Black Friday is undoubtedly a tradition in transition. Technology has altered consumers’ shopping habits and expectations, and fundamentally changed the consumer-brand relationship: with consumers spending more time online, brands know where and when to find them far better than they did ten years ago. Holiday deals have been extended to the weeks before and after Black Friday, signaling that it’s not just a one-day event anymore. Camping-out outside your local department store is no longer the norm: this year, mobile purchases were bigger than ever and many millennials stayed in, contributing to 2016 Black Friday sales declining compared to last year.

Despite these changes, in the run-up to Black Friday every major media outlet is looking to report on retail, making it a critical moment for brands to be a part of the conversation. But as consumer behavior continues to shift, marketers will need to think more critically about making the most out of Black Friday for their brands both now and in the future.

The key is to produce a campaign that builds long-term brand equity rather than one which seeks to boost sales on a single day. Many brands’ Black Friday goals center on rallying customers around holiday promotions and products. However, some of the most innovative companies are using the occasion to increase the mental availability of their brand — the ease with which a brand comes to mind — for the long term and distinguish their values in the minds of consumers.

Expand Your Audience

One way to grow your brand in the long term is focus on acquiring new customers rather than on increasing loyalty among existing customers. This Black Friday, outdoor apparel company Patagonia ran a campaign that did just that. Using the hashtag #LoveOurPlanet the brand brought in $10 million in Black Friday sales, 100% of which was donated to grassroots environmental charities. The idea behind the campaign was to reach the mass market above and beyond Patagonia’s loyal, niche customers. As Lisa Pike Sheehy, Patagonia’s VP of Environmental Activism told CNNMoney, “the environment is something we can all come together on…Environmental values are something we all embrace.” The campaign achieved this end, exceeding its revenue projections and “attract[ing] thousands who have never purchased anything from Patagonia before.”


Tell Your Story

Ensure you create content centered around an engaging narrative that espouses your brand values. Fashion pure-play retailer Everlane has always put supply chain transparency at the forefront of their brand.  In 2016, they continued a recurring Black Friday campaign called #BlackFridayFund, where they donate a portion of the day’s proceeds to a factory in their supply chain, posting a specific fundraising goal and attempting to solve a specific problem for their workers. This year the campaign highlighted the need for moped helmets among factory workers in Vietnam. Everlane shared the workers’ stories and included photos, videos, and quotes about their lives and why access to safety equipment was important to them. Rather than spending Black Friday promoting their products, Everlane’s call to action focused on the human stories behind the clothing, engaging customers and capitalizing on the growing importance of socially-conscious branding to modern consumers.


Distinguish Your Brand

Lastly, to aid long-term brand growth, marketers can seek to build a distinctive brand identity. Research has shown that consumers perceive few differences between brands’ major attributes. Rather, they are more influenced by brands that have a recognizable look, feel, and message. This year e-commerce apparel brand Chubbies Shorts ran a campaign called “Future Thank You Card,” an e-card that customers could send their friends and family, thanking them in advance for buying them Chubbies for the holidays. Not only is this campaign in line with Chubbies’ irreverent, social-centric branding but it also gives the customers a distinct interactive experience that distinguishes brand’s identity from other apparel companies.

Ultimately, brands can’t rely on holiday promotions for long-term growth, but this doesn’t mean that media-heavy events like Black Friday won’t continue to be critical for marketers. During a rare time when brands are in the spotlight, they have a chance to position themselves as distinct from the pack. As technology becomes the primary connector between consumers and the brands they love, it’s easy to imagine a Black Friday where everyone stays home and shops from their phones, computers, or AI-enabled devices like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home. The brands that “win” Black Friday will find a unique way to connect with their consumers, reminding them of the things they care about — and the fact that their favorite brands care about them too.