Sampling success

Research on field marketing has shown that the sector provides the best returns of any sector of marketing, so why aren’t companies spending more of their budgets on it? By Steve Hemsley

Spend a few hours talking to field marketers and your head will be spinning as you wonder why brands do not commit more money to their discipline. The amount of research that reinforces this sector’s claims that it is more effective than other form of marketing is remarkable – if sometimes complex.

Studies seem to be published every couple weeks. Yet when you analyse the results and see the sales increases that can be achieved through sampling, the policing of merchandising and out of stocks at stores, and the hosting of live brand experience events, it is understandable why field marketers feel so passionate about what they do.

Take market leader CPM. It promises clients a return of between &£3 and &£5 for every &£1 spent on compliance, which means ensuring that shops merchandise a product correctly, that stock is actually on the shelves and that promotional material is erected when it is supposed to be.

It has provided Marketing Week with some exclusive findings based on analysis by IRI, the information group, of previous work carried out by CPM and other field marketing agencies. The research is used as a key weapon during CPM’s pitching process to convince a client to increase its field marketing budget.

CPM’s return on investment (ROI) study shows how field marketing comes out on top against other types of media, producing an average return of &£1.20 for every pound spent. The worst performing media is trolley advertising, which generated just 6p of additional revenue. Field marketing was also compared to direct marketing (22p), posters (29p), press (35p), television (52p) and radio (74p).

Reassuringly inexpensive

“Every brand is under pressure to defend its marketing decisions and to justify every pound it spends. Many feel their above-the-line activity is being diluted, particularly with the increase in the number of television channels. But if field marketing is a new area for them they do need evidence and reassurance that our techniques actually work,” says CPM sales and marketing director Martin Ryan.

Indeed, it does seem to make sense for advertisers to put more effort into trying to reach their consumers at the point of purchase. Which brand would not want a prominent display in a grocery market leader like Tesco, for instance?

Going it alone

“There is less risk with field marketing because you can tweak and evaluate a campaign while it is running,” says Ryan. He adds that one chilled food brand that has been using CPM’s syndicated team and sharing retail calls with other clients has decided to invest in a bespoke team for the first time. It took the decision after discovering it could cut the time it takes to get 90 per cent retail distribution of a new product from up to eight weeks to around a fortnight.

While the focus for most brands tends to be on the multiples, particularly the supermarkets, field marketers are also keen to show clients that they can boost sales through the independent retail sector. Brand owners need to know which convenience stores and CTN outlets they should be concentrating on, especially if their products are impulse buys.

Retail data supplier Focused Customer Relationships Solutions (FCRS) gathers electronic point of purchase sales information from a panel of 300 independent shops. Brands, including those in the Nestlé and United Biscuits stables, will often ask FCRS to work with field marketing agencies to optimise a client’s retail call file. FCRS can identify which stores should be targeted based on customer profile, sales potential and an outlet’s previous revenue record.

FCRS director Karen Gosford says it has taken time for clients to realise the benefits of investing more in field marketing. “Many marketers only begin to take this discipline seriously once they are shown how sales uplifts compare between stores where activity is taking place and where it is not,” she says.

When Whitstable-based agency FDS developed a call file to audit 25,000 independent stores for United Biscuit’s brand KP Nuts, FCRS analysed which outlets would generate the best return. This information was used alongside the data collated by FDS’s reporting system Matador, which generates daily updates on stock levels.

“We produce ROI models for clients to give a value to everything we do. There can be a huge return from putting an extra display in store or ensuring product is on the shelves when otherwise it would not be,” says FDS director James Moyies.

Direct results

Another one of FDS’s clients is Cafédirect. In May, the fair trade coffee brand repeated its office sampling activity to persuade ABC1 coffee drinkers to switch to its range in the workplace and at home.

When the first promotion took place at the end of last year, 50,000 samples were issued and the average sales rise in stores on sampling days was 480 per cent, with a residual rise of 123 per cent a month later. Cafédirect consumer promotions manager Alka Dass says sampling is the most effective method for encouraging product trial and to convey the fair trade message. About 200,000 samples were distributed last month.

While it is important suppliers understand what can be achieved by using field marketing, it is imperative retailers are also aware of the benefits. This year, FDS was selected by IGD, the information and research source for the grocery industry, to conduct a quarterly survey of on-shelf availability for 200 products in 20 grocery categories in the country’s top 350 supermarkets. IGD is managing the study on behalf of Efficient Consumer Response UK (ECR UK), a benchmarking initiative led by leading retailers and manufacturers.

Subject to availability

The second set of results was published at the end of May and revealed just why brands feel the need to employ field teams to go into stores on their behalf. According to ECR UK, only six of the 200 products had full availability. Four of these were in the fresh produce category – loose tomatoes, onions, carrots and bananas. They were joined by own-brand milk and Kellogg’s Cornflakes, the only branded product to be available in every store.

These results actually represented a slight improvement on the first survey, when just three products surveyed – own-label baked beans, loose tomatoes and loose onions – had 100 per cent availability. The number of lines with less than 90 per cent availability has halved, from 11 per cent to five per cent. The worst performing category remains homewares, which registered just 87 per cent in the first survey and 89 per cent this time around.

The co-chair of ECR UK, Somerfield group logistics director Martin Oakes, says the survey is not about quick fixes, but is designed to create benchmarks for the industry.

Away from the more traditional field marketing activities, the brand experience companies are also using research to underline their claimed effectiveness. RPM, for instance, has formed a partnership with Continental Research to launch an evaluation service for clients. It says the facility is the first to isolate the consumer impact of brand experiences from other marketing activities.

On the face of it

Then there is global event marketing company George P Johnson (GPJ), which has commissioned independent research among 123 marketing directors on the merits of face-to-face marketing. Its survey revealed that 85 per cent of UK companies are funding some form of face-to-face event marketing this year, up from 48 per cent in 2002. The research also claims that respondents considered face-to-face marketing second only to direct marketing in terms of ROI, followed by sales promotion, traditional television, radio and press advertising and public relations, with internet advertising bottom of the pile.

“Companies are realising that most consumers who attend a brand experience event or a roadshow will have done some research into the brand beforehand. Once they arrive they want reassurance and proof there is a value to them in having a relationship with the brand. Companies that get this right by varying the content of events to suit a business or consumer audience will see the best return on investment,” says GPJ creative director Ross Maclennan.

Research is also being carried out by field marketers to help brands reach consumers in specific locations. Marketing agency BB Carlson, which holds the London Underground account, has produced the London Wise report to help marketers target the most suitable underground stations based on who uses them and at what time of day. This may be a City trader passing through Liverpool Street or a Japanese tourist travelling to Leicester Square. The survey has shown that the best time to sample chocolate on the underground is 3pm.

London calling

“Field marketing in a place like London can be frightening for clients because the city is very fragmented. It is therefore crucial they have as much research as possible. As field marketers, we know where to find a client’s target market and when they will be most receptive to certain messages,” says BB Carlson group account director Annlouise Cawley.

There is an old saying that there are two kinds of statistics – the kind you look up and the kind you make up. The world of field marketing is certainly a numbers game, but clients must decide for themselves if the figures add up.

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