Industry figures for 1997/98 show turnover for the top 25 field marketing companies was &£174m – representing a 25 per cent growth on the previous year. Similar growth is expected this year.
The future is bright for field marketing. What is elusive, is establishing the characteristics and direction of that bright future.
Those who are not directly linked with field marketing don’t fully understand it and usually have an outdated picture of what it does. But with its continuing growth and influence, that will change.
Eddie Philips, chairman of CPM Field Marketing, says: “We are seen as the last link in the chain before the product reaches the consumer. We are seen as the brawn rather than the brain of marketing communications. But clients and marketing services disregard our potential at their peril.”
Field marketing is almost unique in marketing services, as it has to balance the need for a large field force with the need to collect, hold and analyse actionable data. It is sometimes difficult for field marketers to know who will be more important in the future: the bodies or the data.
Philips says: “People buy people. We will always have to provide a lot of people to do many different things.”
He believes that the increasing complexity of products will force manufacturers to hire teams of people to explain the product – not necessarily to the retailer but to the end consumer. He refers to the perplexing number of functions on his own mobile phone as an example.
“This is where real value will be added to the manufacturer and the purchaser and will push field marketing up the value chain. There will be increasing strategic deployment of people against tactical delivery needs, in other words micro marketing, which is what increasingly manufacturers can’t or don’t do,” he says.
It is for this reason that CPM Field Marketing has launched CPM HomeCall, where teams of field marketers work in people’s homes for clients including retailers, charities and utilities.
FMCG managing director Kate Carr believes that calling on consumers’ homes will be a source of major growth for field marketing.
“Field marketing is still largely taken up by calling on retailers. But if home shopping takes off, it will have an effect on us all. Field marketing is about outsourcing a sales function. There is no reason why that shouldn’t take place at home,” says Carr.
Another trend that will surely change the face of the sector is the increasing convergance of all marketing activities.
It was for this reason that Rob Ellert, chairman of what is now known as Brann Ellert, made sure he was connected to a broader marketing services group. About a year ago when the US-based Snyder Group was writing out random cheques, it purchased Ellert Retail soon after it acquired Brann Direct. In one move, field marketers Ellert Retail became part of a group that included direct marketing and telemarketing. “Work that we are doing at the moment, selling into fleet managers is backed up with direct mail and call centre activity,” says Ellert.
Although Ellert acknowledges the people aspect of field marketing – he’s much more in tune with the data. “The basis on which we have built our business during the past 20 years has always been data driven. Bodies on their own – how many face-to-face contacts you can pin down – add no value unless you have a measure of that performance.”
But Ellert also sees field marketing continuing to develop its future in the trade. “And in terms of clients – the emphasis will be more on business to business – moving what we do to the higher end of the value scale. The value added end of this work will come where the benefits of a face-to-face call are substantial.”
Ellert believes the Internet will play a part in the future of field marketing – even if he is not quite sure what that role will be.
“We have to build our Internet capabilities. We are asking questions such as: how do we use it, how do we apply it effectively, and is it a threat or a facilitator?
“The percentage of clients’ revenue that will be channelled into that area will grow, so we have got to know about it,” says Ellert.
For those field marketing companies involved mainly in the technology sector, having to keep up with their clients’ expectations and own knowledge of how data works is standing them in good stead.
Richard Thompson, managing director of EMS, says the experience of a field marketer working mainly with hi-tech clients is very different. “The lifecycle of a product is short – after an average of 90 days it is withdrawn. We really have to be on our toes,” he says.
Traditional retail brands have not had the added pressure of short lifecycles, but Thompson believes even that is changing.
“Traditional brands are constantly updated; new brands are introduced; or brands are moved into other distribution channels. For example, a product that has been dominating the high street may be moved to petrol forecourts,” he says. It is this pressure that will increase the need for data analysis.
“Anyone can collect data,” says Thompson. “We have full-time analysts who take the information we collect and make it meaningful to the client. It’s this ability that counts.”
This information, and whoever has a firm grip on it, will prove most valuable in years to come. Thompson agrees that clients will increasingly integrate their marketing communications, which means “there will be a number of agencies with similar information held in different places. The biggest challenge will be to bring the different agencies together and have one database. Whoever has got the best and most useful information will be king.”
And Thompson believes it is the information that field marketers are gathering now which will be most valuable. “That information will be the driving factor behind brand strategies.”
An anecdote related by FMCG’s Carr endorses this. “Recently, one of our clients did an exercise where they swapped the roles of the marketing director and the finance director. We were sitting in a meeting with the finance director who asked why he was paying so much money for research agencies to provide him with representative profiles when we, the field marketing agency for the client, already had data on every single necessary outlet – not just a representative sample.”
The data collected by field marketers is highly detailed, and up to date. Managing director of Headcount Mike Garnham is suspicious of any database not collected by his own company.
“A lot of databases collected in the UK are telemarketed databases – people phone up, ask questions, offer a gift as an incentive, and don’t necessarily get the truth about an outlet’s facilities or size. We go and visit those same outlets and find things are completely different.
“We call on 10,000 grocery outlets two to three times a week. If there is any change, we know about it,” says Garnham. Because information is so detailed, it is possible to advise a client which may be launching a new snack product exactly which outlets to be in – rather than presuming they distribute to them all. This has to be valuable to any client.
But field marketers who embrace the data age must exercise caution. Managing director of PMI Marketing James Moyies agrees that the provision of information will become a crucial part of field marketers’ business. However, he sees a danger in the tendency of some field marketing agencies to claim to be capable of competing with established data experts.
“Data warehousing and data mining require specialist skills and I doubt that it makes sense for a field marketing agency to develop those skills in house. We are not in the business of competing with expert IT providers, but I see a future in terms of strategic alliances with specialist agencies.”