If it’s true that there’s no such thing as getting something for nothing, then sales promotion definitely tries to disguise that fact. The obvious lure to the customer is that while they are buying a product they may gain in other respects. Be it the chance to win a car or even a simple ‘buy one get one free’ offer (unfortunately not, in most instances, when it comes to buying a car), the trick is that the customer should always believe that they have ‘won a watch’, so to speak.
“Sales promotion isn’t about giving something for nothing” says Joe McAspurn, managing director of Ignition. “It’s about providing an added value reward for customer action; incentivising customers to provide more information about themselves, or to try, buy or recommend your product. A sales promotion that uses an offer and mechanic that is appropriate to your brand proposition, as well as relevant and desirable to the target audience, should represent good value as it will help persuade more customers to give you what you want from them, whether that’s data-gathering or product sales.”
Ward Mulvey, managing director of Edinburgh-based BOB Marketing agrees. “It is an accountable part of the marketing mix,” he says. “It is very measurable. There are a lot of parallels with direct marketing at a level of accountability. It’s very easy to tell in sales promotion whether it has worked or not in terms of what effect it has on sales, so the accountability is something which is attractive to clients.
“And more and more of the promotional marketing agenda is driving above-the-line strategies and how they’re executed.”
Moyra Harvey, director of Jump Marketing, explains another reason why clients may turn to this marketing device in a bid to draw attention to itself and increase return; “Sales promotion acts to influence people’s behaviour, whether this is getting them to try something for the first time; changing their perceptions of a brand or ensuring they buy your product rather than a competitors. All these factors remain valid reasons why clients run SP activity. What has changed is clients no longer run promotions just for the sake of it – like every other sector of marketing, sales promotion needs to be able to justify what value is being added and the return clients are getting for their investment.”
However, while marketing budgets may be tightening, sales promotion may seem to ask clients to invest extra in their marketing campaign.
Julian Woolley, head of business development at Kommando, disagrees. “Looking at our client spend I would say that budgets have not been tightened, in fact, there has been a drift towards sales promotion marketing and if anything we are finding ourselves capturing budgets that previously were allocated to other disciplines,” he says. “The days of this being seen as ‘giving away something for nothing’ are over. With the right creative execution, marketers now recognise that consumer engagement provides them with huge benefits such as genuine accountability and a measurable R.O.I.”
Steven Pearson, BD-Network’s strategic and operations director, believes that sales promotion is a strategy that needs researched heavily before work on a campaign begins in order to minimise the risk of failure with a promotion.
“The work that we drive is basically insight led. It’s driven by consumer insights, brand administration and category insights, therefore by the time you actually get to having a proposition paper to put in front of a client, you’ve got to have a degree of confidence that you’re on the right track in terms of having created a relevant offer. Then, with the sole machinations that they have to go through to actually get an idea through a client’s business, it will eventually become a lot more rounded and also better thought through and propositioned. At the end of the day, there are a number of audiences that it has got to get through and, therefore, they’ve all got to be really comfortable with it.”
Mark Fowlestone believes that sales promotion, in order to be truly successful, should act in conjunction with other areas of the marketing mix and that agencies should lead an integrated approach in attracting clients. “The promotional marketing agency landscape has changed enormously over the past five or six years as the traditional sales promotion agency template has dissolved,” he says. “As media landscapes dissipate, if you look at the current situation with SMG, and channels to consumers explode, we need an expansive approach to targeting and motivating consumers. The reality is those agencies that offer a broad range of channel and media skills will prosper.
“Skills, speed, innovation and application are the answer. Agencies have to adopt this approach if they want to challenge the heart of a client’s business. There’s always room for specialists, but agencies that are able to offer a holistic approach to solving brand issues are in prime position.”
“Integration is the name of the game,” agrees Harvey. “Sales promotion does not stand alone, but should be incorporated into PR and on and off-line advertising. What’s the point in running an offer if nobody knows about it? It often forms part of an activity, combined with experiential or event led campaigns, which deliver a holistic brand experience.”
As to how marketing promotion has developed in recent times, especially in utilising the development of interactive and personal technology such as mobile phones and the internet, Mulvey feels that integration is all the more necessary as a result. “It’s become much more of a generalist discipline, it’s still got the same accountability and requirement to influence the consumer at the point of purchase but, over time, it has grown into one of the key driving parts of the marketing mix, it can actually drive other parts of the pie, and that can include PR, digital, above-the-line advertising and new technology,” he says. “We have run SMS promotions, where you send a bar code to the phone so you can do away with all the usual paper work and vouchering that you used to have to go through in the 80s and 90s and because of that technology you can learn very quickly about your consumer much more than you used to be able to do.”
“We’ve noticed experiential and digital have grown at the expense of sales promotion but consumers interact with brands through whichever channels are most convenient for them,” says John McLaren, group account director of Arc Worldwide. “However, it is the value exchange between brand and consumer that is critical - the channel through which that exchange is made is almost irrelevant.”
Pearson believes that the diversity in the use of technology with sales promotion depends on an age gap in the consumer marketplace. “I think it splits into two camps. You’ve got those brands who probably have a younger consumer focus, and other brands who probably have a more traditional outlook on it and probably still have a degree of retinance in terms of picking that side of things up. But the great thing from a consumer and a brand point of view that SMS has done, is in creating an immediacy of benefit to the consumer. You don’t have to send away ring pulls or do anything like that and that is a real nirvana-esque situation.”