A Marketing Week debate on field and experiential marketing focused on the need for agencies to distinguish between the disciplines, measure results and also defend the sector. By Steve Hemsley
The fiercest rivals will often unite against a common enemy, and while field marketing and experiential marketing agencies are extremely vocal when telling brands why they should be pouring money into their specific disciplines, they quickly close ranks when faced with competition from other media.
In a lively roundtable debate chaired by Marketing Week, agencies and clients discussed whether brands fully understand the role of different face-to-face techniques and identified potential threats to the overall industry.
Roger Godfrey, marketing development director at REL Field Marketing, claimed clients are confused about the two disciplines because many traditional field marketing companies are now migrating into the experiential arena. He is worried this uncertainty could tempt brand owners to push more of their below-the-line budget into other areas altogether.
Fight new media threat
“The challenge for all face-to-face agencies is to retain and grow the pot of money coming into both the field and experiential disciplines. There is certainly a threat from new media so we need clearer definitions in our business and better measurement,” he said.
The panel agreed brands still need educating about how to use traditional field marketing more effectively. It was also the view that clients need more guidance on when and how to allocate funds to more creative experiential activity.
There is certainly evidence that brand marketers want to invest more in experiential campaigns. A survey of 57 senior marketing personnel in the UK, Europe and North America by creative services business MICE Group earlier this month revealed 80% thought experiential marketing was important.
Liz Forte, category manager at Danone Waters UK, accepted that brands do need a better understanding of the differences between the two disciplines if they are to get value for money. “Our focus is on driving brand awareness and getting market penetration. Great merchandising is not enough on its own if no one is experiencing the product,” she said.
One technique being blamed for the current level of confusion is product sampling because this is an activity carried out by field and experiential agencies.
Daniel Todaro, managing director of field marketing company Gekko Partners, argued that sampling sits firmly in his sector’s court. “Consumers are not getting a real experience when they hold out their hand to grab a freebie,” he said.
Todaro accused some experiential agencies of claiming to offer field marketing services simply because there is a sampling element to their campaigns.
Paul Ephremsen, chief executive of iD Live Brand Experience, represented the Live Brand Experience Association (LBEA) on the panel. He agreed that agencies on his side of the fence should not pretend sampling is a brand experience.
Of course, for most face-to-face campaigns sampling is a vital component. “You may have lots of creative experiential plans, but if you have not hit your sales numbers after a few weeks that will be replaced by sampling, to keep the money men happy,” said Forte.
Danone Waters has two clearly defined pots of money, with field marketing activity paid for out of the trade marketing department’s budget and experiential campaigns funded by the brand teams. However, marketing communications senior manager at consumer electronics brand Toshiba, Stephen Beresford, said he relies on agency Gekko to decide how the budget is allocated. “Gekko will tell us if it thinks we should also be talking to an experiential or other marketing agency for a particular piece of work,” he said.
When it came to measuring how well any campaign budget has been spent it was argued brands must decide before their activity goes live how they want to assess their return on investment. Ephremsen said the onus is still on agencies to push results to clients who expect the agency to pay for any research, while Nigel Carnell, a board member on the Field Marketing Council (FMC) and managing director of National Marketing Services, said he welcomed any client commissioning independent research as long as he was involved in the decision.
Creativity is the key
Godfrey said creativity in field marketing gives agencies their USP, while Todaro said research is vital to ensure fieldwork hits the right people at the right time.
The launch earlier this month of another trade body, The Brand Experience Strategy Group under the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) umbrella, prompted a debate on the role of organisations representing this sector.
Todaro is not a member of any trade body and insisted he would not join the FMC until the “bun fight” between its members and those of the LBEA dies down.
Meanwhile, Ephremsen said agencies should get actively involved with trade bodies. He said these organisations help improve standards, lobby government and provide industry data that everyone can use to persuade clients to allocate bigger budgets to these disciplines.
And that is ultimately the bottom line as far as agencies from both camps are concerned. They do offer brands different services yet they are increasingly stepping into each other’s territory to grab revenue wherever they can. It is therefore little wonder many brands remain confused about this entire sector and are contemplating alternatives.