It’s 9am on Thursday 24 November and at The&Partnership’s London offices retail giant Argos has assembled a team of data analysts, copywriters, designers, social media execs in a conference room filled with chocolate and coffee.
It’s here that they will spend the next 72 hours, trying to keep the retail giant front of shoppers’ minds during what will arguably the busiest three days in the retail calendar – Black Friday weekend.
This is the second year Argos has set up a "Black Friday War Room". The idea was initially inspired by looking at customer and social data in 2014 where it could see that some stayed up late on the Thursday night until 2am, and got up on Friday at 6am to check out the best deals.
“So as marketers we wanted be there when our customers are active,” says Nicki Brown, Argos’ advertising controller, adding that means curating deals, crafting content, and responding to what people are saying on social media around the clock until the discounting dies down.
Screens, screens and more screens
So, Argos and The&Partnerhsip – the agency group it has worked with for over a decade – came up with the War Room. Within it sit four giant screens, each of which is relaying data from a different part of the business as well as wider conversations that are happening on Twitter (“the main battleground”).
The first, and most important, is a “60-something inch screen” that carries Tweetdeck. It’s been set up with a custom interface featuring six columns, each with a different job.
One shows us the Argos social feed, another displays all Argos mentions and another covers what 20 of Argos’ closest competitors are saying. Finally, one column show what the media is saying about Black Friday, including the national and trade press as well as individual journalists, and one column is dedicated to surfacing verified users – so Argos can see any influencers that it wants to respond to quickly.
Arguably, the next most important screen for this operation is the one that shows media spend. Then there’s a ‘Google Trends’ screen that will show the team what’s being searched for, and lastly a screen for Argos’ own website analytics.
Sitting on the opposite end of this control centre is a rather less tech-enabled, but still as important, glass wall where the team have printed out all the key deals that Argos will promote.
Underpinning the success of any War Room on Black Friday is preparation. As the clock struck midnight on the morning of Black Friday, the team of 10 took each product on the glass wall and compared prices to those of competitors, then labelled them with a colour coded Post-It note to indicate if Argos is cheaper, matching, or more expensive.
All of this is vital in ensuring the brand's media spend is used wisely, according to Jason Andrews, associate director at The&Partnership’s content agency AllTogetherNow, when speaking to The Drum – after just four hours sleep (hence the ample supply of caffeine in the war room).
“Everyone can then see if another retailer is beating us and that all feeds into what we say and how we use the media spend. So, if we’re being beaten by a competitor on a product we’ll reduce the media spend on a product, and put it on something that we’re winning on,” explains Andrews.
Content and copy are also pre-produced based on different scenarios the team envisages during the pre-planning phase. For example, if a product is listed as out of stock in certain stores, but available online. “It just means we’re able to react quicker in the moment,” adds Andrews.
Reacting in the moment
But there’s only so much prep the team can do, and reacting in the moment is par for the course.
In the room sits an analyst, whose sole job is to keep track of the stock Argos has at any one time, and alongside team member is another who will monitor when a competitor is out of stock on an item.
“We then need to rapidly go through the process of making sure Argos has a model that’s the same, the price is the same, and it’s in stock. We can’t risk pushing something that’s sold out, and angering people we can’t satisfy,” says Steve Parker, managing director at AllTogetherNow.
Once that’s been confirmed, it then hands the information over to a designer and copywriter to create a “punchy” piece of content highlighting that Argos is cheaper and has the product available. After the client in the room approves it, targeted media spend is then used to pump it out across its channels, until there’s only 10% of stock remaining, at this point paid-for media spend is then cut. And all this all can happen within a 10 to 15-minute window.
“It’s a constant process to keep adapting and switching off spend when something’s not working, or switching on when it is,” Parker adds. “When you imagine how many products there are, and combinations, and deals it is an endurance process to keep optimising to get the best value.”
Measuring success then hitting the Marquis
Rather than inducing stress or causing the team to run for the nearest pub, all of this, according to Andrews, is exciting. Co-incidentally, he says this just yars away from famous adland watering hole The Marquis of Granby, where readers will likely find the War Room team celebrating come the end of Cyber Monday.
“It’s giving us an edge. We can see the traffic and the sales coming in and we know that we’ve made a difference by just working as a team for a few minutes on a reactive piece of content,” he explains.
Everything that is put out on social can be tracked back to a purchase on the Argos site, and so when it comes to how the team is judged on the success it comes down to a simple metric – how much revenue did they drive?
The retailer hasn’t revealed exactly how much it spends on Black Friday, or how much it makes. But according to research Argos is the consistently among the top ranking brands during the four-day period.
But as Argos’ Brown surmises, the learnings it takes are being used far beyond Black Friday: “The biggest benefit has been seeing how overlaying different data sets can drive richer insights that can be used for event and campaign planning. This is on top of the more intangible benefits of working closely with a very of talented cross-discipline teams.”