Sampling

This is Part One of a two-part post.

The phone rings.  You look at the number and don’t recognize it.  You are desperately trying to finish a presentation your boss wants by tomorrow.  You decide to let the call go to voicemail.  At 5:35 p.m., you finally find time to listen to all 12 messages, but really are ready to go home. 

Message 1 –  “Hi, this is John Brown, and I am calling about a great sponsorship opportunity that will be a great fit for your brand….”  You delete John Brown’s message without even thinking about returning the call.  Why?  The sponsorship was for a women’s tennis tour, and your brand’s target audience is teens.  It’s not a fit.

You take a quick look at your desk’s in-box and all the mail the mailroom has dumped there.  A big white envelope containing information about a concert tour sponsorship is buried on the bottom.  You decide this deserves a deeper look, as it could be interesting given that your target audience and the concert tour audience are the same demographic.  But after a cursory read, it goes into the garbage.  Why?  It’s January, and the concert tour starts in May.  Your budget is done, and this won’t fit into your marketing plans that were completed six months ago. 

To someone making those phone calls or sending the envelope, the above scenarios will seem very discouraging.  The reality is that selling sponsorship and endorsement packages is really hard and the success rate low. 

That said, the callers and senders could make their lives easier and improve their success rate if they would just stop throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping a strand will stick.  I can’t tell you how many times I have deleted those messages and thrown out that envelope.  I probably got at least three a day as a promotion director for a variety of CPG companies with some very well-known brands.  What I learned from talking to friends selling these sponsorships is that they just don’t understand what the brand teams are thinking and how to approach them.  They think that if they keep calling, eventually the brand will talk to them.  All they need to do is make the pitch and voila.  These brand managers might listen if they pick up the phone, but it will be a short conversation if the property isn’t a fit for the product, etc. 

So how can you end this frustrating back-and-forth for both sides? Based on my experiences, I have put together some key strategies for properties to make their sales efforts more productive.  It takes more upfront research, but it increases your chances of being listened to and not ignored.

 It’s All about the Target Audience

Every brand has a target audience, and that includes the brand’s psychographic as well as the demographic.  The key to getting a brand interested is making sure your property and its target audience resonate with the brand’s target.  If it doesn’t, that phone conversation will end before you even have a chance to describe your program.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Unfortunately, too many salespeople tend to cast a very wide net.  They have a list of all these big brands which the property thinks will have the dollars to spend against the sponsorship.  They call the brands, thinking this property is a great fit for the brand because this is just the best property and will get the brand so much in return.  What I wanted to say so often was, “Have you seen our advertising?  Our target is moms with kids, and your property is a monster truck rally!  Do you really think that’s a good fit?”

It’s ok to make a list of target brands, but make sure you do your research about those brands and then call.  Look at their advertising, read their Facebook page, follow their Tweets.  See what promotions they have run in the past and how they connect to their consumers.  Determine if they have invested in sponsorship in the past, and don’t assume that because they sponsored tennis, they will sponsor tennis again.  Are they sampling product and does your property have the vehicles this potential sponsor will want?  You should only contact those brands which truly will be open to a property such as yours.

 Timing is Important

As a general rule of thumb, marketing plans are developed starting eight to 12 months prior to the new fiscal year.  In some cases, especially with a new product launch, that window can go as far back as 18 months.  There are exceptions and sometimes money does become available during the year, but it is unlikely those dollars will go to a sponsorship.  When a property is looking for a sponsor for a program that is just six months away, it is going to be difficult for the brand to activate it.  A strong strategic plan will have integrated components that fit a common idea or theme, and the chances that your property fits into an established theme are slim.  The easy rule is to make sure that what you are selling is something that has at least a 12-month window before activation.  That way, either the property can become part of the big idea OR the property becomes the cornerstone of a larger integrated plan.  Also, these decisions are ones that companies take their time making and you generally can’t expect to get quick sign-ons.  It just doesn’t work that way.

 It Rarely is a Single Sport Platform

When I worked on a suncare brand, we sponsored beach volleyball, which was a great fit for the brand at the time.  However, every property having to do with beach volleyball or another beach sport (beach tennis, anyone?) started contacting us.  The pitch was the same – “We see you are sponsoring beach volleyball, and we have this volleyball tournament …”  The reality was that we sponsored that specific tour for specific reasons and our overall platform was not beach sports or beach volleyball.  The sponsorship was a means of promoting the efficacy of our brand, and it did not mean we were committed to volleyball or any other beach sport.  If you look at brands that have large sports or entertainment sponsorship sponsorships (i.e., Amex, Bank of America, Nike), they usually have a broad platform because they are looking for ways to reach their target audience and one sport won’t reach everybody.  The exception to that rule is a product designed specifically for one sport.  While your property may be the perfect brand fit, you will also be competing with all the other properties in that sport.  Alternately, a brand will sponsor one big tournament (US Open Tennis) or concert tour (Lady Gaga) because it is nationally reaching and part of an integrated program.   

 Local vs. National

Many companies have a different attitude toward local and charitable sponsorships in the community in which they have their headquarters or production facilities as opposed to big national sponsorships.  Cost comparisons aside, companies like to give back to their local communities, whether financially or through the donation of time.  If you are a local event without national reach, then focus on the companies nearest to you.  I live in the same town as a national tea company.  They are always sponsoring charity and local sporting events, but never a national program.  For them, it is about giving back to their local community.  I have also seen companies participate in the local Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, but not participate at the national level.  Again, take a look at what the company has done in the past to get a sense if they will even be open to your property.

It Has To Be More than Impressions and Media

Once upon a time, it was all about media impressions.  Not anymore.  In fact, I would argue there are more important considerations for a company, even though a company participating would see overall reach as very important.  In evaluating a property, how much media supports it is less important to me than how I can leverage the property with my retail partners, how can it help me get product samples in the hands of consumers and how many of those going to the event are in my target audience.  Many brands use sponsorships to get products in the hands of their consumers and will evaluate success based on the number of specific touchpoints the consumer has with the brand.  So, does your property have sampling opportunities, is there a place for an interactive booth or vehicle and how will the consumer experience the brand other than seeing the logo?  Don’t get me wrong, seeing the logo everywhere is great, but it is about connecting the experience and the brand to the consumer.  Additionally, is there any way to conduct market research to help determine success?  Can I link to a website? Can I develop an integrated program to support it? How much access will I have to performers or participants to visit retailers?  All of this becomes important as I evaluate ROI.  Media impressions are only part of that ROI equation, since it is hard to equate impressions to sales. 

In Part Two I will address some specifics in the presentation itself and some direction in approaching the potential sponsor.

If you are a property looking for some help or guidance on how to develop effective sponsorship packages or a company needing help evaluating properties, please contact me at szweibaum@marketing-smith.com.

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“Would You Like to Try One?”

by Susan Zweibaum on May 12, 2011

Keys to Developing a Successful Sampling Campaign

Sampling is an important tactic within marketing and there are a variety of sampling types and vehicles you can use to distribute your product to a target audience.  Additionally, there are many times within a product’s lifecycle that you may want to sample, including a new product launch, trial to a new or expanded target audience, as a sales incentive with a retailer, to name just a few.  However, sampling programs are a not one-size-fits-all proposition and each brand team should approach their plan through a customized lens that looks at who is your target, where do you find them, how big is your budget and how are you measuring success?  Sampling also should be approached as an integrated effort and not just a standalone tactic.  It works best when supported by a larger marketing communications plan.

I have developed many sampling programs throughout my career.  They have ranged from the very small (1000 units) to the very large (14 million units) and in each case I examined the key components I am outlining for you below.   I would like to tell you that there is a magic formula for successful sampling, but there really isn’t.  Different sampling vehicles have unique response rates and each target demographic responds differently to each sampling method as well as your individual product.  Sampling won’t help if the product doesn’t connect with your target audience.   If you develop a sampling plan methodically and take into account these considerations you will be more likely to be successful.

1)       Make sure sampling is the right vehicle for your product:  Not every product should be sampled or can be sampled effectively given the size of your budget.  Establish strong objectives and goals for the sampling program and make sure that sampling will help you achieve those goals.  For instance, your product must be refrigerated but you don’t want to sample at retail and you want to reach 250,000 18-24 year olds with a budget of only $150,000. Sampling may not be feasible in this case, and you may want to change your parameters or your goals.

2)      Be Targeted:  Sampling will be totally ineffective if your sample doesn’t hit your target audience effectively and efficiently.  For instance, you don’t want to sample at Spring Break if your target audience is 45 to 54 year-old women.  The more targeted the sampling the higher chance of converting that sample to trial and ultimately to purchase.  That doesn’t mean that all your sampling should be direct mail, but you want to ensure that the greatest number of samples are reaching your target without duplication.

3)      Test-and-Learn:  What seems like a good way to sample may turn out to be the absolute worst, either due to the delivery method, the fulfillment agency or the venue.  On the other hand, what seemed like a slightly odd venue may turn out to be the most productive in terms of trial.  When possible, test smaller programs to determine if they are delivering the ROI you need and they are meeting the objectives of the total program.  Once you’ve determined which programs are going to be successful, build these into your larger plan.  Sampling is often part of the long-term strategy and something that a brand does every year.  In these cases, test-and-learns offer the most effective means of developing a truly efficient and successful sampling plan with programs that work well for the brand.  For others, sampling is just part of a new product launch and seen as a short-term hit.  If that is the case, then test-and-learns are tougher, but still can be considered as part of the in-market test phase of the product launch.

4)      Include as part of an integrated plan:  Sampling in and of itself will not necessarily drive sales.  Sampling should be part of a broader plan that drives awareness and trial.  Just because a person has tried a product and liked it doesn’t mean that they will automatically go and buy it.  In-store offers, online advertising and outreach, advertising and other media vehicles will continue to drive awareness and remind that consumer of the product they sampled.  In some cases, they will receive the sample but not try it until they are reminded by the other messages around them.  Include different sample delivery methods that coordinate with your integrated plan to broaden your reach and provide an ability to determine the best vehicle that drives trial and purchase by your target audience.

5)      Look for Value-Added Programs:  Often sampling is part of a larger sponsorship or media partnership.  These sampling opportunities may be tougher to see a positive ROI, but they often bring a more intrinsic connection to your brand’s psychographic as well as increased opportunities for expanded media.

6)      Provide a sales incentive to trial:  Even when someone has tried a sample and liked it, they often need some help putting it in their kitchen cabinet.  A financial incentive such as a coupon will bridge any hesitation the consumer has in a first-time purchase.  Furthermore, if you are conducting a sampling program as part of a customer marketing initiative or a retailer direct mail program, the retailer is more likely to support the program if there is an incentive sending that consumer into the store to purchase.

7)      Research and Measurement:  Use market research for as many sampling programs as possible in order to determine actual ROI.  Use outside, third-party test methods and do not rely on the sampling agency results or standardized questions.  You want to develop research questions that are appropriate to your brand and brand objectives.  You want to achieve a positive ROI based on purchase intent and actual incremental purchase, and the only way to determine that is through research.  When used in conjunction with test-and-learn scenarios, you will begin to develop a sampling plan that will drive incremental sales.  Additionally, use a consistent measurement methodology across each program so that you ensure an apples-to-apples comparison.

8)      Evaluate and Adjust:  Go back at the end of the year and evaluate all of your sampling vehicles both separately and as a whole.  Determine your overall program ROI and evaluate if each vehicle and the total plan is delivering against objectives.  If your sampling initiatives occur year over year, adjust your plan based on the evaluations of objectives and ROI.

So, how you may ask does this translate to the real world?  Here is an example.

A brand team was given the challenge of delivering 8 million samples for a product launch, but they were told to keep the delivery cost to an average of $.12.  The only way the agency putting the plan together could deliver that was to utilize commodity sampling, meaning that they throw them out there broadly the cheapest way possible with limited ability to ensure the target was getting the product with no duplication.  The actual ROI was around $.20 when what they wanted was much closer to $1.00.  There was limited market research so they had no way of determining if the sampling worked.  One year post launch they were still sampling this way and there was little additional promotional activity to connect the sample to the overall brand message.  A lot of money spent with little to show for it.

As year two and three plans were executed the sampling plan evolved and the team moved away from commodity sampling to a more integrated approach.  They looked for vehicles that provided added value through additional media, sponsorships and coupons.  They moved to more targeted vehicles such as direct mail and retailer sponsored programs that while more expensive deliver the product directly into the hands of the target and offer more of an incentive to purchase.  They added market research to every program and began to eliminate vehicles which were not working for them.  By the end of the third year the overall ROI was around $1.00 and they upped the number of samples to 14 million.

I have determined through working with many different products that developing a successful  integrated sampling plan is a little bit art and a little bit science.  You need to fully understand your target audience and their motivations – demographics and psychographics, but you also need to look at the program financials, ROI and market research results.  You also need to do your research.  There are so many different ways to get a product into the hands of your target consumer and you need to search a little to find ones that will fulfill your product goals.  I discover new vehicles every day that can get a product out there in ways I never have thought of.  Just do some web surfing and listen to the vendors that call.

In a future post I will provide some examples of good sampling programs that have taken these concepts into account.

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