Experiential: Emerging specialization

Sampling to consumers used to be just one of many activities handled by field marketers, alongside merchandising and auditing in stores. However, in recent years, it has morphed into ‘experiential’, an emerging specialization in its own right.

This trend has gained so much momentum that some industry commentators are asking whether there is now a disproportionate emphasis on experiential at the expense of other services. Some suppliers on the traditional side of the industry are concerned that colorful brand experiences are stealing all the glory, while what they do is seen as a bit dull.

It’s much easier for the media to write about quirky brand-building exercises than about the increased product availability you get from remedying stock-control issues. The bias is understandable but it gives experiential specialists a clear advantage when competing for business. Field-marketing agencies need to talk up the positive impact that effective merchandising and auditing can have on bottom-line profits.

Few other marketing activities can boast the same kind of return on investment (ROI), and this should surely be a hot talking point. Increasing commoditisation is driving prices down and putting the squeeze on field-marketing agencies. But this trend is also beginning to affect experiential specialists, and does not necessarily imply any lack of awareness of the benefits of traditional services.

Plenty of companies prefer to spend their budget on store visits rather than face to face consumer campaigns. This is the top priority for computer-accessories supplier Logitech.

Teams provided by Gekko, another field-marketing agency, regularly call on retailers such as PC World, WH Smith and Comet to check that individual stores are complying with negotiated stock and display agreements. It’s so important to find out what is happening out there, and if you don’t make visits you just don’t know. The field marketers also talk to retail staff to get them behind the brand, offering incentives such as the chance to win products.

The rationale for stock merchandising is equally clear. A recent survey by Point of Purchase Advertising International showed that in stores where a product is not available, more than 30% of consumers will walk out in search of their preferred brand. The moment of truth is buying the product on the shelf, and a brand’s marketing and promotion activity must include that final 50 yards.

The clear ROI that traditional activity can offer means, suppliers have no need to worry about being overshadowed by experiential. The potential problem for clients is telling traditional suppliers apart. clear differentiation in the industry, with some agencies catering for specific markets such as technology companies, while others specialize in certain types of work, such as tactical projects. There are many clients who deliberately use more than one provider, selecting those best suited to deliver their needs in different areas.

Agencies can develop techniques to get ahead of competition. Nick Fennell, MD of consultancy Archway Management, points to the growing use of daily EPoS data, which can be analysed to target problem stores instead of routinely calling on all of them. “That is starting to bite, and is of huge benefit to the manufacturer,” he says. “It’s a saviour for the industry, as it can really show its worth in fixing problems quickly.” Kimberly-Clark revealed recently that its Andrex lines are out of stock in 20% of stores after 4pm, which has a serious impact on sales.

“It’s only when you look at the EPoS feedback that you recognise that,” says Fennell. Activities such as merchandising and auditing may indeed seem dull and anonymous when compared with exciting consumer experiences. But this perception is misleading, and in many cases regular store visits could be just as crucial to a brand’s long-term health as experiential campaigns.