and rebrand for a department store,
  • And the need to adapt to new (often reduced) client budgets in many cases.

As mentioned, all of the above was set in the face of a difficult economic climate.

Tackling peak head on through collaborative Black Friday sessions

To brainstorm solutions, we held collaborative sessions between each of our marketing channels, where the full paid media team analysed, theorised and ultimately suggested potential ways to ensure the peak period was still a success for each client. Collaboration and communication played an important role with our clients too, as we established and managed expectations in the face of these challenges. By removing any guesswork, we could create solid, creative solutions that addressed each of them head-on.

In one case, after noting our data regarding demand fluctuations, a focus on efficiency was relaxed for the peak period in some areas, as we outlined to client’s the most effective way to still drive volume during what was perhaps to be a reduced Black Friday demand. In other cases, earlier-than-anticipated demand meant our team had to adapt schedules and bring forward our peak plans which, in doing so, ensured we still captured that demand which may typically have not been seen until the end of November. For other clients, reduced budgets meant managing expectations with clients on what potential returns could look like, while challenging us to increase efficiency and reduce any ad spend leakage, to make the most of what budget we had.

How strong collaboration led to strong results

After months of planning, testing, re-planning and client discussion, the insights and trends highlighted above correlated through to an ultimately successful peak period;

  • For our jewellery client who had been facing a decline in demand, the team were able to drive a 10% increase in revenue YoY for the month of November, including a 14% increase YoY regarding Black Friday specific performance.
  • For our homeware client seeing fluctuating levels of demand, increased demand in early-November meant that whilst Black Friday performance was down 6% YoY, our strategy adaption ensured we finished the month 8% up for revenue YoY.
  • For a footwear client, who chased volume over efficiency, a 138% increase in Black Friday spend, saw revenue increases of 142% - thus highlighting the success of our strategy in driving more volume, but still too incremental improvements regarding efficiency.
  • Regarding a popular fashion client, who were working with a 68% reduced budget compared to last year, ROI (a key client KPI), was up 11% YoY for the Black Friday weekend, as we were able to focus on efficiency with the spend allocated to us.

However, as is the nature of digital, some of the external challenges we faced posed significant challenge. The household-name cookware brand who were facing aggressive tactics from competitors, emerging cost-effective alternatives, and reduced market demand saw a reduction in revenue YoY. Meanwhile, our department store client, who had very recently gone through a rebrand and website migration, had lost the advantage of brand recognition and saw reduced organic sessions to support any retargeting campaigns on our part. Ultimately, both these brands were impacted by external results, but our paid activity still fulfilled its role in mitigating the greater level of loss these clients would otherwise have seen.

Despite this, team reflection has found these case studies to be the most beneficial moving forwards. Analysis of strategy versus market context, has identified areas which in future could mitigate the impact felt by external factors often out of our direct control. This should not only improve performance for future peak periods, but this process of collaborative learning has been a key takeaway for the team as we look to draw our final conclusions on peak 2022.

Reflecting on a peak like no other

It is important to look back to the unpredictable view of the period we as an industry held before it began. This is a point not lost on Alex, who reflects on the 2022 peak period as one of success, given the number of challenges the team and agency faced;

”From a top-line perspective, I would define the period as a success. I'm proud of how the team have navigated a really challenging period, working relentlessly to deliver against our client's KPIs, as well as overcoming some really difficult market conditions. It felt as though competition was fiercer than ever, so I think as a team we were rewarded for our integrated strategic approach - I think it was that which made the difference in the end!

The unpredictability of the period tested our team’s ability to stay close to the consumer, as well as their skill at creating strategy quickly which suited market changes. As these are skills that can be well-applied to business as usual activity, not just at peak times, we’re taking these learnings and applying them to our normal activity. Integrated team sessions focusing on open and honest performance analysis and reflection have proved extremely beneficial. In doing so, this will help to shape future strategy decisions we make in the new year and beyond.

Internally, the focus on teamwork and collaborative thinking this year provoked, is something we also found to be extremely beneficial, which in turn shall improve the way we work in the future and sets the standard for a collaborative, 360 approach to any clients future activity.

A final point to make is a personal one. Being my first ever peak period, happening within a month of me joining the company, to see the way our team and agency pulled together to deliver for our clients was extremely motivating, and has definitely helped my own understanding to progress. Therefore, I would like to finish by saying a big congratulations to the team, and everyone in the agency, for their work and effort over the peak period in 2022, and roll on 2023!

An integrated, collaborative approach to marketing is not just for peak. Find out what our experts can do for you.

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