Social media, cloud computing, tablets ... in recent times, field marketing agencies have been getting to grips with the latest technology innovations and digital tools to enable them to engage further with consumers and improve campaign effectiveness.
It is these tools that are shaping the industry's future. Respondents to this year's Marketing field marketing league tables survey acknowledge how technology developments are helping agencies restructure their field marketing training models and enabling brands to present information and products in a more enticing manner. More than half of those agencies listed have grown by more than 10% in the past year, with CPM once again topping the table.
While the medium has, like other disciplines, had to contend with a lower marketing spend from brands, there has been a surge in delivering quality training on the shop floor, as consumers become more engaged with products owing to the vast amount of information they now have at their fingertips.
'It is therefore essential that staff are more knowledgeable and enthusiastic, in order to engage customers with products through demonstrations and by offering helpful information,' says Daniel Todaro, managing director at agency Gekko.
Future innovations for training delivery are set to become increasingly creative, using tablets and smartphones. These devices are able to move training away from being a mundane lecture to a more appealing, interactive and memorable experience - which should translate to the consumer side too. Gary Mac Manus, managing director of agency Reach, believes that the shopper experience needs to be more exciting, particularly with the trend toward consumers using smaller shops for top-up purchases rather than just impulse buys.
Agency CPM has been providing its field staff with iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy tablets, giving teams a virtual one-stop shop for the latest information and resources.
'The tablets can provide live sales data to identify possible opportunities and (inspire) the right discussions in-store,' says Martin Ryan, managing director of CPM. 'We can show how a store ranks within its peer group, and if a store is, say, 10% down on sales compared with the same time last year, we are in a good position to suggest remedies to fix that decline.'
He adds that having electronic point-of-sale data that is updated in real-time has an increased relevance and enables teams to make smarter recommendations, with an obvious benefit to retailers.
In a recent campaign for a home-entertainment brand, a screen was installed at the brand's head office, showing an extensive picture gallery of current store views - images of the stores were brought into the client's head office in real-time.
'Actionable data was used to drive resolution and minimise sales loss in the event of a sudden problem,' explains Ryan. 'An example of this occurred when a "buy one, get one free" promotion was not scanning properly in Tesco stores on day one of a movie release. The problem was escalated to account teams by 8am and a speedy resolution was achieved.'
CPM has also improved store rankings by running localised incentives. Managers are competitive, so if they see that they are performing badly against another store in their area, they are being presented with a powerful call to action.
This approach, says Ryan, is helping stores to achieve their service-level agreements. 'If we can demonstrate that a unit at the front of a store translates into incremental sales, we stand a much greater chance of negotiating additional space,' he adds.
Agency Cosine, which works with brands such as Britvic, is using bespoke cloud-based CRM systems, allowing it and its clients to monitor, get status updates and report on all aspects of the campaign in real-time via tablets or desktop computers.
'The benefits of using the latest reporting systems give us a continuous view of activity at any time,' says Matt Dealtry, head of business insight at Cosine. 'There is no lag between generating insight and making changes to improve on activity effectiveness.'
Cloud-based technology also means that agencies can continually develop new forms of activity evaluation, products and services to enhance their field operations for clients. Agencies and brands can communicate instantly with the field sales team via a social-media application, for example, that enables past campaign successes and lessons to be shared. Photos, video clips and reports on competitor activity can also be uploaded.
This can be advantageous when delivering a large-scale, short lead-time tactical activity using a big number of staff over two days. If a brief needs to be adapted or vital insights shared, the use of social media means that agencies can respond quickly to changing brand and consumer needs.
This has been the case for Powerforce - the agency says that the increased use of mobile and cloud technologies in its day-to-day operations has become a necessity rather than a luxury, with field teams now able to report and share photographs while still in-store by uploading their findings to client portals. As a result, employees are becoming more efficient, and therefore effective, when out on the road.
'Brands are no longer looking for agencies to simply drive availability and distribution in-store, but are increasingly looking for information that will support them when making strategic business decisions,' says Julia Collis, managing director of Powerforce.
Tablet technology is also enabling brands to present information in a more effective way. TV ads, marketing material and vox pops can all be displayed with good visual quality. The devices also have a considerable impact when resolving on-shelf availability issues. On the retailer side, field employees can pull up presentations, historical and current data and other relevant information that can be used to help them gain discretionary space in-store.
'From a brand's point of view, by using the tablets, their agency representatives are able to deliver brand plans and sales opportunities, with up-to-date information, to the right people within the retail environment, and in a format tailored to suit each individual market,' says Collis.
Brands and agencies are also making use of Chatter - the social-media app from CRM and cloud computing software provider Salesforce. It enables field staff to exchange feedback on what stores like or don't like, what sells well from various locations and point-of-sale displays. Brands are also participating in this dialogue, so that they can request specific information, such as details of competitor activity in-store, and get an immediate response.
It can be all too tempting, though, to use technology for technology's sake. Mac Manus believes social media is only valuable if one maintains a constant and consistent dialogue with shoppers, and admits the industry is not 'quite there yet' in terms of being able to filter information derived from social-media channels.
Mark Nicholson, trade marketing manager for Digital UK, the digital TV switchover organisation, says it is vital to devise a clear strategy for the technology used in field marketing activity and to bear in mind the actual role being performed by representatives on the ground and the objectives they have.
'Don't invest in gadgets just for the sake of it. Work with an agency that can develop software solutions and create apps that are tailored to your specific and continually changing requirements throughout a campaign. Do that, rather than settling for off-the-shelf systems,' he advises.
Nicholson adds that it is important to be clear about the measures you want reported, and then ensure technology delivers real-time data that will refine the campaign by aiding better segmentation and targeting, rather than just generate mountains of data.
At soft-drinks manufacturer Britvic, Matt Collins, national sales manager, says of the Cosine field team's use of iPad and Salesforce technology: 'This has been instrumental in driving improved performance, giving live visibility of results, which provides instant information from the field, and delivering greatly improved insight, which, in turn, feeds into better strategic decision-making.
'The use of Chatter technology also gives us fantastic anecdotal feedback and live-streaming of photos, which enables us to physically see what is happening on the ground as it happens.'
CASE STUDY: TRAINING ON THE GO
A team of six experienced brand and product advocates from field marketing agency Gekko represented Freeview to develop relationships with and provide support and training for staff in stores including Comet and Currys.
Training store staff is a key function for the team, but securing the time required to deliver effective training is always a challenge. With fewer staff, and those available focusing on customers in-store, training opportunities had to be found in an informal, ad hoc manner.
The team was issued with iPads, meaning a more dynamic and flexible approach to training became possible.
Specially developed training modules were used to make the approach more intuitive and interactive for the user, with the ability to show product videos and demonstrate high-definition content.
The tablets have proved to be far more practical than laptops for training, which included interactive quizzes that can test an individual employee's product knowledge while on the shop floor.
Since the team started using iPads, the formal training delivered has risen from 15% to between 60% and 70% on all the store visits they make, justifying the investment in the technology.
The net result creates better-informed staff and increased sell-through. The approach is now being implemented by Gekko's team of Epson sales-support representatives.
Information was collated by Marketing by sending a survey to each agency directly. We have separated field marketing and experiential into two standalone leagues.
All the respondents have been ranked according to their 2011 turnover.
Marketing takes care to publish accurate company data, but cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions in the leagues.