Pop eyes the bigger picture

Two-thirds of purchasing decisions are made once a shopper is inside a store, it’s said, so the material that the consumer sees in the retail environment is critical. Despite this, point-of-purchase (PoP) is still seriously undervalued by many

It is becoming an increasingly important element in the global marketing mix, but – as with other disciplines – PoP must balance strategic objectives with a little local ‘flavour’. By Richenda Wilson

Two-thirds of purchasing decisions are made once a shopper is inside a store, it’s said, so the material that the consumer sees in the retail environment is critical. Despite this, point-of-purchase (PoP) is still seriously undervalued by many brand owners, which makes it doubly hard to persuade people to invest the time and thought needed to create campaigns that work across different markets.

A huge amount of effort and organisation are required to execute internationally integrated PoP effectively, says Phil Bourne, chief executive of marketing communications agency KLP. “It requires intimate knowledge of a multitude of retail markets, complex communication plans, and an ability and desire to police subsidiaries that refuse to play ball. Compared with the relatively simple tasks of local media buying and translation, it’s perhaps easy to see why some promoters are put off.”

But there is another reason why marketers don’t try hard enough, reckons Bourne: “There is a belief among some that strategically and aesthetically aligned PoP simply isn’t that important.

Brand perceptions

“It’s not easy to sympathise with this explanation,” he adds. “We live in an age where the contribution of advertising is in general decline. It is also clear that in many sectors – grocery, banks, fashion, to name three – consumers’ perceptions of brands are shaped as much by their retail experience and by product presentation as they are by television, press and outdoor ads.”

Simon Smith, creative director of retail design specialists 141 red, blames the structure of agency relationships for this undervaluing of PoP. “We go into the boardroom and put forward a strong case for focusing on the retail space, but many clients have little understanding of the effectiveness of retail media. The lead agency – usually the above-the-line agency – tends to take control of strategy and budgets, and they focus on their core revenue streams.

“But if we talk directly to the clients, there is a danger of losing contact with the other agencies and we all end up working in silos.”

Darren Keen, European client services director at The Marketing Store, agrees that working methods are largely to blame: “Too many big businesses structure their marketing departments in a way that virtually alienates the managers responsible for ads and PoP from each other. Sure, they’ll have their weekly status meetings to discuss ‘how things are going’, but it often doesn’t go further than that and the marketing director isn’t close enough to bring it all together. They tend to have their own protected processes, and agencies that don’t bother talking to each other. Net result/ different messages and often different creative executions.”

Reaching the end game

Secondly, says Keen: “The basic human emotion promoted to stimulate desire for the brand in an ad is far more transferable in today’s global society. The practicalities of local cultural and legal nuances, plus widely varying physical PoP retail systems, can often be challenging to reach one end game.

“Having said that, as long as the process is properly managed from a senior level, and the realities â¢of the retail environment are taken seriously – including the appropriate funding to ensure a quality execution – there is no reason why point-of-purchase can’t be as dramatic and ‘global’ as TV or press ads. Go through any airport departure lounge in the world and you’ll see that the cosmetics industry

does it rather well already.” Matt Sherratt, group account director for Nokia Nseries at integrated agency Draft London, also believes matters are improving for the PoP sector. “The weighting is tipping away from above-the-line and towards retail, and away from paper-based PoP material towards creating brand experiences within the retail environment.

“Brands are beefing up their retail departments with senior retail marketers with truly global experience.”

In addition, there is a massive increase in understanding of retail theory, led by the US, with Europe – and the UK in particular – catching up fast, says Sherratt. There is growing interest in manipulating and guiding the consumer’s journey through the store. But when it comes to global strategy, the biggest challenge is understanding all the national differences – retail environments vary widely across regions, as do the dynamics of sales channels as well as local cultures and tastes.

Successful global retail strategies provide the big idea and a PoP toolkit, to give local markets the parameters within which they can operate, and the assets to apply them to their own activity, Sherratt says. In addition to producing basic elements, the toolkit has to be flexible and scaleable. Local markets always like to feel ownership of local retail activity.

Niki Palmer, head of sales promotion at Dialogue DLKW, agrees that the major challenge with launching brand activity globally is managing the balance between consistency and local relevance.

Developing synergy

“Consistency can be achieved through the development of global strategy guidelines that can then be executed locally by each market,” she says. “This can be accomplished by establishing synergy across creative designs through the use of logos, colours, fonts, photographic style and so on.

“Through the use of shared intranets and layered artwork files, local agencies can follow the fundamental brand parameters specified centrally, to develop effective store-level communications that embody the personality and values of the brand, but lose none of the relevance and appeal to their local customer.

“These methods can also result in greater cost efficiency and savings,” she adds. “In the same way, sharing best practice on production allows agencies to use local rather than central suppliers, and can save valuable time and money and reduce unnecessary duplication.”

People on the ground

A local network of suppliers is essential, agrees Smith/ “We put together a ‘master vision’ document, and then create ‘design intent’ packs, where we carefully list and annotate each element of the PoP system. Then we can confidently brief suppliers across the world with the same information. But you also need people on the ground in local markets to check that things have been made to spec.

“Often, it is cheaper and faster to produce in Asia,” he says. “We make a prototype in Europe then send it to Asia for production.”

The key for designers is to come up with a brief that works across markets, taking account of legal concerns, cultural differences, retailers’ own PoP strategies, and the very different retail formats across the world.

For outdoor stalls, for example, temperature and moisture issues may become relevant.

“Retail space is rarely an issue in North America,” says Sherratt, “whereas the Asia Pacific region is dominated by small independents with little space for retail materials. No matter what the footprint, the PoP has to work hard in every environment, and retailers need to maximise the consumer experience.”

And it is a big mistake to think of Asia as a single market, says Liz Wilson, client services director at brand agency Brandhouse WTS. “It is home to 56% of the world’s population, and has countries with vastly different development rates and socio-economic groups, as well as cultures and personalities.”

Concepts must be flexible enough to ring true in local markets, according to Smith. You need to maintain a tone of voice for the brand but PoP material must be localised, using local language and appropriate materials.

Sometimes striving for a concept that will work across diverse markets can result in a watered-down idea. It is sometimes better to forget about globalising, and drill down into local culture, creating different brands for different markets.

That is what Brandhouse WTS (BWTS) did in its work for the Diamond Trading Corporation, the marketing organisation for De Beers. The brands focused on the varying perception of diamonds across markets.

In India, for example, the Sangini brand was introduced, targeting grooms in arranged marriages. Sangini marks the fifth year of marriage and, if the couple have fallen in love, the husband will buy diamonds for his wife. A lot of the jewellery features five stones, as does the brand’s logo.

Targeting the independent younger market in India, BWTS developed Nashatra, a modern, vibrant brand designed to encourage younger people and singles to buy diamonds for themselves, and others.

In China, BWTS sought out new audiences with Eternal Girl, a brand for newly affluent, young Chinese women that capitalises on their burgeoning interest in indulgence.

In addition, BWTS created a brand called Luzz for the Spanish market, aimed at a style-conscious, young, independent audience. This tapped into the consumer realisation that they could own a luxury product that they previously perceived as being beyond their means.

In this way, the Diamond Trading Corporation was able to maximise sales in those markets and become the first jewellery “superbrand” in India.

The key to success in global PoP is not to impose a “vanilla flavour” global campaign, but to let local markets add their own flavour. To work well, this should happen within a predefined set of strategic visual and messaging objectives, but with local understanding added to give resonance to the brand.

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