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As the holiday season creeps closer, fewer words are more divisive than Black Friday. To some, they mean deal upon sale upon glorious deal. To others, they signal an advertising onslaught, endless lines and potential agitation on the “mallfront,” where stores vie for consumer attention (and business) and consumers vie for the last gift with purchase (while supplies last!). Then there’s the lurking question of whether Black Friday deals are really the best of the season. Like many of you, our inboxes at Vertical Marketing Network have been filling with news of Black Friday deals and promotions for weeks. And while countless brands and stores got their traditional Christmas creep on within days of Halloween, a handful caught our eye by taking some new approaches. From the luxurious (Neiman Marcus) to the practical (Lowe’s) to the perennial favorite (Target), smart brands are doing a whole lot more than decorating, they’re winning over consumers by being convenient, thoughtful and Internet savvy.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems like successful holiday marketing needs to mirror the holidays themselves: bright, catchy and made anew year after year. Consumers want to believe in their brands like kids want to believe in Santa. Marketers need to employ a little magic.
Several brands are doing just this. Below, five ways to recolor the Black Friday landscape:
1. Make A Statement — They say patience is a virtue, and Target hopes consumers agree. As most major retailers roll out their holiday ad campaigns over the coming weeks, Target is choosing to hold back their full-blown holiday campaign until after Thanksgiving. True, we’ve seen the toy catalogs, and this deal was leaked last week. But according to the National Retail Federation and Big Research, 13 percent of consumers began their holiday shopping before September this year. A quarter were expected to begin in September or October, while 41 percent said they will start in November. By shunning these statistics, Target is making a bold statement, one they hope wins over consumers by conveying respect for family time and Thanksgiving, two things often over-shadowed by the Christmas creep.
2. Make It Easy — Nothing says easy like home shopping. Neiman Marcus has been quietly advertising a promotion called “Buy Now Gift Later” via Facebook. The offer, which started Oct. 4 and is good through Nov. 30, encourages shoppers to get an early start on their holiday shopping by offering free shipping and free gift wrapping, among other things. On top of this, the luxury retail giant is running a holiday giveaway called the “Presents Perfect Challenge,” which asks shoppers to build wish lists for Santa (and presumably their personal shoppers) of the 10 items they covet most this holiday season. Participants are entered to win Neiman Marcus gift cards ranging in value from $500 to $2,500 — not a bad way to drum up a little product lust, and consumer loyalty.
3. Be A Social Butterfly — We can’t say it enough: in this day and age, social networking is a brand’s best friend. We’ve talked endlessly about how smart brands ranging from American Eagle Outfitters to Oreo have utilized Facebook to engage consumers. Earlier this month, Lowe’s rolled out a series of display and paid-search ads on the social networking site that direct consumers to its Facebook Fan page, where they can get sneak peaks of Black Friday specials. The home-improvement retailer also launched an email campaign to create buzz. Their concept? To thank loyal fans with perks, such as a chance to purchase select items at a discount in advance. In this case, it pays to have “friends.”
4. Think Outside The Gift Box — IHG is proving Black Friday isn’t just for retailers. Starting Nov. 1 and running through Nov. 29, the world’s largest hotel company is tweeting flight and giveaway deals and tying the promotion back to the holidays. “Our Black Friday promotion gives consumers a discounted travel option when they’re looking for deals leading up to one of the biggest shopping days of the year”, says U.S. Sales and Marketing Vice President Del Ross. “Not only can our guests get $50 off a flight, this combined with our other promotions lets them earn free nights and save on baggage fees at the same time.” Whatever the spin, by using social media and making the most of a promotional opportunity, IHG is tapping the cultural and consumer pulse and keeping their brand relevant.
5. Location! Location! Location! — Based, that is. A few weeks ago, we talked about how brands can engage consumers using location-based social networks, such as Facebook Places, Foursquare and Gowalla. While Facebook and Twitter drum up excitement in bigger ways, the coming weeks are an excellent chance to check out “checking-in.” Many shopping sites recommend spenders download apps such as Foursquare before hitting retail stores on Black Friday, arguing that many “smaller, specialty shops…give Foursquare newbies merchandise discounts. Even if the stores on your itinerary don’t offer Foursquare deals, check out the tip section of the app, where customers can leave comments on the easiest way to navigate stores and the best ways to save.” It’s like a fairy godmother and personal shopper rolled into one, and smart brands should take advantage.
Blogging Out Loud will return on Tuesday, Nov. 30. In the meantime, we’ll be eating turkey, poring over the FSIs, and, of course, shopping from Black Friday through Cyber Monday and beyond.