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  • Writer's pictureLoren

When marketing succeeds, but tech fails — PR rescues

Black Friday and seasonal promotions that fall flat

User Experience

The glorious lifecycle of Black Friday. Consumers eager to stand in line and watch a spinning wheel on their computers desperate to get a deal. Businesses prepare for product sales, promotion, tech integration, and crisis communications. Every year consumers and business owners should expect there to be a few glitches because it undoubtedly surfaces, but why are we never prepared?

Marketers test and spend time deciding which products to promote and at what price. Writers edit their copy and toil over the right cadence of emails building up to the day and special offers. Quality assurance test links to make sure everything syncs properly and there are no bugs. Analysts track metrics for each of the email and social campaigns to anticipate and plan for results. The work beforehand goes unnoticed when sales don’t line up even though the consumers did. The lines were TOO long and tangled it appears.

When the big day arrives, consumers flood online and in-stores (often even before opening) ready to spend their money and find the best deal. This jams up website traffic and you cannot log in to your account, the checkout cart is temporarily disabled, and you wonder if you’ve paid for your deal five times because of the overload. In the store, associates struggle to manage the flow of customers and the machines are slow to operate. Many consumers will get what they want and return home for some rest. Those who didn’t get what they wanted will flock to social media quicker than they found their car in a packed parking lot. Angry emojis will inundate business accounts.

While the phones are busy and hold music plays for online shoppers and in-store staff try to calm down and reassure customers, the public relations and social media teams are swift at work responding to every complaint and offering solutions or talking points to the masses. While marketing teams are pressured to find the right promotion pathway, when the tech and infrastructure crumbles, it’s the public relations team that saves the day and the brand image.

PR earns back the respect so that consumers show up the following Black Friday and continue the lifecycle.

I typically avoid Black Friday; I value my sanity over a deal. This year, I did need to buy tires from Costco, which I already think is a good deal. My timely need, and winter in Pennsylvania, coincided with Black Friday and when I went online, nothing was working. Since I wasn’t trying to score a deal, I just waited until stores were closed and went online to complete my purchase without disruption. Because I suspected that most people online were looking for clothing or tech products and not tires, I did try to call my local store to see if I could just get a transfer to the tire department because of the online disfunction. The customer service rep told me I could try but they were probably too busy to answer; she was correct.

I checked their Facebook page, and sure enough, there were angry emojis and complaints about people not getting their products online. The Black Friday promotional post was now pushed down and more recent posts highlighted other products. Thanks to automated planners such as SEMrush, businesses can pick and schedule their posts ahead of time, but when a problem happens in real-time, someone needs to address it. Unfortunately, Costco fell flat on that front, and when inquired about the crash and millions of dollars lost a representative declined to comment. Not a good look, Costco. You cannot keep moving along in your automated world when you’ve made a mistake. Your posts might continue, but all of your comments will stick to your shortcomings until addressed.

When I worked for an agency, I represented a national retailer. We launched social media and marketing campaigns leading up to the event and invited media beforehand to capture video and promote products. Media was not allowed into stores during Black Friday because that retailer wanted to focus on customer experience and managing the crowds as best as possible. Media could still talk to shoppers in the parking lot so we watched for media hits and monitored social conversations online and customer’s messages throughout the day. As a result, we were able to walk away with mostly positive messages and branding during the sales.

While Black Friday gets the majority of discussion and fanfare, Cyber Monday has changed the way people market and customers shop. It’s also provided a way for small businesses to promote Small Business Saturday as an alternative. What used to propel consumers to cram their bodies and computer usage in a designated time-block should now open up other options to spread out these deals. Sales will usually run from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, both online and in stores, giving consumers time to snag what they want.

So, why do customers rush to sites and stores at the same time and what can we learn from this shopping weekend?

1. E-commerce is up. Ok, boomer, maybe we can thank millennials for this, but people are shopping online more. Stores are finding online deals that match in-store purchases. Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales broke records online, particularly on mobile, and that was before e-commerce’s main event of Cyber Monday.

2. Small shops should embrace digital. They don’t have to try and break the Internet, but they should utilize social media, emails, and platforms like Shopify if they intend to sell online. With online sales appealing to consumers, they can capture a piece of that pie. Social is a great way to personalize your brand and promote shopping local and having customers snap photos of their positive experience and telling their friends. It takes 0 dollars to find a snazzy hashtag and share, but it could bring in many dollars.

3. Brand loyalty matters. When brands and stores experience an outage like Costco, they may lose millions of dollars, but will they lose long-term customers? Not likely. Most customers are loyal and a bad experience on a day and an event that already has some negative connotations associated with it shouldn’t affect loyal shoppers. But stores shouldn’t overlook or depend on these shoppers. A simple gesture acknowledging what went wrong and how to fix it can go a long way. Some people hate just to hate, and even if they had a positive experience, they might not be likely to give you high remarks anyhow. Your loyal shoppers will.

4. Always be prepared. If you’re a consumer, be prepared to wait, and try again, and maybe even lose out on a deal. Manage your expectations. If you’re a business, make sure you have a strong plan for if your tech fails and your products fly off the shelf and cause a crisis. If you don’t have a crisis communications team in place and a spokesperson ready to handle media requests you may find it harder to rebound. Your expectations should be high and you should not rely solely on one plan.

Will I shop at Costco again? Yes, I’ll be back to get my tires installed and will continue to shop for other items. Will I plan on going during Black Friday or the week before Christmas, probably not. I’ll stick to cyber deals during non-peak hours. But if you ever find yourself in a bind and having overpromised what you couldn’t deliver, there is a savvy PR consultant who can help navigate you back to your good and trusted name.

If you are in need of proactive or reactive public relations, send me a note!


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