Give It a Try: Put Brands in Consumers' Hands (Literally)

Beyond Sampling: Advertrying Gets Target to Experience Product When and Where It's Most Relevant

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One of the greatest challenges facing corporations today is deciding where to invest their marketing dollars at a time when there are more choices than ever. Marketers and their agencies are searching for new ways to profitably persuade consumers to buy. In this quest, some have found the answer lies in the product itself.
Advertrying is reaching 1 million target consumers in a week by placing Tylenol PM on beds in resorts throughout the U.S. with a note that says, 'We know how long you've waited for this vacation, and we know how much you want to catch up on your sleep. Enjoy.'
Advertrying is reaching 1 million target consumers in a week by placing Tylenol PM on beds in resorts throughout the U.S. with a note that says, 'We know how long you've waited for this vacation, and we know how much you want to catch up on your sleep. Enjoy.'

With so many unproven new tools and the re-examination of traditional ones, companies must adopt a philosophy of advertrying, or getting a scalable number of target consumers to experience a product or service in a measurable way that delivers a significant return on investment.

Why is the advertrying era upon us now? When I began my career as an assistant brand manager for one of the leading U.S. consumer-package-goods companies, I was fortunate enough to have a manager who allowed me to attend the so-called agency meetings. Some of my colleagues never set foot in those meetings, as advertising was viewed as something that the senior managers of the business "owned." While I attended, I certainly wasn't expected to talk, so I observed and therefore can clearly articulate what occurred time and time again.

Different situation
The agency would present concepts for the brand team to consider and then, one by one, beginning with the most junior, each person on the brand would provide feedback. Thoughts would be shared, bantered back and forth, and then the boards would be put away -- and replaced with a projector and the inevitable verbal offering of: "Sorry for the eye chart." It was time to talk about media. That was when the senior people on the brand would excuse themselves because they were late for another meeting and we would quickly begin going through the 10-point font (always Verdana) on an Excel spreadsheet that included TV in every daypart imaginable, print and more TV. I never thought $50 million could be spent so quickly.

How times have changed. Today it is not uncommon for me to be part of a meeting where the media discussion gets more time than creative. And the reason is simple: The number of ways in which corporations can invest their marketing dollars has evolved at a far greater pace than the content. This new bevy of choice on the media-investment side is viewed as a potential growth opportunity within organizations and an opportunity to get greater leverage. After all, there is no greater leverage than the marketing investment, as how you deploy it makes all the difference, with returns that could range from 2% to 200%. For the past 50 years, corporations have been trying to obtain this leverage from the creative, with a track record of success and failure to benchmark against. That is not the case on the media-investment side, and corporations must test new ways to deploy those funds at greater rates in order to obtain maximum leverage.

Boards ask their CEOs, CEOs ask their CMOs and CMOs ask their agencies: "With all of these new ways to connect with consumers, should we be investing our marketing dollars differently?"

Media consumption changing
Consider the facts: TV is changing. The function it once served is moving out of the home to personal devices and targeted media networks. Consumers have less and less time for print, and circulation numbers are down. Radio is being supplanted by iPods and satellite radio. Many are predicting that the internet could soon command the highest percentage of media spend. And nontraditional media networks reaching specific consumer groups at specific times are on the rise.

That means marketers increasingly are turning to other tools, including trial -- getting the consumer to experience, touch, feel, taste, smell the product or service. Why?

For one thing, product performance is better -- significantly better. Take a look around. There have been massive improvements in the quality of products and services in every category across the board. The end benefits the products deliver are remarkable. Consumers and retailers are demanding more, and corporations have responded.

Secondly, consumers respond. Nine out of 10 consumers say they would purchase a good or service if they experienced it and were satisfied, according to a February 2007 consumer-package-goods marketer survey from the Product Sampling Council of the Promotion Marketing Association.

Furthermore, six out of 10 said, "If a brand wanted to convince me to buy its product or service, experiencing it first-hand would be the most effective way to get me to purchase," the survey found.

Authentic experiences
Lastly, in today's society, having the ability to touch, taste, feel, talk -- these are truly remarkable or worth remarking about to others. Technology has brought us so much, but it has also robbed us of authentic experiences. Cellphones, BlackBerries, e-mail, virtual tours and the like have isolated us from one another. We crave authentic experiences now more than ever. Advertrying isn't product sampling. Product sampling often will focus on distribution, not trial or experience. That's a significant difference, because it is not uncommon for 60% of product samples to go untried, according to a 2006 white paper from Sampling Effectiveness Advisors. In addition, product sampling is often considered a promotion. Ask yourself: If the definition of promotion is a tactic designed to elicit a short-term spike in sales, can we in any way compare the effectiveness of a product experience with that of a coupon in a newspaper? Is this really a promotion? Many senior marketing leaders have told me they believe the investment they make in getting a consumer to experience a product or service will very likely produce a heavy user with a lifetime value placing among their most valuable customers.

Product sampling is handing out a nighttime analgesic such as Tylenol PM to 200 consumers in a grocery store. Advertrying is when you reach 1 million target consumers in a week with Tylenol PM placed on beds in resorts throughout the U.S. with a note that says, "We know how long you've waited for this vacation, and we know how much you want to catch up on some sleep. Enjoy." It's reaching the consumers at a time of need, when they are most receptive.

Meanwhile, I have asked no fewer than 100 senior marketing leaders to define event marketing, and not one of them gave me the same answer. That's the problem. Event marketing has become a catchall for sponsorship activation, stunts, someone handing out a razor in a crowded bar. In more cases than not, the initiatives are not measurable or scalable. That's why so few are renewed. Event marketing is placing a "brand ambassador" inside a retail store next to your display of appliances to hand out pamphlets to 50 consumers.

In the flesh
Advertrying is enabling millions of consumers to try each of your appliances in a showroom setting, something Maytag has done. They can do a load of wash, bake cookies or even hear a dishwasher run to see if the noise level meets their needs. It's live media -- bringing the unique selling proposition to life.

The reality is that use of the product itself has never been a tool brands' most trusted partners -- advertising and media agencies -- have ever been given. Product or service experience is often incorrectly assigned to the most junior person on the brand, only to have him or her rotate off after 12 months and have another junior manager come onto the business and kill what was done before. After all, we all have to make our mark. I have been in hundreds of meetings with trusted agency partners where the subject of using the product itself comes up, and I routinely hear, "That's not us, but I would love to know more about what the client is doing. Can you help us?" What? You are investing $100 million dollars of their money and developing the words and images that are the product, yet you haven't been given the most powerful tool in the chest -- the product or service itself? It's like going to test-drive a car without the keys.
Brian F. Martin is founder-CEO of Brand Connections, a specialty media and marketing company. He is also the creator and host of Brand Fast Trackers, a weekly marketing podcast that showcases top marketers in North America.
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