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Blog: Event marketing

Why you shouldn’t jump on the Black Friday bandwagon to market your events

16 November 2022 minute read

Ian Dickie
Managing Director

Every year on Black Friday, businesses the world over race to outdo each other with increasingly outlandish discounts on products and services you may (or may not) ever have wanted in the first place.

The volume of promotions is dizzying. Just deleting all those Black Friday emails from your inbox can feel like shovelling snow during a blizzard.

What started out as a US tradition has now firmly established itself in the UK, Germany, France, China and most other major economies. In fact, an estimated 50-60% of countries now ‘celebrate’ Black Friday to some degree.

And while it used to be confined to retail businesses, recently, I’ve noticed tech companies, B2B service providers and even conferences sending me sensational seasonal offers.

But if you’re running a paid-for business event, I can think of a number of reasons not to jump on the Black Friday bandwagon. And here they are.

It doesn’t work

I like a bargain as much as the next person. I have a wardrobe full of unworn suits and a kitchen stuffed with pointless gadgets to prove it.

But business events are notoriously price insensitive. Why? Because the registration fee you charge a participant tends to represent a relatively small component (typically 20-50%) of the total cost of attending (once you factor in travel, accommodation, time away from the office and other monetary and opportunity costs).

Also, most people are spending the company’s money – not their own. Their decision to attend is based solely on whether they want to attend, or whether they need to. And those decisions are, in turn, almost exclusively driven by perceptions of content and networking opportunities. What they’ll learn. Who they’ll meet. Not how much it costs to get in.

Basically, reducing your ticket price by 25% isn’t going to move the needle for most of your prospective attendees in terms of their marginal propensity to register for your event. It will, however hurt your bottom line quite a bit.

The value of events is tied up in opportunity. People don’t register to attend events in order to save money. They do it because they want to make money (or at least to make themselves and their organisation more successful).

It looks desperate

Not only does blanket discounting not work for business events, it has the potential to actually hurt sales.

Events are based on confidence - primarily confidence in the idea that the whole crowd you need to meet with are going to be there.

When an event sends me emails offering discounts (other than the usual earlybird incentives) it suggests to me that no one else has signed up.

If they had, the event would be done giving away discounts.

Continue to offer blanket discounts and you run the risk of creating reverse-FoMO. Some wildly popular events even limit the number of tickets to create a heightened sense of exclusivity and urgency. That makes people want to hurry to get into an event.

Discounting, on the other hand, can make people think they smell failure.

Blonde woman looking anguished and covering her ears surrounded by discount offer graphics

It incentivises bad behaviour

By going to your prospects with a succession of discounts, flash sales or special offer pricing (like Black Friday deals) you’re effectively incentivising people to hang on for a deal because they don’t need to register at the rack rate.

By extending the deadline, you are rewarding people for waiting, which is not your desired behaviour. Actually, you want people to lock into your event as early in the sales cycle as possible. The longer they wait, the more likely it is they’ll pick up another commitment on that day, or simply forget.

Don’t favour the procrastinators. Give them a clear signal that the price is the price and it will not change, however late they leave it to book.

It hurts your brand

Is ‘SUPER SALE!’ really the kind of image you want for your event brand?

When you lead on price, you relegate the brand values that really would convert prospects into attendees, notably the quality of your programme and speakers, the strength of your event community and the opportunities for focussed, effective networking.

People only have the bandwidth to associate your event with a few attributes at most. So choose your messaging carefully. Do you really want to be known as the ‘discount’ event?

Surely it’s better to be thought of as ‘the most global’ meeting or ‘the most select’ or ‘the most academic’ or ‘the most commercial’? It’s up to you. But is there value in being thought of as ‘the cheap one’? We’re not selling bags of sugar here.

Keep banging on about how cheap your event is and you might start people wondering ‘Why is it cheap? Is it because it’s not that great?’

And this is a perception that’s very difficult to reverse.

Is all discounting bad then?

Not necessarily.

And people have told me that a Black Friday offer gives them a chance to encourage previous registrants who already know their event to sign-up for the next meeting earlier than they otherwise might.

That may be true to some extent. But why use Black Friday as a trigger? Would it not make more sense to email your previous attendees and offer them a generous, time-limited discount as a thankyou for their support and loyalty thus far?

Discounting can be an effective way of boosting sales, but we should distinguish between good discounting and bad discounting. It’s important to ask yourself: ‘What did the customer do to justify receiving that 50% discount?’

Did they register early (showing faith and helping your cashflow)? Did they attend three years running without fail? Are they students / young members? Do they work in the public sector or for charities?

As long as you can explain why you’re offering a discount and you’re consistent in making that discount available, then the customer who gets 20% off their ticket because they booked as soon as registration opened, or because they belong to a certain demographic, understands what they have to do next time to get the discount again.

When we engineered the ticket-type architecture for AttendZen we were careful to design for maximum customisation and automation of the pricing and discounting tools. Specific discounts can be applied to different demographics. Discounts can be time-limited, supported by codes or membership numbers and hidden from other attendees if needed. In other words, they’re designed to help you reward and incentivise specific segements of your market in exactly the right way.

On the other hand, if you go the Black Friday route – and start discounting for no reason other than as a means of firefighting to sell some last-minute tickets – then you end up with customers expecting you to do the same again in future.

Everyone loves a bargain. The key is to make sure there’s a justification for that bargain. That way, discounting becomes another reflection of your organisation’s objectives.