Guide to SP Techniques: Generating trial - Why trial matters

Convincing consumers to trial brands is key to their long-term sales strategy. James Thornton looks at the mechanics involved.

Getting consumers to try your product may be a no-brainer when it comes to maximising the impact of a product launch, but there's much more to be gained if you adopt a longer-term strategy. While the bottom line of nearly all objectives is to boost sales, product trial can play a massive part in brand awareness, data capture and maintaining sales further down the line. And it can prove to be the last line of defence when brands test new products, variants or pack sizes.

But it's fundamental that marketers remain focused on the reasons they want to generate trial, according to Arc director Jamie Matthews. "It is very easy to over-complicate trial-based campaigns," he says. "Below-the-line is essentially about driving sales. It's about getting consumers to try the product and then retaining them. And as consumers become increasingly disloyal, it's about creating retrial. Brands need to keep fighting for their customers."

There are many ways to encourage trial but two of the most successful SP techniques include price promotions and free items/giveaways. Within these, mechanics include: discounting, sampling, in- and on-pack and digital campaigns.

The mechanics

Discounting

Marketers agree that heavy discounting asset-strips brand equity, especially if used against a new product launch. But the reality is it can't be beaten as a short-term sales driver. "Retailers have built their strength on delivering value and so have taken a lot of money out of marketing in order to fund price cuts," says Matthews. But relying on discounting will devalue the product, and long-term brand-building requires a more strategic approach.

Sampling

Put simply, sampling enables marketers to put products directly in consumers' hands. And as well as awareness, the push can be used to gauge customer reaction and provide opportunities for data capture. "Sampling is immediate and is impactful on sales," says Matthews. "In terms of brand experience, there's almost nothing better."

But it does have drawbacks. Standard outdoor exercises can be expensive and difficult to evaluate. Sampling staff need to be well briefed - the wrong attitude can devalue the product - and for feedback they need to have a clear idea of any target group to be attracted so the results can be effectively evaluated.

But you can counter some of these issues. A DM sampling push, while lacking immediacy, can be closely targeted and monitored. Agency Circular Distributors ran such a campaign in October for Quaker's Oatso Simple breakfast, which went to 1.6 million households. The agency used the Mosaic geo-demographic classification system. Managing director Charles Neilson says: "It's comprehensive and can classify people on earnings, location, whether they have children and the car they drive."

The agency reinforces this profiling with use of Tesco Clubcard statistics compiled by Dunnhumby. It also has the option of returning to Clubcard data to see if those people targeted took up the offer and whether they have remained with the brand.

On/in-pack

On- and in-pack promotions are also powerful trial generation mechanics.

New products or variants can be piggy-backed on to established products, allowing trial and giving the launch a headstart in the equity stakes.

"On-pack can work really well for the right brand," says Grasshopper director Sarah Francis. "If a brand like Twinings wants to test out a new tea flavour, it's easy to put an extra sachet in-pack. But in order to evaluate the campaign, you do need a call to action to prompt feedback."

Again, there are problems to be aware of with in- and on-pack. It automatically throws up issues with packaging and health and safety, which can make it expensive. And Arc's Matthews adds that retailers have become more choosy. "Generally, stores are less enthusiastic about on-pack - they want that marketing money put against value," he says. "They like on-pack promotions that are exclusive to them, but this is cost prohibitive."

Digital

Digital promotions, although not the simplest way to get products into punters' hands, can be effective when it comes to encouraging retrial.

Arc's Matthews says retrial is becoming a core objective as shoppers become more fickle. He points to the agency's Chocollect push, which ran in 2003 for client Masterfoods, as a case in point.

Some 480 million chocolate bars carried a code worth one credit, to be banked at an online account and then saved up and redeemed against prizes.

Masterfoods saw its market share grow by two per cent over the duration of the push as consumers returned to the lines carrying the promotion.

The activity also brought in 340,000 names and addresses. "Chocollect worked extremely well," says Arc's Matthews. "It was relatively inexpensive to put together, and it was very easy to evaluate."

But age could be a hurdle with the digital mechanic. Tech-savvy youngsters may buy into it, but older groups need to be targeted carefully, says Matthews. "Chocollect was a huge hit with its target audience of 16- to 24-year-olds, but if you're marketing to housewives it might be a more tricky prospect."

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