Extra sensory perception

There’s much more to sampling than free portions of cheese on the deli counter. To get customers to buy your product, you must engage them and their senses. Steve Hemsley reports

Whether or not they are partial to frozen chips or pizza, the following sales figures are tasty enough to make any marketing director salivate. In one week at the end of June sales of McCain’s Home Fries, Rosti and Pizza Fingers in Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco stores rose by a 1,082 per cent, while the average uplift over eight weeks was 935 per cent. What drove consumers to buy in such huge numbers was the brand’s use of experiential marketing during a field marketing roadshow tour organised by agency MHP.

Chefs prepared food in stores to encourage free tasting; the promotion was complemented by competitions at the point of purchase and a 40ft branded trailer was parked in the supermarket car park. MHP had to liaise closely with individual store managers to ensure stock levels remained adequate, while details of the campaign were fed into each chain’s distribution and re-ordering systems.

Chipping in

For years McCain Foods preferred to spend its promotional budget almost entirely on above-the-line activity, but it now allocates about £800,000 a year to field marketing. Marketing operations manager Andrew Riley says the roadshows created a high level of visibility for the brand. “They achieved impressive increases in volume sales of existing and new products, and through sensory messaging we attracted new customers, rewarded loyal customers and retrieved lapsed customers,” he says.

Such large sales increases may sound too good to be true, but those retailers that regularly take part in sensory-led promotions are quick to reiterate how well they can work.

Asda spent almost a year working with field marketing company CPM revamping the chain’s sampling strategy and a more flexible set of rules was rolled out in August. A new slogan was created – “Try this we think it is great”, while Sunday sampling is now in action and alcoholic sampling is permitted in the evenings. CPM has also launched Brand Reflections, a four-day, in-store foyer “theatre-style” offer, which employs specialist staff during the sampling exercise. Masseurs and hair consultants were used for a Dove shampoo trial, for instance.

A spokesman in Asda’s client services department insists that in-store sampling has created an average 4,000 per cent uplift in sales and that, as a result, demand from manufacturers to fill sampling slots is now outstripping supply.

The Brand Reflections foyer idea has exceeded all the chain’s expectations, with sales uplifts of about 10,000 per cent reported during and immediately after a promotion. So far, 15 manufacturers from the beer and spirits category, eight from soft drinks, five from frozen food, and eight snacks brands, five household goods brands and four confectionery companies have used this method of sampling. Brands that have taken part include big hitters such as Becks, Birds Eye Wall’s, Coca-Cola and Stella Artois.

Expanding the sample

CPM managing director Mike Hughes says about 20 per cent of the company’s face-to face business is now in product demonstration and sampling. He adds that the concept is even expanding away from the point of purchase, with door-to-door sensory sampling an emerging trend as consumers accept brands into their homes by responding to ads in the local press.

By its very nature, the sampling of food and drinks has always stimulated the senses. Yet to maximise results, sampling techniques must also be visually engaging, encourage consumer participation and offer an incentive for shoppers to buy products on the day of the promotion.

Agency PMI, for instance, used chefs at the BBC Good Food Show for client Gourmet Garden Herbs to stimulate consumer interest in its herbs, which come in a tube and were perceived by some in the food industry as inferior because they were not frozen or fresh. The tubes were sold at a discount during the show.

When it comes to non-food products, however, it is vital the brand experience is strong enough to trigger a response when the consumer sees the product on the shelves – especially if the sampling is taking place away from the point of purchase.

Integrated marketing agency Mercier Gray took the Nivea for Men brand to the Middlesex Charity Sevens rugby event at Twickenham in August to support the launch of Fresh Cooling After Shave Balm. The agency created the Nivea Retreat trailer, which provided a leisure area for men including games consoles, table football, big television screens showing sport, and lads magazines, and also offered them the opportunity to be shaved by a female model. Nivea is reluctant to discuss how well the promotion went, but Debbie John, assistant brand manager at cosmetic company Beiersdorf which owns Nivea, says it achieved the often difficult task of engaging men with a skincare brand.

One of the first agencies to exploit the idea of brand experience and in-store theatre incorporating creative sampling was RPM. Commercial director Tim Medcalf says the company’s turnover in this area has increased by about 30 per cent this year, as news of profitable campaigns for more and more clients filters through to previously apprehensive marketing teams.

“As with anything new, there are early adopters who get behind an idea and as the market matures we see more clients come on board. You will always have the traditionalists when it comes to in-store marketing, so the challenge is converting them,” he says.

Two years ago Carlson Marketing Group launched what it claimed was the first fully sensory marketing consultancy in partnership with The Sensory Research & Design Laboratory in London. The service, called Emote, is used as a bolt-on facility for the company’s other field marketing activities.

Group account director Annlouise Cawley says some clients still need to be persuaded to take the sensory route despite the growing evidence that it can provide a significant sales uplift. “Some need convincing from a financial perspective, while others still fail to grasp the concept of what can be achieved,” she says.

Money matters

Field marketers insist companies must allocate sufficient budget to add value to sampling if they want to turn a consumer who tries the product into a customer who buys it. They add that sampling rarely succeeds in isolation – any activity must be considered as part of an integrated marketing plan – a view that even the most conservative marketer would probably accept.

“All mass sampling means is you can tell your boss that thousands of people have tried your product, but the real test is how you create consumer desire by grabbing five minutes of their time and giving them a positive brand experience. Brands must eliminate the apprehension of buying a product and sensory marketing does that,” says Ellert Field Marketing client project development director Paul Day, who joined the agency five months ago from haircare products company Wella.

Headcount Worldwide Field Marketing managing director Mike Garnham claims traditional sampling techniques can produce up to 90 per cent wastage, because products are given to the wrong customers. He says a follow-up mechanism, such as a money-off voucher, is crucial to minimise wastage and measure the effect of any sampling work accurately.

Among the sensory events it has organised has been the Schweppes Experiential Bar, used to encourage 25to 35-year-olds to sample mixer drinks. Actors were trained as bar tenders and, to avoid devaluing the brand, consumers had to pay for the drinks rather than receive them free. The bar was launched at the British Golf Open earlier this year and Schweppes brand PR manager Liz Rowe says it has been identified as a long-term marketing tool. “We wanted to get the brand on the road to attract younger consumers and the venues chosen, combined with the format we used, ensured brand values were retained,” she says.

The Direct Marketing Association welcomes any developments which change the perception that sampling is as simple as leaving cheese portions on the counter of the supermarket delicatessen. Its field marketing spokesman and managing director of agency Zoo People Martin Kiddle confirms that precise targeting is essential. “When using sensory marketing it is even more important to ask yourself who is the brand’s target market and what you are trying to sell them because of the costs involved. But the principles of good sampling remain the same,” he says.

Zoo People has noticed growing interest from clients in sampling and demonstrations at cash-and-carry depots, which provide a useful access point to independent retailers whose owners can be made aware of forthcoming brand advertising and marketing activity while they are stocking up.

He says that between 50 and 100 quality independent buyers can be reached during a normal trading day at such outlets. “Products that sample well in this environment are items that have a high margin, quick sell-through and will not take up much shelf space, for instance, confectionery and energy drinks,” he says. “Although clients must remember that these retailers usually have only a limited budget and shelf space each week.”

Sampling activity wherever it takes place will always attract the interest of anyone keen to try something for nothing. Yet if clients are to experience impressive increases in sales and reduce wastage, they must add value to their campaigns.

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