There was a time when you knew where you were with field marketing. The discipline was a form of direct marketing and all about developing a one-to-one relationship with a customer through clever merchandising or sampling.
But over the past five years, the discipline has effectively split in two with the emergence and subsequent rapid growth of experiential marketing. Many clients and agencies have fallen in love with this sexier end of the business and the theatrical live events that tend to go with it.
Yet does the modern-day world of field marketing generate better sales for a brand in the long term because it is more exciting?
Mike Garnham, chief executive of MSF Field Marketing, is not convinced. He is not calling for brands to curtail their innovative experiential ideas, but does want them to ensure that any activity is planned with a sale to the individual consumer as the primary objective.
Garnham believes marketers should put no more than 20% of their field marketing budget into brand experience because the real return comes from getting products on the shelves and generating sales through good displays and ensuring retailer compliance.
“Consumers are naturally cynical and inquisitive at the same time, and a simple introduction to the brand rather than excitement is all that is required,” says Garnham.
He estimates that on the day sampling is carried out in-store a client can expect a 1,800% sales uplift compared with the equivalent day the previous week. In the second week after sampling sales should still be about 500% higher and in week three up by about 300%. Garnham claims that if there was a brand experience in the retailer’s car park without a sampling element the uplift would struggle to top 200% because the activity is too far from the point of purchase.
Although the field marketing industry has changed beyond recognition in recent years the debate should not be about whether clients should be choosing traditional techniques over experiential ones. Instead brands must assess whether they are splitting their budget effectively to get the best results for their money.
In reality, the live experience segment of any campaign is more about raising brand awareness and creating the demand for a product. It is the job of more conventional field techniques, such as sampling and effective merchandising, to ensure that demand is being met through in-store support.
Respected industry figures such as Garnham and CPM managing director Mike Hughes, who replaced FDS Field Marketing chairman Alison Williams as chairman of the Field Marketing Council in April, realise that any agency would be foolish to ignore the demands from clients for more experiential work.
Even those reluctant to fully embrace live events are becoming more involved in brand development. This involves helping clients clarify what their objectives are and should be before they spend money on field or experiential work.
Carbon Marketing’s client services director, Scott Desborough, says most field marketing campaigns have volume-based objectives while experiential activity tends to be value-based.
“The problem is the experiential world does not yet have a reliable tool to track value aims such as shifts in perceptions,” he says. “Another difficulty is that clients can try to shoehorn their volume and value objectives into the same campaign which can mean neither is met.”
Brand engagement index
That will change if Matt Coles, partner at research company Cardinal – part of HPI Research – gets his way. His company is developing a Brand Engagement Index which lets agencies and clients compare one piece of experiential activity with another.
Of course, one impressive experiential campaign, however sexy and exciting, will not change years of accumulated attitude towards a brand. This means agencies need to manage their clients’ expectations when discussions take place on how best to spend the budget.
Chris Simpson, sales director at Reach, says agencies need to be nearer to the heart of the decision-making process. “We can stop a client from spending its budget on something experiential when traditional field marketing would do more to meet the specific campaign objectives,” he says.
One challenge clients do face, and which has been identified by Simpson, is how to improve distribution within the convenience store sector.
Harking back to days of old is never a healthy pastime in business. Field marketers who want to persuade clients to invest more in their services should instead look at how best to combine innovative experiential ideas with the traditional techniques that have served brands well for years.