Brands with tight promotional budgets are increasingly turning to field marketing to get noticed by consumers.
It can be of particular benefit to smaller brands that are unable to afford large-scale TV advertising campaigns. Field marketing experts ensure that retailers are well-stocked with their products and merchandise them in an eye-catching and persuasive way.
Field marketing agencies help brands to secure the widest exposure by using their know-how when it comes to sales and data analysis .
For entrepreneurial brands that are just starting out, visiting retailers in person can reap dividends. It is a tactic employed by Sam Galsworthy, the marketer behind the recently launched Sipsmith gin and vodka brands (see case study). Using his motorbike for transport, he visits top-end style bars around London to ensure that bottles of his brand's products are given a prominent position at the bar.
‘I insist on doing the deliveries myself,' he says. ‘The most important thing is that the barmen get to know us. This is face-to-face time. I use it to talk to the barmen, which is something that the wholesalers can't do.'
Galsworthy's main aim is to persuade bar managers to promote the brand and recommend the products to customers.
The wider field marketing industry has grown substantially over the years, in line with the increasing power of multiple retailers and supermarkets. ¬ It has also broadened its scope of activities.
Where once the discipline was primarily concerned with merchandising and stock levels on retailers' shelves, occasionally delving into the realms of product sampling, agencies now provide teams of brand advocates that can train and motivate retail staff to sell more products.
Fredericks Dairies, for example, used a combined field marketing and experiential campaign this summer to launch an ice-cream brand called Antonio Federici Gelato Italiano.
The company, which is based in Lancashire, was keen to rein in the costs of the activity. It was, however, obliged to pay Sainsbury's, the exclusive distributor of the brand, to conduct the more traditional field marketing work of ensuring the brand was properly stocked and merchandised. It therefore opted to use experiential marketing in tandem, as a low-cost and effective alternative to more costly above-the-line advertising.
Fredericks Dairies hired three opera singers and sent them off in a Fiat 500 to visit Sainsbury's car parks across the country to hand out free samples of the ice cream. The company's marketing and PR manager, Jacqueline Walters, says there was a notable rise in sales after the singers had made an appearance at a store.
‘It is the kind of product that once you try it, you want to buy it,' she adds. ‘We needed to make as much noise as possible, with a relatively small budget. The key thing was that we created a lot of theatre that worked hand in hand with the PR campaign. We even brought in an opera singer from Italy to sing to the cows, so they would produce better milk. We got TV coverage of that in the North West.'
Fredericks Dairies decided against using an agency for the experiential campaign and carried out all the activity in-house.
‘We hired the girls and trained them, and they became part of the team for the 14-week period,' says Walters. ‘They became skilled at what they were doing and understood the range. They were able to explain it and sell it in.'
The company also distributes Cad-bury ice cream and Del Monte Iced Refreshments, for which it does employ agencies; according to Walters, this is because they face strong competition from Unilever's Wall's.
When it comes to big brands, having an outsourced sales force at an agency, which can visit stores and ensure that products get a good showing, is considered an essential part of the marketing process.
Premier Foods' director of customer marketing, Sally Taylor, says using a team such as this is vital in ensuring the success of a launch.
‘Having visibility is absolutely key,' she says. ‘Shoppers in store can have tunnel vision, but they are looking for inspiration. Field marketing makes sure a product is available at the point of purchase, and that there is visibility of the product in the right places.'
Taylor adds that running sampling campaigns is also vital for new products.
Field marketing comes into its own at Christmas, when stores are cluttered and brands can be overlooked by shoppers. Premier Foods is using field marketing to promote several brand variants in the run-up to Christmas this year. These include the recently launched X-shaped OXO Cubes and Bisto Pour Overs, a range of microwaveable gravy sachets, as well as the relaunch of the Bisto Best range.
The food company works with field marketing agency Reach. ‘On a weekly basis, Reach will be going in and checking the visibility of products, looking for secondary display opportunities and checking for out-of-stocks,' says Taylor. ‘This is ongoing work.'
Meanwhile, Kellogg has used field marketing extensively for product launches, although it eschews the use of agencies, preferring to employ its own field sales teams.
Kellogg's head of speciality field sales, Paul Cretier, says: ‘We believe it is something that should be internal, though that doesn't mean we would never go outside. But we tend to use our own people.'
Cretier points out that product launches are often more successful when they use an integrated marketing campaign. He cites as an example the launch of Rice Krispies Squares Totally Chocolatey in March, which used a team of sales people visiting hundreds of stores in the London area. According to Cretier, sales of the brand have flourished, overtaking those of Toblerone and Milky Way.
The year has not been an easy one for field marketing agencies. Their success depends largely on the level of product launches and new promotional initiatives from existing clients. As the number of products launched has diminished and some brand owners have switched their budgets away from handing out free samples to financing price cuts, there have inevitably been closures. The Blue Water Agency went into liquidation in the summer, while PMI was relaunched as FieldSmart.
However, other big agencies report healthy activity, and say they are still being called upon to promote new products to retailers and support short-term promotions.
Mike Hughes, chief executive of CPM and chairman of industry body The Field Marketing Association, says: ‘There is no doubt that field marketing is holding up versus other marketing disciplines. Big-brand advertising has had a harder recession than field marketing. Companies have to keep on selling, regardless of whether there is a recession.'
Even so, he admits that brands have reduced their spending on short-term tactical field marketing. Nonetheless, Hughes also says their ongoing strategic contract work is continuing apace. He estimates that the UK field marketing industry has an annual turnover of about £350m, but believes that in the future, field marketing will have to widen its scope and attempt to make a splash in other sectors such as pharmaceuticals.
Some believe that as above-the-line marketing budgets come under pressure, a growing number of brands will consider field marketing as a way of promoting their products in a more cost-efficient manner.
This is a view espoused by Tracey Bagshaw, UK managing director of agency Service Innovation Group. ‘One thing we have noticed is that our new-business stream is as busy as ever. We are starting to see new clients that have a budget talking to us,' she says. ‘Existing clients are looking at budgets and want to spend less and achieve the same. We are having more challenges with existing clients, but more success with new clients looking for quick wins.'
Bagshaw adds that to get the most out of a field marketing campaign, a brand needs to back it up with above-the-line advertising. She argues that marketers should avoid sacrificing the budget of one in favour of the other.
Daniel Todaro, managing director of agency Gekko, says that as a result of the downturn, brands have turned their attention toward securing greater return on investment, and are consequently looking for measurable ways in which to achieve this.
‘They are reducing above-the-line spend and budgets are going into below-the-line,' he says. ‘If you do a campaign at a quarter of the spend you would have done, you have to get your return on investment on the shop floor somehow, so you need to make sure the product is available and that you are shouting the loudest.'
While quite a few product launches this year have required field marketing campaigns, many of these would have been planned well in advance of the downturn. There are worries that there could be even fewer launches in 2010, as brands have put their new product development on hold. In a nutshell, next year may be even tougher than 2009.
For brand owners, both big and small, field marketing has become an essential tool to ensure that a product stands out in cluttered retail environments. Whether through sampling, experiential campaigns or bold merchandising tactics, many marketers have refocused their budgets to reinforce their sales efforts. With Christmas on the horizon, getting it right on the high street is vital. N
Case study: Bassetts - on the up
Vitamin supplement Bassetts Soft & Chewy Daily Energiser used an experiential and sampling campaign to boost its retail presence after it was rolled out to Boots in March. For the campaign, which was created by retail marketing agency iblink, dancers on trampolines were placed in mainline railway stations around London. They distributed free samples of the product and branded Oyster card wallets, as well as targeting offices directly. A secondary sampling campaign is being run in conjunction with online fashion retailer ASOS.com.
Case study: Sipsmith - personal touch
When speciality gin and vodka brand Sipsmith launched in July, it was the first copper pot distillery to start operations in London for 189 years. It has worked hard to ensure its products get a good showing in fashionable bars and clubs. Company co-founder Sam Galsworthy says he personally delivers the product to 56 high-end bars around London. ‘We try to encourage them to put it in the right place on the bar, but the bigger players have bought those positions to block brands such as ours,' he says. ‘We need to outsmart rather than outspend them. It is about getting on the right side of the bar manager, who will take the brand up. It is all about face-to-face relationships.'
Case study: Gü - value of experience
Dessert brand Gü has grown its business by using in-store promotion, sampling and experiential activity. ‘We try to secure extra point of sale for new products and launch introductory offers to get consumers to take notice,' says Gü marketing manager Sonia Kapadia. ‘Active sampling in London and regions across the UK includes food shows. We have also handed out brownies from the back of bicycles and sampled hot chocolate at the Natural History Museum from our very own ski chalet. We always try to build a brand experience whenever we sample, so that the consumer walks away with a clear idea of what our brand stands for and a belief that Gü products are of the highest quality.‘
Case study: PS I Love You - cheap at the price
Field marketing agency FieldSmart successfully promoted the DVD launch of the Hollywood drama PS I Love You for a budget of only £40,000. The agency researched and identified the stores nationwide that most suited the profile of the target market, and claims it exceeded the targets for both client satisfaction and return on investment.
‘This campaign clearly shows that low-budget campaigns can be just as successful as larger ones when good planning, market knowledge and hard work are combined,' says managing director Gail Tunesi.