The right questions will find you the right retail agency

Julie Constable, head of agency selection at MCCA, talks about selecting the right retail marketing agency for your business.

Julie Constable
Julie Constable

As shoppers tighten their purse strings and become more price focused and less brand loyal, the shopper marketing sector has had to work ever harder, and figures show that sales promotions are declining at a slower rate than any other form of traditional marketing communications. It’s accountable and it delivers ROI, and so it’s no wonder the sector is performing well in this uncertain climate. It means finding the right shopper marketing agency is absolutely key to helping you sell your product to your target market. Knowing what to look for and what questions to ask can play an important role in appointing the right one.

Make sure you know whether the agencies you are talking to fully understand your sector. It is key that the agency understands the consumer and how and where to get to them, it sounds obvious but they should be able to demonstrate deep consumer insight, a solid understanding of purchasing habits and retail channels if they are to deliver on your objectives.

The size of the agency is important, are they big enough to manage your business effectively, or will the scope of work outstrip their ability to resource your account. If so you need to know if they will they recruit or re-organise from within.

The people factor is of paramount importance and you need to establish whether the team is experienced and senior enough to be taken seriously by your other roster agencies. Shopper marketing is a relatively new discipline so make sure you know the heritage of the agencies you are talking to. Which-ever skill set you are after, you want to be confident that the agency you appoint is able to take a place at your top table. And whilst the senior management team of the agency is important, it’s worth enquiring about the agency’s people policy and staff turnover, as I’d imagine you want to be working with a happy agency.

You need to know the strategic prowess of the agency; from their understanding of brands and channels, consumer purchasing habits, through to brand activation – in-store or online. Many agencies undertake research to make sure they are staying in touch with consumers so you need to make sure you know what they focus on.
If you are looking for cause related activity, look for agency case studies that show more than badge slapping. An example is the 2010 Best Award winning campaign for Pampers, who donated one tetanus jab to mothers and babies in need for every purchase of Pampers. Knowing that Pampers needed to cut through the promotional noise, the agency and brand found a perfect charitable tie-up with Unicef, that was simple, powerful, emotive and delivered on ROI.

Whilst strategic credentials are important, it’s important to assess an agency’s creative talents. So do two things. One: decide your own creative appetite – whether you want brave and innovative work or safe and pragmatic work. Two: ask agencies for examples of work that best represent their creative talents. Then you can gauge the agency fit with your expectations.

As online continues to grow in importance and effectiveness, make sure your agency is equally conversant in the online space and find out what their limitations are through resource and case study work. A great example of an agency fully understanding how to link traditional sales promotion techniques to the online world is the Best Award winning work for Doritos iD3. Consumers had to guess the flavour of the crisps in the special iD3 pack by entering the competition online, in a totally immersive and targeted interactive game, based around the theme of identity fraud.

It’s easy to be wowed with a great idea, but remember that this is only half the story. Your chosen agency needs to have a convincing operational delivery and implementation capability. You need to know how they operate in the retail space, and do ask if they have any clever software or processes in their toolkit. The retail sector is an exciting, dynamic but volatile space to be in. It’s important to find an agency that can react and flex to your marketing demands and one with solid implementation processes and systems to deliver volume campaigns efficiently at speed.

With the right insight and the right creative, with the right team, right processes and implementation, your business results can be outstanding and your agency relationship successful. So if you want a successful agency appointment and long term relationship, be clear about what you’re looking for, draw up your assessment criteria and identify the right questions to ask and you’ll stand a good chance of finding the perfect agency match.

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