Making sense of the marketing maze

FMCG Magazine, issue 11 volume 13

Why is – and why should it be that – FMCG marketing feels so vague? Everyone thinks the be-all and end-all is the big TV campaign. It takes six months to write, three months to edit, a whole bunch of illustrators, animators, storyboardists and directors’ assistants, a hundred grand in production and a hundred more grand for a slot in Corrie. This elephantine effort would be fine, were it not for one tiny flaw: you know fifty per cent of it works, but you don’t know which fifty per cent. The elephant in the room is accountability, and in today’s climate marketers must, must be accountable, as must their marketing.

We’ve come out of a recession, and are wobbling around the edge of a second iteration. Consumer confidence is low, partly driven by what people see in the financial sections of the TV news and partly driven by the doom mongers in the red tops. Businesses like yours aren’t bonkers so there is close scrutiny of every budget from procurement to overheads to manufacturing to marketing. The days of the “Let’s do TV, it works for the big brands” being sufficient justification for the board are over.

There is a second driver at work here: FMCG brands don’t sell to consumers, you sell to intermediaries – Nisa, Bookers, Asda, Tesco. You might argue that they should be doing your marketing for you (in fact, perhaps you should argue; if you spent your TV budget on selling more lines into Tesco they would have a vested interest in pushing your products hard, and yet we have devised ourselves an effective if expensive pull-oriented strategy, presumably because such tactics are too much like hard work). Yet we compete for shelf-space, PoS, the (very) occasional appearance in a promotion or an ad. FMCG brands focus their marketing towards the end consumer, essentially cutting out the middle man and appealing for share of basket. Works beautifully for the supermarkets.

So, two drivers: bypassing the supermarkets to get straight to influencing the consumer, and a terrible lack of clarity about whether this consumer focus can become more focused. Oh, and a third factor: the supermarkets sneakily deciding to launch their own brands (as distinct from own-brand) competing directly with yours. Anyone would think you were in trouble.

Over the past sixteen years – in fact ever since the Snickers® MegaBite online community was created for the brand’s Euro96 sponsorship – digital has become a valid and very useful channel for reaching and engaging consumers. Multi-brand FMCG companies have created websites, communities, games, multimedia, email and mobile campaigns very successfully, if success is measured in awards, media exposure and word of mouth. Over the past ten years, online channels have become properly measurable. The rise of analytics, and analytics specialists, has allowed marketers to track users’ online behaviour in great detail. Marketers are familiar with terms like UX (User Experience), IA (Information Architecture) and User Journeys (a term we appropriated from the supermarkets as it happens). We can drive people to websites, deliver appropriate experiences that support the brand architecture (brand onion, pyramid, pretzel… your ad agency will have its own version), and increase dwell time (the amount of time a consumer spends wandering around, through engagement or confusion, your website).

Digital can track absolutely everything. So it’s slightly surprising that most FMCG brands have not, because they believe they cannot, tracked the value they get from it. In the days when nobody knows which fifty per cent of the advertising works, you would think that having such an auditable medium would be a lifeline.

Digital means a consumer’s activity can be tracked all the way through to a sale. For example, if you sell a tin of beans on your website, we can track a visitor from before they get to the site (their first click on a Google Adword or a banner) through the site, around the site, to the basket and to a successfully concluded sale. We can attribute sales value to visits, which in turn means we can optimise campaigns, spend more on the sources which produce the highest sales, and generally be pleased that you know which fifty per cent is which. We can distinguish good from bad and make commercial decisions based on evidence. And evidence-based marketing is what your board wants.

FMCG doesn’t trust digital in the same way. It’s why, for example, most brand campaigns have a limited shelf-life online, and why websites get replaced with alarming frequency. You’re marketing to the end consumer, but you’re selling indirectly. This perception is common among FMCG marketers: indirect means indistinct. Decision making is therefore down to gut instinct – and how many awards the campaign wins. For me, that makes online marketing for FMCG brands a hopeless case. I want to know how to attribute value, no matter how indirect the sale is.

So let’s discuss a method which means that indirect doesn’t necessarily make it quite so hopeless. We’ve used it over the last four years for McCain Foods.

We started with a database of customers, acquired from a number of sources: bought lists, competition entries, newsletter opt-ins; in fact anywhere we could find data. We cleaned it up, got rid of the stale, unidentifiable, lapsed and suspect data, and created a robust base of legally opted-in people. We put together an email programme. This was pretty simple, consisting of product descriptions, recipe ideas, offers and simple calls to action. This gave us a backbone we could measure, and measure we did.

You will be familiar with the normal email marketing metrics: Open Rates, Click Through Rates and dwell time. We benchmarked the programme, making sure we had some consistency to start off with, so we could run some experiments. The first experiment: when should we send these emails? We sent the same email every couple of hours to a different section of the database to establish which time of day got the best open rates. At this best time of day we sent an email every day of the week to see which day of the week got the best open rates. Inside eight days we had the optimum send time.

The second experiment involved benchmarking against the real world. The assumption was that anyone in the database would be more engaged with the McCain brand than the general population (for obvious reasons: these people have opted in to regular emails, and they are getting regular brand exposure). What we wanted to do was to see if we could affect behaviour over time. Working alongside the brand tracking studies already being performed by Hall & Partners, Underwired created a comparable set of questions to mirror the study, in effect asking the same questions of the database so we could compare database versus general population at start, then after six months.

The results at the start were entirely predictable: 61% of people in the base loved the brand versus 20% in the general population. By the end, after the email marketing programme had been in action for six months, that score had risen to 64%, and in fact the gap had widened to 11%. The programme was clearly driving changes in perceptions of the brand, against a general fall in the advertising-only scores. But still, indirect and indistinct. How do we change this?

The next step for the campaign was to find a value benchmark. This consisted of two distinct phases: first find the comparison data, and second find a way to accurately measure any changes wrought by the digital activity. By using email only, the customer journey was kept very simple, and there was a built-in mechanism for running surveys so we could establish consumers’ shopping behaviour.

First we sourced a chunk of useful data. This came by way of Dunnhumby providing real-world shopper behaviour from Tesco customers; we sought out product choice, average purchase value and purchase frequency.

We continued this stage of the journey into attribution by refining the segmentation of the McCain database. The segmentation was fairly simple: brand engagers, brand resistors, category resistors, neutrals. This was also split demographically. The segmentation was tweaked to exactly match the Tesco shopper profiles so we could accurately compare one with the other.

So what have we found? We have discovered that when we put a person into the eCRM programme, in the first six months their purchase frequency goes up by 3%. Knowing what we know about average purchase value (in £s) and frequency for each segment, we can therefore easily find out not only how much the change is worth within the base, but also how much we should invest in acquiring more people into the database in order to drive ever-increasing incremental profit.

So what does this mean? Well, for one it means we know precisely which segments are worth investing in, how much to invest, and what the sales volumes we drive will be. This makes TV seem vague indeed – we do, now, know how to attribute value even when we’re marketing directly yet selling indirectly. We can justify every penny of the digital marketing budget (or at least that portion that’s spent on auditable campaigns) and, in a recession or in a post-recession world, that means we can be certain that what is being done is being done right.