Let’s face it, consumers do not search Google for products they are not aware of and the brilliant package would not attract their attention unless they happen to look for something located on the same shelf. Publishing effective “viral” messaging is more like a winning lottery than a sound business practice. The only people who would disagree with that statement are advertising agencies specializing in “viral” marketing. That explains the popularity of Influencer marketing, which could convince a large number of followers to try a new product.
Finding the right Influencer for your product’s target demographics can be tricky. If you get one with a wide audience, it gets to be quite expensive which translates quickly into a high cost of customer acquisition (CAC). Both complexity and cost are largely prohibitive for a fledgling startup or even a new product of a large and established brand.
Fortunately, there is a more practical method of experiential marketing available to the brands that are selling their products in traditional retail stores where they can economically deploy a team of influencers who are not flashy and expensive Tik-Tok or Youtube “stars”, but regular people who happen to be at the store while you are shopping there. They do not have millions of followers, but their influence leads to direct sales of your product, a lot of your brand awareness, and valuable direct customer feedback of their experience with your product.
These influencers are commonly known as Brand Ambassadors, their services are very affordable and can generate explosive growth of your brand via store samplings and demos of products. This method of creating a customer experience with your products is often the most effective part of retail marketing, but it is not without its challenges.
The shelves of the retail stores are overflowing with a number of products that try to compete with package design, clever messaging, and discounted prices. No amount of investment in retail marketing can make a lasting impression of an inferior product, but a great experience of a good quality product can convert many shoppers into lasting and loyal customers.
There are multiple sources of Brand Ambassadors commonly available to the retail marketing brand builders:
The quality brand ambassador will
When you directly recruit, train, and manage your in-store influencers you are in complete control of your team quality. Whether they are employees or contractors is not a critical distinction. Many CPG entrepreneurs do store samplings or demos of products themself at first, but find it difficult to delegate. It takes time and effort to learn to do it right, but the paybacks are spectacular.
Sometimes it may be easier to form relationships with a shopper marketing agency or demo company that has a quality team and infrastructure to manage this aspect of retail marketing for your brand. The best way to find such a company is to visit stores during popular shopping days and observe brand ambassadors in action, then ask the most impressive ones which demo company they work for.
Another good method is to ask fellow brand builders for a reference. The best demo companies do not advertise much as most of their business come from referrals. They also tend to have relationships with their customers for a very long time. Unfortunately, as you grow you would have to build such relationships with many local companies. While they offer a consistent quality of brand ambassadors, they cannot offer a wide geographic reach.
The agencies known for great coverage are not famous for great team quality or execution. Barely warm bodies, standing in front of unappetizing samples, are a trademark of the minimum wage staffing business model. At best their use is a waste of money. At worst it ruins your brand value.
Demo scheduling is a very fluid process that requires a lot of flexibility from all participants, from Brand and Field Marketing Managers to store personnel, product distributors, to Brand Ambassadors. However, the last link of this chain, the Brand Ambassador, is the least equipped to deal with the demands of flexibility. The byproduct of flexibility is uncertainty. In the case of Brand Ambassadors, it is the uncertainty of being paid for their efforts, while everyone else is paid their hourly salaries. If the changes to dates and times create a conflict with their commitment to other brands they work with, they are the only link in the demo chain who is not getting paid.
Consider the fact that most Brand Ambassadors use a phone, email, Google Calendar, and spreadsheets to manage their business commitments and activities, and you will see a picture of a juggler, desperately trying to keep all the "balls" in the air. It is only a matter of time and gravity before some of these "balls", i.e. demo commitments, come down crashing to the floor and cause the last moment cancellations or "no show".
One of the recurring complaints you would likely hear from Field Marketing Managers and Demo Coordinators is how unreliable the Brand Ambassadors have to deal with. In fact, if you ever experienced scheduling a few demos, you have probably endured a Brand Ambassador's last-moment cancellation or "no show".
I would like to posit that the Brand Ambassadors' perceived lack of reliability is not necessarily caused by their mercurial personalities but by the nature of their business and the unavailability of appropriate time management tools. Consider the fact that most Brand Ambassadors are independent contractors who try to earn their living by selling their personal skills in small time increments. After all, most in-store demos only last 3-4 hours. As such, the Brand Ambassadors need to market their services to Demo Coordinators, Brand Managers, etc. as well as deliver these services in stores and events.
It is impossible to estimate how many hours a Brand Ambassador has to market their services to get a single demo for which she can earn $60-$140. This reality forces them to continuously work with multiple Brands, conflicting times, and constantly changing dates.
There are myriads of project/task/shift and event management services available online today. However, all of them are designed for the owners of these business processes, who are in a position to control steps, tasks, and communications. Not for the last link of the process chain, the Brand Ambassador, who is on the receiving end of all that "flexibility". Besides, many Demo Coordinators do not use such services either because they do not offer enough specific help for the demo management process, and are not a good fit for other demo management tasks.
Use of the right tool for intelligent store sampling scheduling and coordination of ever-changing demo requirements can go a very long way to reduce the frustration and "flakiness" of Brand Ambassadors. Additional benefits include:
- increased productivity of a Demo Coordinator who can manage 400-500 demos per month
- controlled automated communications with all involved parties
- greater availability of Brand Ambassador time to you because the use of such a tool reduces the uncertainty of Brand Ambassadors being paid for their time and efforts
- automated generation of BA invoices, payment statements, and BA tax preparation documentation
- online demo reporting and data collection for subsequent analysis supporting Field Marketing ROI calculations.
“Nineteenth century Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker supposedly said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” Today it is possible to measure the impact of your marketing investment with a lot more precision.
Analysis of data generated from the store sampling event post-sales reports should help you to invest in the right stores on the right days to generate the best ROI on your retail marketing dollar. Creating exceptional customer experience for the wrong demographics or for a very small audience is a very common reason for an executive opinion that in-store demos are very expensive.
Very few field marketing managers measure word-of-mouth marketing ripples generated by the store sampling events, even though they supposedly invest in “brand awareness”. Reasonably well-measurable and verifiable estimates of the impact are absolutely critical for optimizing your future investments. Accountability is the single reason why digital marketing investments dramatically outstrip TV, radio, and print media.
I believe direct experiential marketing, like store sampling, can have much higher ROI if its impact can be measured as well or better than the digital one. The trouble is nobody even tries.