Lessons from Black Friday to Use in Your Communications PlanBy Laura Petrolino

I’m not a Black Friday shopper. I hate shopping in general, so the thought of doing it in the chaos and mayhem of Black Friday is horrible.

Plus, if I have a day off I certainly don’t want to spend it shopping. Unless, I guess, I’m being punished for something and it’s a choice between either shopping or spending eternity trying to make my way through the automated phone tree at the IRS. Then I’d choose shopping.

Regardless, there are many lessons we can learn from Black Friday to inform our overall communications plan. It spotlights some key aspects of buyer psychology every communications pro should know.

The Power of Tradition in a Communications Plan

Tradition is a very powerful force when it comes to motivating actions and should be considered in any communications plan. We do things, often without thought, because they are “tradition.”

This is especially true around the holidays.

Black Friday, for better or worse, has now become part of many families’ traditions, which is very important when it comes to purchase decision in two ways.

First from  a product/service standpoint: It helps a product or service leap frog in front of others because of both prior awareness and familiarity. In some ways tradition is the ultimate word-of-mouth marketing “tactic.”

Trust and familiarity in the product is inherited and often continued purchase is simply implied due to the tradition itself (even if the product is inferior or not as well targeted for the buyer as another competitor product might be).

In a communications plan it’s important to look at how your product might be part of a consumer’s traditions, or how you could position it to become part of one in the future. Setting up a long-term opportunity for buyers to make a product or service part of their traditions is a smart way to position yourself (whether you are a new brand or already established) for long-term loyalty and growth.

Secondly—as black Friday serves as an example—tradition affects purchase decision in the mere event of purchase itself. Buyers go into Black Friday more motivated and willing to buy, simply because of the event tradition.

Buying is more fun if it’s an experience. A well developed communications plan considers ways experience can be brought into purchase decision (and integrates the four media types to do so).

The Thrill of the Hunt

Shopping is like modern day hunting and gathering. And, in that way, Black Friday shopping is very rewarding from an evolutionary standpoint because of the “thrill of the hunt.”

In marketing speak, we know the importance of scarcity and urgency in purchase decision. Those tactics are evoked heavily on Black Friday and feed our hunter/gathering tendencies to want to beat out our fellow hunters for the best prize,

Caveman version of prize: Buffalo and berries.

Modern man version of prize: Apple watch and flat screen TV.

One important note about scarcity and urgency many marketers forget (and you are starting to see dilute some of retailers Black Friday efforts as well)—they must be authentic. If you are going to rely on these tactics as part of your communications plan you must stick to the guidelines you set upon them no matter what.


If you say you have 200 spots in a class—you shut the class off at 200 spots. Even if you have extra people who want to get in.

If you say you will end the sale at XX date and XX time—you end it. Even if you know you could get more people if you extend it for one more day.

Your communications plan cannot overuse these tactics and they can’t be “spun” (everyone say it with me now…because spin sucks…)

Otherwise you’ll lose long-term brand trust and buyer loyalty in exchange for one time conversions. Any tactic in your communications plan should be directed to your long-term goals. 

Overcome Sale Anxiety

One obstacle faced when including discounts and sales as a tactic in your communications plan is devaluation of product in the consumer’s mind.

We put value on things that are valued for us by price. Luxury goods are considered luxury, partially because of their above average costs. When you put something on sale people automatically have a tendency to think there must be something wrong with it. It’s damaged, or not popular/stylish….there must be some reason it’s not in demand enough to warrant paying full price.

Black Friday sales overcome this because the sale is part of the event and tradition itself. Product/service valuation remains high and consumers feel like they are getting a deal (evoking the reward system in our brain—which is the same system tied to addictions).

Whenever you include discounts and sales as part of your communications plan, you should also include a strategy to offset the perception of devaluation. This could be through messaging, timing, loyalty rewards or customer exclusivity. There are a variety of ways you can soften it, but it must be addressed clearly.

Build a Community Around Related Topics

We talk about community building a lot here at Spin Sucks, so it should come to no surprise that one of the most interesting Black Friday tactics you should include in your communications plan is community building.

There are whole Facebook groups, blogs, Twitter threads, Instagram hashtags, Pinterest board, and influencers who host communities of Black Friday shoppers. And through these platforms people connect, discuss, and in turn become more excited about Black Friday.

When building this aspect into your communications plan, ask yourself:

  • What topics can we serve as a moderator for?
  • What platforms can we use to allow engage with us and each other around those topics?
  • How can we integrate the four media types to facilitate our community?

What other lessons can you take away from Black Friday to inform your communications plan?

Image credit: Taken by me at the Portland Downtown Christmas Tree Lighting Friday

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

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