08 The Year Ahead – Field marketing

Successful field marketing increasingly requires fast reaction times, to enable clients to see the effectiveness of campaigns and gauge the return on investment. By Nick Cottman, Field Sales Solutions

Fast response times make the maximum impact

Successful field marketing increasingly requires fast reaction times, to enable clients to see the effectiveness of campaigns and gauge the return on investment. By Nick Cottman, Field Sales Solutions

As every manufacturer’s marketplace grows even more competitive, with each player vying to grab the attention of the consumer and the retailer, field marketing offers a targeted and cost effective solution to ensure that any new product or promotion hits the shelves at the earliest opportunity, with maximum impact. Modern field marketing agencies can offer a speed of response, be that through people or technology, that gives their clients a greater competitive advantage than ever before. 

When launching a product or promotion, it is not enough to get a product listed at a cash and carry or within a multiple – it needs to be implemented at store level. In such highly competitive markets, local retailers need to be convinced of the benefits a product can offer to customers and their business before they will actually buy. Similarly, a product listing at a multiple’s head office does not mean it is guaranteed to be put on the shelves from day one: a recent auditing campaign for a new soft drink showed only 41% compliance instore, despite being listed at head office; a figure which was more than doubled through field marketing activity. 

Plans into action
The key to success of implementing any campaign is clear and concise planning, followed through by excellent execution in-store. The route to market needs to be integrated into thinking from day one. Involve the field marketing partner from the beginning of the planning process to make the most of the experience and expertise they can offer.

The ability to react quickly within the market place is now standard practice: whether that is putting together a short-notice field campaign to counter your competitor’s latest initiative or responding to a problem which is identified at the first outlet visited on your behalf. For example, if a potential problem is identified at the first store visit, action needs to be taken immediately before the same issues arise everywhere. 

Traditional field marketing agencies are now well equipped to deal with both of these response time needs. Where, in the past, it may have required eight to 12 weeks’ notice for an activity, it may now be possible to put together a field campaign in just one to two weeks. 

In-house recruitment departments can respond quickly. By maintaining a database of fully trained, experienced field personnel, they are able to identify the profile and skills required for each individual campaign; be that selling, merchandising or compliance enhancement in the major multiples. With careful planning, the agency can ensure the same ambassadors with a proven track record of success are retained for future campaigns: be that for the same client or product or multiple store group. This reduces the need for and cost of re-education, while still leveraging the ambassador’s existing relationship with their local retailers and their knowledge of the client’s brand and products.

Instant results
Field marketing companies have invested substantially in in-house IT departments in order to create flexible reporting solutions tailor-made for each of their clients. Through developments in technology, clients can expect instant information and results. This could include an e-mail alert being sent directly to the client within minutes of a call being completed: either where a problem is identified or an opportunity is closed. 

For example, a key product off-shelf which cannot be rectified in-store can be emailed directly to the national account manager for immediate action. Alternatively, during a sales campaign, an electronic order can be e-mailed directly to the wholesaler or supplier as soon as the retailer has signed up.

The immediacy of the reporting allows for adjustments to be made during the campaign to apply immediately any learnings, which will help to achieve the best possible results. It also enables clients to see the effectiveness of their campaign as soon as it starts, enabling them to gauge their return on investment. 

In 2008, clients will expect shorter lead times, improved technology, stable and reliable brand ambassadors, and cost-effective budgets, so that they can show a return on investment for their field marketing expenditure. The industry can meet these challenges. 

Nick Cottman, New Business Director, Field Sales Solutions

Year of accreditation

The development of the DMA’s accreditation scheme, staffing issues, the environment and digital TV all loom large on the agenda. By Steve Hemsley

It took the Direct Marketing Association’s Field Marketing Council 18 months of consultation before it felt ready to unveil its accreditation scheme – arguably the biggest news for this sector in 2007 – in the summer. 

The scheme, based on the DMA’s code of conduct, covers 19 standards relating to everything from understanding a client’s brief, clarifying contract details to analysing the cost of putting a promotional team in the field. 

The DMA’s compliance department will spend the next few months accrediting field marketing agencies. The FMC has high hopes for this scheme in 2008 because it has been put together with a considerable amount of input from advertisers.

Mike Price, Unilever’s third party strategy manager, and Nick Stevens, retail agency manager for Procter & Gamble, were closely involved in devising the standards. They joined J Sainsbury’s senior buyer for soft drinks Josephine Kelly and Nokia’s customer marketing manager Andy Barber at the FMC’s first client forum in October.

The general view at the meeting was that the scheme must evolve next year. It needs to focus more on improving and monitoring how teams work in the field, particularly inside retailers, where they are sampling products, auditing sales, checking retail compliance levels or carrying out mystery shopping. 

For its part, the FMC board is convinced accredited agencies will have a competitive advantage when tendering for work, and clients will be less likely to base their choice of supplier on price alone. 

Advertisers remain cautious, however. Robin Halsall, field sales controller for battery and  torch company Energizer – which works with agency IMS – says the existence of such a scheme would not cloud his judgement when selecting an agency. 

“A client must still police the suppliers it uses to ensure it gets a good service and the results it wants. You get the agency you deserve,” he says. “Face-to-face marketing is important not only when interacting with consumers but when having contact with the trade. We need to be confident third party promotional staff will represent our brand as well as we would ourselves.” 

At the same client forum, questions were raised about the impact field marketing is having on the environment. The number of miles field teams travel visiting supermarkets and attending live events means its carbon footprint is considerable. The latest industry estimates put the number of people working in the industry at more than 40,000.

Advertisers have already hinted they may select field marketing agencies not just on whether they can deliver the right results at an affordable price but by how environmentally friendly they are.

It is no surprise that staffing issues dominate this sector. There are concerns about wage inflation as workers see their disposable income falling due to higher living costs. Suppliers are also worried about how to retain staff in an employment market where agencies chase many of the same individuals. Field staff are increasingly seeing field marketing as a career choice – which is what agencies have tried for years to encourage – but few are willing to pledge their loyalty to one company. 

The trend for agencies to recruit more mature staff is likely to continue as clients target affluent consumers such as so-called “emptynesters” whose children have left home. 

One client promoting to this group is Daniel Foods, owner of the New Covent Garden Soup Company which used a field marketing agency, Cord Promotions, for the first time this year. Senior brand manager Nick Munby says 10% of its marketing budget is now allocated to sampling at events such as Royal Horticultural Society flower shows and country fairs.

“We distribute about 20,000 samples at each event and the activity contributed to a 25% increase in summer sales of our soups which have traditionally been a winter seasonal product,” says Munby. “Upmarket empty nesters, especially females, relate better to more mature promotional staff.”

Age discrimination legislation
However, selecting any group of workers based on their age, whether they are young or old, to meet a client’s brief could get agencies into trouble. Lawyers say the sector could fall foul of age discrimination legislation. 

An increasing amount of field activity is expected around digital television next year as the date of the analogue switch off moves closer. Field marketing is tipped to be a frontline sales and marketing vehicle in the same way it led the way following the deregulation of the utilities. 

This sector has always prided itself on being one of the most accountable and measurable forms of marketing. With hints of an economic slowdown there is certainly an opportunity for agencies to win new business. Some experiential work could cheer up consumers depressed by rising fuel prices and the failure of any of the nation’s football teams to make it to Euro 2008.

One client investing significantly in field marketing next year is SHS Sales and Marketing which works with food, drink and household brands such as WKD, Merrydown Cider, Douwe Egberts, Durex, Shloer and Finish. 

“Brand owners will continue to divert funds from traditional media budgets,” says commercial controller Mark Hopper. 

Nevertheless, all brands are coming under more pressure to justify their expenditure and are careful about signing off face-to-face work. Some agencies have reported a lower number of large contracts than usual in the final quarter of 2007 and will go into the New Year with their fingers crossed. 

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