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Black Friday Sales Leave More Questions Than Answers in Their Wake

The Black Friday sales receipts are in, but reports differ as to what the results mean for marketers’ 2023 plans. Should your content tread water in the sea of popular opinion or seek out new oceans to surf? Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute does a deep dive on why it may be better to swim against the tide than struggle to rise above it.

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Aired: December 2, 2022

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Hello there and welcome. For marketers, we’re past Black Friday, and we’ve got a better sense of how the economy is going to shape up. Or maybe we don’t.

How is this all going to affect your 2023 content planning? This is news you need to lead in content marketing.

Hello everybody Robert Rose here with the news. It’s what’s new, but – more importantly –what’s important in the world of content marketing. And for the best in best practices – you can always go to

As we all get over our Thanksgiving … well, let’s just say, “libations,” we can look to see how the last week looked for retailers. The unofficial marketing and sales temperature-check known as Black Friday has become Black Friday Cyber Week, as retailers and all kinds of other companies use this as a gauge to see where things are headed.

So, what’s the news? Well, the news is a decided, “Uh, nobody knows.” Depending on what publications you read, shopper turnout hit record highs, with some news outlets reporting that 196 million shoppers turned out over the weekend – compared to 179 million during last year’s weekend. This eclipsed the forecast from the National Retail Federation – which had estimated a turnout of 166 million this year.

But if you read other reports, they say this Black Friday weekend was “mixed, at best,” citing the winners and losers in the retail market space and saying that there’s been a surprisingly lower amount of discounting than in years past, despite high inflation. Others are saying there was modest growth, but that higher traffic and deeper promotions are what enabled retailers to “eke out” that growth.

So, which is it?

What’s our take at CMI?

It’s probably all of the above. As I’ve said many times before, show me your Google Analytics and I’ll tell you any kind of story you’d like me to. The reporting on the economy – and whether to take this Black Friday and Cyber Week as signs of bad or good things to come – all depends on the audience you find yourself in.

And that tees up my column this week on the Content Marketing Institute blog – and our take here at CMI – which teaches a lesson we can all stand to learn about popularity and audiences.

It’s a lesson I learned when I was working in the world of media, storytelling, and audiences: Popularity is not a sign of differentiation.

It comes from the idea that, often, what is popular among audiences (or the media) isn’t necessarily regarded by those audiences to be high quality – or, in some cases, even true. In other words, for content, it’s often better to go against the flow and find new audiences than to feed into popular thinking.

It’s often better to go against the flow and find new audiences than to feed into popular thinking, says @Robert_Rose Click To Tweet

However, there’s a double-edged sword to this line of thinking: If you successfully chase trends and feed popular content to audiences, it does not automatically not equate to differentiation.

On the other hand, focusing on differentiating by taking a contrarian or highly niche view of what’s popular doesn’t always work either.

Related: 6 Exceptional Content Marketers (and the Traits That Make Them Stand Out)

So, how do you blend these concepts?

In my column this week I talk about a classic concept made popular by a 2004 book called Blue Ocean Strategy. Red oceans are crowded markets where popular products abound, and cutthroat sales and marketing strategies rule. Blue oceans are undiscovered markets where there’s little or no competition, and businesses either create new customers or die alone.

In content marketing strategy, we find that a lot of businesses focus on the short-term, hyper-focused feeding of red audiences. They look to drive traffic, engagement, and conversions by getting the most people to consume the content – and, thus, the strategy is to focus on the topics and content that are the proven most popular with audiences. But going after “blue ocean” audiences – new audiences that aren’t relevant in the present strategy – seems risky.

What do we do?

Well, one of the things we’re seeing smart content marketers do is similar to what we’ve seen media companies do: working on transitioning one to the other by teaching, targeting, and building demand for new ideas from a niche within the red audience.

Put simply, they created a purple audience. You start with audiences that are interested in a popular topic, but you find a niche within that topic, and start to differentiate the way you pull the audience out of it.

In this week’s Rose-Colored Glasses column, I go through some examples that might help you figure out how to make that approach work for your business.

As we’re thinking about our planning for next year, take a lesson from how these media companies find ways to target us, specifically, and pull us into the narrative that they want us to follow.

Just because the data is similar, it doesn’t mean the story has to be the same. Go check out my column and let me know what you think.

That’s 5 minutes of the news you need to lead in content marketing. I’m Robert Rose, and remember: It’s YOUR story to tell – tell it well.

I’ll see you next week.

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