Evolution in the field

Brands that relate field marketing to some failed venture from years ago need to have a rethink – Steve Hemsley explains how experiential agencies have honed their methods and technology

fieldstandMany brand managers still look down their noses at field and experiential marketing, claiming they tried it once and were not impressed. They remember face-to-face campaigns that lacked creativity and were difficult to measure. Both disciplines have matured greatly in recent years, but looking back it is easy to see why some activity failed in the early days.

It was often down to core mistakes at the planning stage which meant the brand was promoted to the wrong audience, at the wrong time and in the wrong location. Does anyone really want to sign up for financial services at a music festival when they are there to escape the worries of real life?”

Many brands dabbled with this sector in the 1990s, but non-packaged goods brands have always been particularly wary,” says Leyton Ede, senior account director at Closer, the experiential arm of Billington Cartmell. “The learning curve can be steep. It may be harder to produce an engaging experience for a bank account than a fruit juice, but it is not impossible.”

Marketers will rise to any challenge and ultimately getting field work right comes down to nothing more than testing every element of a campaign before it goes live. This will be money well spent if a potentially embarrassing brand faux pas is avoided, and should mean the agency and client bask in the success of a tailored and well-crafted promotion that boosts sales, brand loyalty or both.

Three years ago experiential agency RPM formed an in-house planning team while the agency also runs client workshops to explain how campaigns should work and why good brand experiences will change attitudes. “We work closely with clients to discover what mindset consumers will be in when our teams talk to them,” says managing director Hugh Robertson. “We know a one-size-fits-all approach does not work when planning a face-to-face campaign where you must get consumer approval, but we do share experiences and research from previous campaigns.”

Consider the customer
A failure to take into account how consumers will be feeling when they interact with a brand can be a fatal error. While decisions in other disciplines such as direct marketing centre on targeting the right social demographic and age, there is another dimension to consider before putting promotional teams in the field. Brands must ask themselves why consumers will be in a particular place at a certain time, will they be alone or with friends and will they be feeling happy or stressed?

For one children’s brand the agency Sense visited schools to talk to sevento 11-year-olds about how they feel when they are in the park or at the beach. “You may think you’ll get obvious answers but this is a creative process you must go through,” says managing director Nick Adams. “An experience you consider relevant might not actually be right.”

As with post-campaign research, the question of whether the client or the agency should pay for such testing is an issue constantly debated. What is clear is that research does give agencies the confidence to challenge a client, and this can ultimately save a campaign from failure.

It is the aim of many agencies to convince clients to involve them in the planning stage much earlier to ensure the wrong decisions are not taken. “Often the field marketing company is brought in once everything has been agreed and the venue decided,” says Ramon Santos, new business controller at Reach, formerly DVC Sales. “But we know instinctively if a campaign will work or not and can tell if a client risks wasting its budget and damaging its image.”

It is a view echoed by Mike Garnham, chief executive of MSF Field Marketing. “The ideal brief for the brand owner and agency is one in which the field marketing professional participates in strategic planning so the medium can interact with other media,” he says. “It provides time for it to be planned effectively, ensures budget allocation is clear and the return can be forecast accurately.”

The brands that get their field marketing spot on tend to be the ones that understand how the experience must be memorable enough to make a difference. Will a consumer recall what was being promoted, be persuaded to buy the product and impressed enough to spread the word?

Techniques and technology
Matthew Coles, a partner at Cardinal, the specialist drinks division of HPI Research, carries out research for brand owners such as Pernod Ricard. He says testing a field marketing campaign to ensure it is tailored to the needs of the target market does not have to be a costly process. “Drinks brand representatives can go into a pub where there is a captive audience. If they find 100 or so people they are in business,” says Coles.

There are, of course, much more sophisticated tools available. Brand experience agency BEcause has a research model for measuring and improving face-to-face marketing in shops. It is called PRISM (Performance Research for In-store Marketing) and was created with the help of the London Business School. It was initially developed for Danone to drive sales by ensuring that supermarkets complied with promotions agreed at their head office.

“PRISM works by inputting data collected from our field teams over months and years so we know the best times to do activity such as sampling,” says BEcause managing director Sharon Richey. “It also tells us how long we should spend with people and even which parts of the script are the most effective.”

Field marketing will always have detractors but new technology and experience is giving agencies the weapons to challenge the critics.

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