Field questions

After research exposed a chasm in opinion over what field marketing actually is, Tracey Middleton goes in search of the ultimate definition, and asks three industry experts how divisions in the sector can be repaired

There’s a saying that shoemakers’ children often go barefoot. It’s a way of conveying that we don’t always do something as well for ourselves that we do for other people. In April this year, Marketing Week ran a feature about research by the Field Marketing Council (FMC) that revealed knowledge gaps in marketers’ understanding of field marketing (FM). It drew attention to the urgent need for self-promotion in the FM industry (MW April 12).

FMC chairwoman Alison Williams agrees there is a general lack of knowledge about FM among marketers. “The common understanding is that field marketing is all about sampling or demonstrations,” she says.

The research also showed wide disagreement among practitioners about what comes under the umbrella of field marketing. How can there be clarity when there are disparities within the industry itself? We asked three leading field marketers – Tom Preece, managing director of effective customer contact company CPM; Richard Thompson, former chairman of integrated services agency Mosaic Technology; and Gary MacManus, joint managing director of contract sales and knowledge consultancy Aspen Field Marketing – to provide a definition of FM and to say specifically what it entails.

Their responses clearly illustrate significant similarities and differences, either in the way that FM is understood, or in the way that it is represented. Most interesting are the presence or absence of specific areas of operation.

Evolution

Although FM has been around since the Thirties it has undergone significant changes, driven in part by technological advances. FM businesses have reacted to changing markets by becoming more flexible, enabling them to meet the new demands clients are looking for. Preece sums up this change of focus: “Two years ago CPM would ask clients: ‘Do you do any field marketing?’ Now we ask what their business issues are. They invariably say that they want more customers and they want to keep them.”

Defining FM

As FM is constantly evolving and its solutions vary from case to case, this brings us back to the question of what field marketing is.

The logical source of a definition would be the industry’s trade body. The Direct Marketing Association Users Guide to Field Marketing (written by the FMC) provides a reference point, but what else can be done to promote understanding of the discipline?

One of the most obvious starting points would be to include FM in undergraduate and graduate programmes, vocational training, CAM Foundation and CIM courses. But this isn’t as simple as it sounds. Williams points out: “Field marketing has been on the Institute of Sales Promotion syllabus for eight years, but the problem is the [lack of] academic books and papers.”

It’s a vicious circle – until textbooks exist FM won’t be widely studied, and until it is more widely studied the books and papers won’t be written. Still, Williams is optimistic: “We are working with the CIM and CAM Foundation to develop a syllabus and there are lots of good case studies to draw on.”

The FMC is also in the process of setting up educational events, aimed at DMA members and clients, to raise the profile of the discipline.

So how do the three marketers think the FMC is doing, and what do they believe needs to be done? Preece says: “To the FMC’s credit it has recognised that marketers need to be better educated and has begun a number of initiatives to that end.”

MacManus, whose company is not a member of the FMC, is not aware of any action being taken and consequently prefers to withhold advice or judgement.

Thompson is also unaware of any FMC action but says: “The FMC needs to get existing users of FM services to spend more and new brands to use them for the first time. It needs to attract above-the-line money to field marketing.”

Personal responsibility

Preece believes that individual companies need to do their bit by spreading the word to clients and getting involved in FMC initiatives. MacManus also recognises that, to a certain degree, everyone within the field should play the role of educator, and says that this is done through “face-to-face meetings and seminars with existing and potential clients”.

Wouldn’t it help if more companies joined the FMC? Preece points out that the FMC has a “chequered past”, but says: “It split up because different companies had different ideas as to how the industry should be run. Most of us have come back.”

Thompson doesn’t feel the need to join. The larger group of which Mosaic Technology is a part provides him with benefits associated with a trade body, he says. MacManus says he is open to joining once he is convinced that the changes that have taken place are permanent.

Clear as mud

It will be interesting to see how awareness of FM changes with the planned developments in education. Until then it is worth revisiting how CPM, Aspen Field Marketing and Mosaic Technology choose to describe themselves: “effective customer contact company”, “integrated services agency”, “integrated contract sales and knowledge consultancy”. Take away the companies’ names and you’d be forgiven for reading such phrases and still being none the wiser about what they do. Shoemakers’ children? Perhaps. But as FM covers such a wide range of activities, maybe it is simpler to get on with it rather than trying to pin it down with simplistic definitions.

Defining field marketing

Richard Thompson, former chairman, Mosaic Technology

Field marketing is face-to-face marketing activity that brings a brand to life for consumers by ensuring that it is in their minds, that the product is available and the salesperson can sell it. This is achieved by positioning trained people in the right location at the right time and by using various media to sell the product. This is commonly understood to mean point-of-purchase (POP) marketing, but can also mean an airport exhibition or concourse roadshows. FM is far more valuable when it is integrated with other marketing, complementing and adding value to other marketing activity. Fragmentation of media makes it difficult for brands to reach consumers; FM is far more effective in finding and tracking down target audiences.

Tom Preece, managing director, CPM

Field marketing is a broad range of activities designed to support sales and marketing. It effectively provides the visible “face” of the brand, as activities generally include direct contact with customers. The result is that FM, if used well, has huge potential to enhance the brand. Operations falling under the FM umbrella include: sales forces; placement and auditing of product and POP material; demonstration and sampling of products and services; development, management and execution of events such as roadshows; and mystery shopping. Clients working with professional FM agencies should expect to receive a flexible and focused service that will fulfil specific business objectives. FM’s brand focus means that it is most effective when deployed as part of the wider marketing activity.

Gary MacManus, joint managing director,

Aspen Field Marketing

FM is the business of creating, directing and managing full-time merchandising, sales and training teams to influence change at the point of purchase. Strategically, the teams perceive that they work directly for the client. They use state-of-the-art data capture devices and report using sophisticated knowledge systems. The activities they perform on a strategic level are: contact strategies; organisational structural consultancy; knowledge management; product launch strategies; distribution maintenance strategies; and on an operational level: sales; merchandising; training; category implementation; fulfilment.

Field Marketing Council

FM is the provision of highly skilled and trained people to conduct brand-building exercises on behalf of clients. These people work for the FM company, which in turn is outsourced by the client to complete specific goals and targets. The core activities within FM are: sales – as a client’s sales team or to supplement the activities of the client’s sales team and/or meet specific coverage or time requirements; merchandising – placement of product or POP material, usually in a retail environment, to ensure store compliance with agreements reached between client and retailer; auditing – of products and services, presence, facings, volume, POP material, positioning and relevance; sampling and demonstration – within a controlled retail environment; mystery shopping – the use of field marketing personnel as “normal” members of the public to assess sales levels, product knowledge, service levels and customer satisfaction; and also the emerging disciplines of telesales, handling, packaging and warehousing.

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