Fresh Fields

Field marketing is becoming increasingly data-based, but there is no substitute for the ‘human touch’. By Joel Parker

There is no question that field marketing is becoming more strategic and data driven. The industry has little choice: well-targeted and highly segmented databases are cost effective and those who are using them, in any industry, have the edge.

There are some in the industry, in fact, who believe that, much like the direct marketing industry, data-driven solutions are, or will become, indispensable to effective field marketing. With this in mind, is it possible that field marketing will cease to be what it is so well-known for – being a people-dominated industry?

Paul Narraway, managing director of MML Field Marketing does not think so. The acquisition and use of data is a “very important tail but it is not the whole dog”, he says.

Narraway outlines MML’s use of what he calls “brand ambassadors” as an example of the continuing importance of people in field marketing. This system comprises a four-level management approach to market research, from the head office to national

field managers to regional managers to sales advisers.

The advisers call on retailers and collect data such as prices, stock holdings and any competitor activities that might be of some use to the client. These brand ambassadors are the human faces of the product, something that cannot be conceptually replaced by any kind of data- collating strategy. Although this collection of information represents some degree of data gathering, it is not initiated as a marketing strategy: rather it is a response to a client’s specific request.

On the other hand, business development director at Aspen Field Marketing, Gary MacManus, believes that data-driven marketing is essential in field marketing.

“There is a significant difference, however, between the data-driven programmes we are involved in and what, say, direct marketers are concerned with. We are not interested in the fine science of database, like psychographics and demographics. Our databases are to do with retail outlets, not consumers,” he says.

MacManus also believes data-driven techniques are not actually new to field marketing and says: “It has only become more prevalent because the software available has become more user friendly”.

Controversially, MacManus says not everyone in the industry has grasped the data-driven banner, and those who have not “will proliferate into the promotional end of field marketing – which is this industry’s heritage, but not its future”.

Significantly, it is the increase of data-driven programmes which is actually changing the image of the most high-profile characteristic of field marketing – the armies of people involved in it.

One person described the change in profile as “moving from elderly matrons to young graduates”.

More scientifically, and kindly, MacManus says the people in the field are having to mirror the people they come up against in the retail outlets – who are increasingly younger and more qualified.

“For our client Nestlé, we have 215 reps covering 45,000 outlets each week, and the age and profile of those reps is what you would expect for Nestlé, which is completely different for what we need with Compaq,” says MacManus.

The data collected by this changing sea of faces is done either on paper or by portable computers in the actual outlets.

Roger Gwatkin runs a company called Informer which specialises in market research in the volatile but lucrative youth market. Informer’s clients include Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss and Pepsi. Informer presents its findings in a CD-Rom format that allows for instant access to all areas of the research.

But despite the high-tech nature of the product, Gwatkin asserts that the face-to-face element will always be key in field marketing.

“Content is more important than a flashy presentation. Ultimately it is the quality of the people who are retrieving the data that matters. In the mercurial youth market, the type of person doing the field research is crucial.

But is one more important than the other?

“The two are very much hand in hand,” says David Carter, managing director of Merchandising Sales Force (MSF). He also affirms MacManus’s claim that data-driven programmes have been part of field marketing for longer than most people think.

He points to a project he was involved in 1986 for brewer J R Phillips, which involved MSF visiting every single pub in the country and researching which pub served what, who had tenancies, who had managerial houses, how the product was displayed, whether the product was in stock and so on.

This information was then inputted and was catalogued by county, postcode and region. The end product was invaluable to the client when it came to devising promotions and the distribution of its own products.

Carter believes the one thing hampering the growth of database use in field marketing is the cost of building a database versus the potential return.

“Field marketing is most active in the independent sector. Because the independent sector account for about 30 per cent of businesses and 70 per cent of all outlets – it is a very expensive area for manufacturers to be involved in. And the whole point of data-driven programmes is that they are supposed to be cost effective,” explains Carter.

In field marketing, any database development starts with the person in the field collecting the information – another expense according to Carter. But, he says, there are ways around that. Recently, MSF linked up with various wholesalers who already have detailed information on what products are stocked in which outlets. The end product is a database which identifies, by trade sector, non-stockists of any product.

Rob Ellert, managing director of the Ellert Retail Group, is also of the opinion that database marketing is essential to the future development of field marketing. “For the industry to grow up, you have to measure the effectiveness of calls, not just make them. The only way to do that is with technology,” says Ellert. While agreeing that a “face on the product” is important, Ellert feels that the future of the industry lies in technology.

He cites the scenario of a regular call-out to a client who is always happy and always has the product in stock, while another client at a different outlet always needs more stock. A proper use of a database would ensure that the second client received more attention. “It is a milk run without IT,” says Ellert.

“You are not deploying your resources effectively. What is needed is a more intelligent approach that will help you segment the retail profile,” he says.

But if people like Ellert and MacManus, who both represent sizeable companies within the industry, are keen to beat the database drum, it is not an issue that everyone is taking up.

Pauline Flood, business development manager for DSPS Field Marketing, thinks that field marketing is largely a people industry and will remain so. “You will always have to have someone representing the product,” says Flood. “We do not go out specifically looking to build demographic profiles. We respond to client’s needs,” she says.

Flood admits that the collation of information as a marketing tool is growing but defends the essential use of people as a priority in an industry that knows the positive effect a personable representative can have on any type of market research sought. Some types of field marketing can only be done properly with the people, she believes, and cites road shows and product sampling as good examples of this.

But, like most things, the presence of one does not necessarily mean the disappearance of the other.

Ellert is convinced that the field marketing industry is still using technology as an end in itself. “The way computers have been used historically in this industry is to collect Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). That, in my view, while interesting, represents the low end of the market.

“The real power lies in identifying which outlets are providing your clients with the best results. This enables you to target different outlets in different ways – just like the direct marketing industry is doing,” he says.

Ellert says the proper use of technology still needs the armies of people – but data driven programmes will not only direct the field operations, it will enable journeys to be planned, select specific objectives, and, most importantly, measure objectives against achievement.

Says Ellert: “Those calls still need to be made, and people still need to know the communication process and be able to present properly, but the proper application of technology makes sure you can provide your client with cost effective targeting.”

Ellert believes the field marketing industry is where the direct marketing industry was 15 years ago. “The future of field marketing means replicating within the retail sector exactly what the direct marketing industry is doing with consumers today. We need to understand our core profiles and target more effectively in order to provide clients with an appropriate return on investment.

“Everyone is still trying to sell feet on the street – make the call and tick the box. That does not work anymore and it’s not making effective use of client’s budgets.”

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