Marketers often speak of starting ‘conversations’ with customers and prospects but, in reality, very few campaigns ever lead to a face to face chat.
Yet, despite the digital age, the saying that people buy from people still stands – and they are more likely to do so if they have an opportunity to try before they buy. In fact, TGI figures suggest that 41 per cent of shoppers who see a demonstration of a product go on to buy it from the store.
That is why experiential marketing and in-store demonstrating are growing industries in the UK. They now form a major part of field marketing which, in total is estimated to be worth £230m a year by the Institute of Promotional Marketing.
The latest branch of field marketing is a world away from brands having people dress up in outfits and hand out flyers at busy spots. A whole new industry has sprung up to line up prime in-store locations, train brand ambassadors and provide the latest technology so immersive experiences can be shared through social media.
A wise sage
The experience offered to shoppers will, just like any marketing campaign, revolve around the key objectives for the brand.
For kitchen appliance brand Sage by Heston Blumenthal, in-store demonstrations are its main marketing effort to get the new gadgets in front of shoppers in the kitchenware sections of large stores.
Over the past year, the brand has placed demonstrators in 25 stores each weekend, five of which are staffed all week. The key high footfall stores most relevant to their potential customers include John Lewis, Selfridges, House of Fraser and Debenhams and it works with experiential agency iD to reach consumers.
For Sage marketing director David Gubbin, the key driver for in-store demonstration marketing is that the brand is focused on finding innovative solutions to common food problems and getting the most out of ingredients, which can be guided by in-depth conversations.
Events require a lot of hands-on staff and inter-agency collaboration but the rewards from them are clear
“We come at kitchen appliances from the opposite direction to most brands,” he says. “We look for the issues people have and then show them, say, how a blender with four blades at different heights is better than a single blade and means people don’t have to push their mix around with a wooden spoon.
“Or they might not realise the huge difference having tea made at the right temperature for that particular type of tea or the different the right combination of temperature and pressure contributes to the perfect coffee.” Gubbin, who works with agency iD on field marketing, says brand awareness is as important as sales.
“In-store, our trained demonstrators can have those discussions and even if they don’t make a sale, it doesn’t matter. It’s as much about brand awareness.”
For longer established brands, awareness and advocacy are still important goals of in-store demonstrations but, in most cases, sales will be higher up the list of priorities.
That is certainly the case for Epson. Like other brands which regularly commit to using brand ambassadors, the company has a detailed message it needs to get over which is best conveyed face to face where a trained representative can show the benefits of its ‘premium ink’ packages.
Hence its sales manager Tim Bedward believes the key to its annual in-store demonstration programmes, across the peak Christmas and January shopping months, is in the training its brand ambassadors receive through in-store marketing agency Gekko.
“Everyone on the programme spends a day at Epson being trained on the products and shown how we’re all about ink quality,” he explains.
“The crucial part is we not only get this message across but we can also spot if we don’t think somebody is going to work out as a brand ambassador. It’s not common but we do fail people. We also finish off the training by showing people how to ‘close’.
“It’s key for our brand that shoppers don’t feel pressured and so it’s fine if we don’t sell a printer or ink so long as we leave the customer with a good experience.”
Creating a splash
The benefits of taking a customer through a purchase which is only made every couple of years are very clear because it is, by definition, a highly considered process.
In the FMCG market, though, Persil recently decided that experiential marketing could offer an effective support channel for its wider marketing conveying the low temperature, stain removal prowess of its Small & Mighty washing detergent.
The campaign ran at Milton Keynes shopping mall thecentre:mk last month and invited shoppers to ‘splat’ a virtual canvas, produced by creative out-of-home agency Grand Visual.
Crucially, in keeping with the latest trend in experiential marketing, the results could then be viewed and shared in social media. This helped deliver the objective of supporting a wider Small & Mighty campaign by bringing its key message to life, according to Marloes Garben, brand manager at Persil.
“The campaign was part of our wider ‘whatever life throws’ campaign,” she explains.
“Persil has always supported the notion that Dirt is Good because it’s a sign that we’re getting stuck in and learning from life. This activity was all about allowing consumers to have fun while making a mess – and also communicating the power of Persil Small & Mighty’s improved formulation.”
More than 1120 participants created ‘stain art’ and the brand was able to interact with 6,540 consumers, giving away 6,000 product samples.
A common word of warning among agencies involved in providing staff and setting up locations is that the one difficulty all brands run up against is that experiential and in-store marketing can be costly.
However, according to Hik Sasaki, senior marketing manager for Gold at UKTV, the effort and budget are worthwhile because they allow a company to interact directly with the public. UKTV’s Gold channel recently ran the ‘Ave a Giraffe’ competition at the Westfield Stratford shopping centre and Birmingham’s Bullring. Contestants had to pop as many bath bubbles as they could, with the results being shared on Facebook.
She worked with agencies Initials Marketing and Grand Visual to produce and co-ordinate the activity and over the two weekends it ran, 3,000 people played the game generating 2,000 emails for follow up communication.
“Clearly a lot of planning and inter-agency collaboration is required to pull off a successful field marketing execution on this scale,” says Sasaki.
“Events require a lot of hands-on staff and implementing new and innovative technology also presents unique challenges.
“Despite these, the rewards from field marketing promotions are clear; a deeper and more memorable relationship with your key audience. It was a great platform which served as a springboard to a broader campaign integrated across our online and social channels.” Gold worked with Grand Visual and agency Initials Marketing on the campaign.
Given the logistical challenge it is perhaps not surprising some brands have a permanent field marketing team which can be ‘staffed up’ to deliver more immersive experiences at short notice.
Freeview is a good example. It has a field marketing team working with retailers throughout the country all year promoting the free television platform through flyers, balloons and face to face demonstrations. This is vital, according to retail marketing manager James Chambers, because the brand would otherwise have no contact with its end customer.
It is also a permanent platform from which temporary experiential marketing campaigns can be launched, such as its recent ‘Tadpoles’ campaign. The project ran last October and November and allowed children at four major shopping sites to chase virtual tadpoles beamed on to the floor.
“During switchover [from analogue to digital TV], experiential was a huge part of our retail marketing plan but now it’s been completed our strategy has changed accordingly,” he explains.
“So, we use a combination of experiential activity, a permanent field team and tactical demonstrators. The field team – Freeview retail development executives – are each assigned a region and travel around stores in that area offering training to front line store staff. The team also host what we call ‘Value Days’ where they will pick their key stores in certain areas and work on the shop floor for a day, giving assistance to the vision category staff and adding sales.
Chambers says he invested £175k in the Tadpoles campaign, which covered several shopping centres at weekends over two months.
Such levels of budget being put in to temporary experiential and in-store demonstration marketing underlines the key point that brands are finding they deliver on objectives, whether they are measured in sales, brand favourability or numbers of prospects engaged.
Chambers says: “In-store or onsite activity allows you to give a human touch to the brand. As Freeview is subscription-free, we don’t have access to our customer base. So this face-to-face contact time is really important to us.”
Case study: Epson
Putting ink before printers
Epson sales manager Tim Bedward has very good reason to be a proponent of brand ambassadors. The brand claims its most recent campaign in 30 Dixons stores from November to January delivered a return on investment of 6:1.
This was mainly achieved through not just selling printers but also premium ink packages and photo paper. Epson printers use separate cartridges for each ink colour and, in premium packages, offer separate blacks for documents and photography.
Brand ambassadors were trained to convey the message that customers should consider ink first and the printer model second and that it is best practice to take home spare inks. By using the best inks, colours are more saturated and life-like while documents appear much sharper, Epson says.
Armed with examples and camera phones whose pictures could be wirelessly printed out to highlight the beneficial quality of premium inks and paper, brand ambassadors were trained to demonstrate and then pass on a customer to Dixons staff to process the sale. If there was no sale, training ensured a friendly, parting ‘close’ that perhaps they could consider the brand when they are ready to invest in a new printer.
The key target was to ensure 60 per cent of new printers had an ink purchase ‘attached’ because if spare ink is not to hand, experience suggests printers will remain unused for long periods. The ‘attachment’ target was exceeded in the pre-Christmas gifting market with a 64 per cent result and then, when people were buying for themselves in January, 70 per cent ‘attachment’ was hit.
This meant the average Epson sale in stores covered by the project rose from £80 to £100 year on year and its share of total printers sold in each rose by a fifth.
Bedward puts the success down to training and weekly analysis of each store’s figures to see which ambassadors needed extra support from the campaign’s regional coordinators.
Epson worked with field marketing agency Gekko on the project.
Field marketing: The big threee challenges
Budget and time
Very few brands carry out their own experiential marketing efforts because of the sheer time and effort required to coordinate booking the right positions in the best venues, training up temporary staff and putting together the equipment and technology required for an effective campaign.
For this reason the biggest challenge is finding the budget and coordinating at least one or two agencies, sometimes three, to ensure a campaign delivers on its objectives.
The right people
Once a marketing team has decided to run an in-store demonstration or experiential campaign, the most important aspect is to find the right people to represent a brand effectively.
Brand ambassadors must know the companies and brands they are representing and understands their key values. Only then can the required product knowledge, where applicable, be learned.
Top priority is to never be pushy but rather always give an enjoyable experience that may lead to an immediate or future sale.
Brand ambassadors need to work well with permanent in-store staff, and realise they are there to convey a brand’s messages and showcase products, without denigrating rivals, and then pass on a sale to a permanent member of store staff to process at a till.
Get this right and the brand will not only be welcomed back by the retailer but the positive impact should remain with the permanent staff too.