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What’s Instore for field marketing during the second half of 2021?

Posted 8 Thu Jul

As we venture into the second half of 2021, the point where plans for that ‘golden’ period of sales for retailers and convenience stores are in full flow, we sat down with Mike Frost, Managing Director here at Instore to talk about field marketing trends and what’s in store for brands over the next 6 months and beyond.

Read on to get his expert advice and insight into Field Marketing for 2021 and beyond.

Over the next few months or years, where do you think brands should be prioritising their growth and why?

I think that’s a million-dollar question, and if I knew that, I’d be a very rich man! It’s a real difficult one. What’s key is COVID, it’s taught us an awful lot of lessons and I think people will need to look at those areas that they’ve focused on through COVID. The areas that have given them the best return, for example, the markets which have managed through the COVID situation. This will be key for brands because then you absolutely know where your bread and butter is going to be. That should be the focus for brands.

We’ve seen people’s shopping habits change quite significantly. It’s gone online, so, I can see brands will spend an awful lot of time really driving that forward, it was already a growing area, but even more so now. I can see interaction with social media growing at a huge pace too

It does leave the retail sector, the actual physical shop locations in a difficult situation, but there are still opportunities for brands, it’s all about them analysing where their best investment is.

How do you see the field marketing need evolving over the next few months/years and how are Instore placed to support this for their customers?

Another interesting question, because we’re experiencing such a period of change. I think the retail environment itself and the physical store locations need to change. We’d already seen before COVID that retail environments needed to be more energised. They needed more participation with brands and entertainment sectors to allow them to be more of a ‘destination’. Even more so now, almost post-COVID, we’ll see something different again. We can get the basic items that we want online and it’s delivered to your door the next day. So, for physical retail locations, there has got to be a reason for consumers to shop in store. Something exciting, a different experience.

Where field marketing comes in, it is going to be our challenge to create something new, something exciting. What will be needed is a different type of resource and I think this is what is going to make the change happen. With field marketing, we’ll see lots of interesting things happen in retail stores, but a trend that will really drive this change is the pop-up theme. This will make locations change completely. Yes, the stores will still sell the regular items, but all of a sudden, I think there’ll be a dual location and a pop-up. Pop-up restaurants are already out there, but I think we’ll see them pop up in different locations. It’ll get quite fun and very creative.

What are the real challenges for brands in launch and activation at a store level given your previous retail experience and experience with Instore and how can Instore help overcome these challenges and add additional value for customers both internal and external?

This is not a new thing. Year on year businesses owners are driven to drive costs out of their businesses. Retail is no exception. We see the number of staff being reduced in these locations, and that will continue. As you reduce those heads down, that’s when support from partners and merchandising companies are needed to support that location.

It will be more of the same, but it will be more intensive to drive costs down because of the recent COVID situation. For businesses like Instore, this is where I think you’ll drive partnerships. We’ll need to take more responsibility for that location, that retailer or supplier, and to do that added bit extra for them to be their eyes and ears all the time.

This is part of Instore and who we are, we like to have partnerships and work together. We like to understand people’s challenges and to give the best outcomes. We really don’t like just doing a job or a task that somebody has set us – we’d much rather say, let us know the wider picture and then we can support you and develop really exciting field marketing campaigns.

Over the next few months, we’ll definitely see challenges within the retail space. We’ll see a number of retailers disappearing. Just the other day we saw GAP announce the removal of 81 stores. It’s going to be a tough environment. As the people reduce, the tasks don’t go away and that’s where we can come in and make sure that we’re making the most of our merchandising visits and field marketing and sales support.

What retail merchandising trends do you think there will be in the next 6 months?

Experiential has always been key and is an area that has been growing. It’ll be growing even more so now and moving forward at a pace. I think the retail environment needs to change. It needs to become more exciting, and therefore that will demand retailers and brands to be more creative. That’s where the experiential aspect will come in and I think it’ll really push brands. I’ve seen this many times when you go into a financial dip and you’re under cost pressures or sales pressures; once you start coming out of that, you’ve got to be bold. You’ve got to advertise. You’ve got to really take that leap of faith and those brands that do that and really get behind it will drive their business forward

When people start promoting and using field marketing companies, that’s where we’ll be in to support. It will be a very challenging, but very cautious time for people. There is definitely a movement of people wanting to get back out there and do stuff, but we’re a little bit cautious at the moment. Rather than longer term agreements, there’s a lot of short-term stuff and a lot of trials that are going on. The model of proof of concept is another area that we’ll see more of.

So let’s test it, trial it, adapt it, and then roll it out.

How does your team prepare for Christmas field marketing campaigns?

Very much like any other field marketing campaign, we’re pretty robust with what we do with any activity. It’s in our makeup to go end to end, to make sure we’ve covered all the necessary tasks and crossed everything off.

It’s important for us to understand what the key objective of the field marketing campaign is and to start planning it as early as possible. There’s obviously a big requirement for additional resources during the festive period. So again, as soon as we can start planning that in the better, the team that we’ve got, are all fully contracted merchandisers which makes a big difference. Our interaction with this team is done on a daily basis, and as soon as we start to see what sort of activities are planned, we like to engage the team and brief them straight away.

The process is to understand what the activity is and understand the resource that is needed. We then start building that campaign to make sure we can deliver, and at this stage, we put the contingencies in place. That’s also something that I’ve seen through COVID. People are becoming more aware of what are the contingencies? What if this happens again? How can Instore support us? And we’ve had to be creative in our support and do a lot of things differently, but we’re much more robust now, we know we can turn on different elements of the business to support retailers and brands. So even if there is a lockdown, we can still get the answers.

Just back to Christmas, it’s very much planning and organising which is key to the success of campaigns. All I’d say to brands is, get those requirements in fast because there’s a limited amount of time that we’ve got left to start planning these and getting that resourcing organised. We want to ensure that we deliver the field marketing campaigns as best as we possibly can.

What has been your favourite field marketing campaign to work on and why?

I can’t give any names away! I’ll be very general… I have favourite campaigns for different reasons.

Obviously, the favourite ones are always going to be the ones we’ve delivered to a client above their expectation because that’s a massive win, but that doesn’t happen overnight. We are very much planning every step of the way. Whether it’s a small activity or whether it’s a large activity, it still goes through the same set of planning stages. We have a separate team for any requests that come in goes through, the requests go through to the planning team and they gather everything that we need to know. Then we roll out the campaign. Throughout the process we have a task plan, this checks the campaign from start to finish to make sure everything is delivered in-store perfectly.

When we have something that goes really, really well, of course, it’s going to be a favourite, but on the other hand, I like the ones that really challenge you, challenge you personally, and challenge the team, they are also a favourite. I love nothing more than trying to find a different solution and being quite creative with that solution. They might be more difficult, but from that aspect, it’s the challenge that I enjoy.

How does your team generate ideas for field marketing campaigns?

A lot of the time it is the client who has the initial thought and task, and they’ve got a good understanding of what they want to do and then what we do is to take that to the next level. We say, okay, what do you want this for? Who is your audience? We really try to understand the concept and then we’ll able to say, well, our experience of ‘said’, means we’d recommend going in this direction, this get these results and you’d get better value.

So, the creative ideas, I’d say are definitely with the brands and the suppliers. What we do is take our experience and overlay it over the top and hopefully really drive the client value

Who’s your dream client to complete field marketing for?

A dream client. That’s a really good one.

I love the ones that come to you and have everything all ready to go, they’re really clear on the brief. Obviously, there’s a lot of supporting information we require, and if somebody has that to hand, it just makes our life a lot easier! It makes the planning process much easier, and we can get the campaign ready and brief everybody we need to

In reality, that doesn’t happen all of the time. So, I think the key is engagement. If you have a client that hasn’t got all of that ready but are willing to engage with you, that for me is really key because as long as we can work with somebody, and maybe put our slant on things, not for our own means, but to drive value for them, that for me works really, really well.

When I look at the Instore business, that’s what we’ve done over time. We’ve been really successful in that our clients keep coming back to us. They love the way we work and that’s really important and it is what has allowed us to branch into different areas.

We started as a field merchandising company, focused very much on news and magazines. That was our heritage, being part of Smith News. What we’ve ended up being, is actually working across every category within the retail environment. We can hold our own within those areas, and also then move into different categories. We’ve moved into field sales, which is direct selling, we’ve got distribution and we’ve got auditing within depots. All different areas, but these have come from our relationships with businesses right from the start. As a result of our way of working with retailers and clients and because of our open approach, they’ve come to us and said, “Would you be any good at doing this?” And we’ve said, yes – we’re more than happy to give things a go. With everything we do with our clients, we try to deliver what they want here and now, but we also ask what else can we do? How can we support you? And if it’s something that’s not on a list, we’re more than willing to have a go.

Do you have any exciting campaigns coming up?

At the moment a lot of campaigns are at a trial stage. It’s what we’ve seen a lot of over the past couple of months, with the restrictions COVID has given everybody. It means we are very engaged with a lot of trial tactical activities

Tactical activities are on the up. We’ve seen a clear drive in that area, but then we’ve seen other brands are willing to take things to trial. We’ve done a number of trials now that has really pushed us into different areas. Field sales is one of these, field sales is a dedicated sales team with a clear focus in a particular retail sector. We’ve seen people going back to the man in the van, which is quite strange, really, in this day and age, but it really works and it works because it’s the engagement with that individual which is key

We’re getting directly to the retailer and they’re going to buy there and then and be able to get that product and put it on the shelf, we can educate the retailer, it’s quite an exciting environment and you see your results instantly. It’s exciting at the moment that we’re seeing this, not only for us but also for the brands.

We’re seeing some challenges with this, because how do you do this as quickly as possible and how do you drive those sales forward for the client? But you know, what we have seen is a number of successful trials. Now we’re at the next stage to see where that will go, will that become more of a contract, which I’m hoping it will! It’s really exciting that people are prepared to trial and experiment with something a little bit different.

Has COVID impacted the field marketing landscape?

Yes – dramatically. I don’t think there are many field marketing companies that weren’t affected, at varying levels. Talking from our own experience, a number of contracts had to change, as new ways of working were needed. Right at the start of COVID, it was all about making sure our team was safe. The colleagues within the business, the colleagues within the retail environments that we were in and also the customers. When you look at a field marketing company and you’ve got a large team that is going into a number of retail outlets during the day, there’s a big risk. We had to immediately make adjustments to keep everyone safe.

The key element was to make sure we reduced that in a way that we could keep people safe, but also come up with different ways of working to make sure that we still delivered to the client’s needs. I’m really pleased actually with our position because other than right at the start with the first lockdown when we did have to pause the business in certain areas, we soon got ourselves sorted and made sure there was a safe environment and changed the way we worked. I was much more comfortable for the people then to continue going out, and the workforce was really great. The colleagues came back and said they felt valued and that we’d done the right thing. That was a real tick in the box for me. I got the support of all my colleagues; they knew that we had their best interests at heart. Obviously, they all knew that we needed to deliver to!

Getting through that period, has been really tough and it’s affected a lot of people, but all it’s done now is make us hungry to actually drive forward and get back to the position we had before.

We were in great discussions with many, many brands, but all of that had to be paused. Now as things are easing and people are getting more confident, those conversations are picking up again. We’ve seen the tactical business drive forward and that’s at a higher level than I expected.

This gives me confidence, and we’re in a much better position. The only trouble is you never know what’s around the corner…

How does field marketing vary between retailers? E.g., convenience stores to large superstores.

They couldn’t be more different really! You may see the same brand, but the journey is significantly different. When you deal with the major multiples, it’s a lot easier, you’ve got dedicated people in the store, you know who you’re going to interact with and you know what’s expected of you. It’s a comfortable environment. The convenience sector is a difficult environment to be in, but what we have got from an Instore point of view is the advantage of being a part of Smith News and delivering to these convenience retailers day in, day out. It gives you a real insight into the challenges you may face.

When we’re dealing with clients who have got a specific need to enter the independent retail market, we’ve got a wealth of information that we can share. It’s not unusual not to find the owner in-store – they’re probably at the cash and carry! It isn’t as easy as just walking in and selling your wares and trying to get some sort of agreement, you really have to work this one through, and we have various models to make sure that we give a good return on investment to clients

It’s a difficult sector, but the opportunities I see in the convenience sector, again, as people’s shopping habits have changed and will continue to change, are massive. As we’ve seen through COVID, you still use the supermarket, but it’s the ‘big shop’ as people say, maybe they visit once a week. Whereas with the convenience sector, people are popping in more

COVID has seen people use their local convenience stores more and more. Therefore, brands want to be part of this and some of the campaigns we’ve done are very much focused on this sector. This is where it comes back to that sort of, one-to-one selling within the environment of the convenience sector. It’s really difficult to get your brand out there and get the retailer to pick up your brand in any other way. You need to put it in front of them. You need to educate them. If you do that, then they’re more likely to make it. We’ve seen real success when you get in front of somebody and sell products this way. They are more likely to say yes, and then it becomes a much more ongoing, repeat purchase for them in-store.

It’s the one avenue that’s definitely open to all brands because you’re dealing with individuals. if it’s right for them, the right price and the right offer, then they will take it.

What an insight into all things Field Marketing for the rest of 2021 and beyond! Thank you, Mike!

We’ve picked up some great tips, so here are our three key takeaways from our chat with Mike…

  1. COVID has accelerated change in shopping habits leaving a difficult landscape for retailers, brands and retailers need to work together to create an in-store ‘experience’ to entice shoppers into physical locations.
  2. The key to the festive ‘golden’ period of sales is preparation, planning and organisation.
  3. To enter the convenience sector, it’s essential to have a strong field sales strategy.

If you’re looking for Field Marketing and Field Sales support in both major multiple retailers and convenience stores, get in touch.

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