Marc Rigby of MRM looks at the relevance of Sales Promotion to today's marketing industry. Image: Lucozade Unstoppable Bottle campaign

How does Promotional Marketing fit into today’s marketing mix?

Marc Rigby of MRM looks at the relevance of Promotional Marketing to today’s marketing industry

Part of my misspent youth was dedicated to undertaking a degree in Marketing. How shiny and new it all felt back then in the 1980s, with brand spend all hovering above and below some imaginary line.

I chose below the line. Cash, holidays and cars. Neck labels, fix-a-forms and scratch panels. Free flights, treasure hunts and soft toy Labradors. Activity so impactful in its imagination and creativity that sometimes it didn’t even need a press release to make the national news.

Fast forward 18 years into the new millennium and the chance to assess where the trends of integration, omnichannel and the like have taken the old trouper that is Promotional Marketing. And no better place to do that than at the 2018 IPM awards, particularly as MRM was a sponsor this year.

But first, some context. To paraphrase Lord Black of Brentwood in his excellent introductory speech at the Awards, “I have never known such a time of change and flux.”

An economy showing marginal growth with Brexit concerns and growing inflationary pressures, dictatorial government legislation and public health concerns.

After a decade of dominant price promotion activity there is evidence of the usurping impact that EDLP pricing is having in the shape of the sales strategies of German retailers Aldi and Lidl.

And look at the fact that retailers such as Asda, Ikea, Next et al chose to step away from the bun fight that is Black Friday. It is low prices not short term price offers that is winning the promotional day.

So, can added value promotions still have a role to play in building the all-too-important brand equity?

Promotional Marketing as a marketing multiplier

What this year’s entrants consistently demonstrated is that their campaigns defined promotion as less about a proven collection of techniques to drive sales and more about the role Promotional Marketing can play when it has the chance to contribute to the marketing multiplier effect that boosts a campaign’s impact and how its customers really begin to engage with it.

What do I mean by that last statement? That campaigns truly reach another level when a great idea is founded in a brand truth and delivered to a consumer as a total brand experience.

Take the immense piece of work that is Lucozade Energy and TBK Group’s ‘Unstoppable Bottle’ – a multi award winner at the 2018 IPM Awards (see the picture above). Product packaging uniquely adapted to the activity. Check. Product sampling. Check. Relevance of activity to brand proposition. Check. Amplification of activity with advertising and social media. Check. Tangible motivating reward. Check. Add the fact that the activation was the first of its kind and it was delivered flawlessly achieving outstanding results, and you have a deserved winner. And, in striking a sensory, emotional, relevant and behavioural chord with the audience, it truly delivered a brand experience.

Clearly, promotional success need not be as reliant on retail presence as it once was. Packaging still remains a primary medium to communicate through, even if the power of the retailer’s own brand limits the opportunities to stand out in store. Getting listings and facings is a hard and often expensive challenge for any underperforming brand. Today’s marketer has a number of channels to drive communication of a promotion. Digital activity can undoubtedly help to build your story and promote the activity to a targeted audience. Hell, it even serves as an ideal place to store your terms and conditions. But it can also very quickly undermine your best efforts if your activity doesn’t pass the scrutiny of your consumers.

Not that this was a problem for another award winner. Nestlé KitKat and ZEAL Creative’s personalised KitKat packs proved how the public’s appetite for personalisation can be integrated into an established brand’s packaging.

So I hope I am not alone in concluding from this year’s crop of winners that, within the armoury of marketers, Promotional Marketing remains a trusted and effective weapon. And whilst the idea at the heart of any marketing campaign should be embedded in the brand proposition, creativity can only truly thrive with the support and expertise of practitioners who understand the importance of planning, insight and how best to manipulate the Promotional tools; not to merely drive sales but also deliver brand experiences that challenge and engage the audiences they seek to reach.

At MRM, we like to think we are defined by our services but measured by our results.  That is a statement that should be a maxim for our whole industry.

Marc Rigby is Managing Director of Multi Resource Marketing Ltd (MRM), a marketing services agency celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer. MRM is a sponsor of the IPM Awards 2018.