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Isilumko Activate Business Partner, Andreas Smit.
Isilumko Activate Business Partner, Andreas Smit.

Will your brand survive the impact of using cheap promoters?


By Andreas Smit - Oct 11th, 14:54

How do you measure cost per contact? If like so many in the marketing game – you compare the cost of a “like” on Facebook with the cost of a promoter directly engaging with a consumer – then let me offer you an alternative view on measuring this cost per contact. I specifically want to review the value of a well-trained, informed promoter who engages your consumer on the ground – at the point of purchase.

If you are a brand or marketing manager, in procurement or in a communications agency, I’m sure you’ve had occasion to ask questions like: “Why are promoters so expensive?” And “How do we lower the cost of activations?” In a contracting economy and a marketing and advertising environment where budgets are under continuous pressure - there’s no doubt about the relevance of these questions. To be fair, I have asked them throughout my career while serving in the role of client. And you may be interested to know that, as a business partner at an activations agency, I still deliberate this now.

Making the Point
All too often in the below-the-line environment and more specifically, the promotional space, companies are either unwilling to pay equitable fees for promoters – and opting for the cheapest available rates – or they attempt to establish their own in-house promotion departments. I have yet to see either of these models work in the long-term. The brand or company might get a short-term return on reduced promotional expenditure… but at what cost?

Assessments must take into account the actual cost of an untrained, unskilled brand promoter engaging with consumers at the point of purchase? More than that – consider the true cost of a negative encounter which the consumer goes on to recount to friends – often ranting about it on social media platforms where they rally support for their complaint. When you do the maths, the “low” cost of the promoter might not be that low after all.

With this as the backdrop to a debate that hinges on the economics of reputation cost, these tips highlight how to make the best use of your promoter agency:

Leaving a Lasting Impression
Treat your promoters and activations like you would treat your TV, radio and print advertising. Leave no stone unturned in the selection and training of the promoters who will engage and build your brand in a trade environments.

You don’t get a more intimate brand experience than when you connect with a brand promoter. In that moment of connection – your brand is personified. It’s no longer a logo or a slogan; it becomes a living, breathing entity with human qualities. If you don’t have a good experience, it will leave a lasting and negative impression – just the same way a rude call centre agent or an unaccommodating sales representative would.

Invest in Training
I strongly recommend taking a focused and mindful approach to training and developing your promoters and for good reason. I ran tests in my previous position which validated the premise that promoters who work consistently on a brand - over an extended period - become better salespeople and stronger brand ambassadors. Promoters who have been through outstanding training programmes, and notched up significant experience in the market through one-on-one engagements with consumers, naturally become more valuable. They are more intuitive about consumer behaviour, feedback, hesitance and what the key selling messages should be in that environment. Just like a new brand manager becomes more knowledgeable and informed about their very own brand over time.

Obviously, there are things to consider. Firstly, as an agency or client, you must commit fully to your promoter programme. This includes appointing the right partner agency, inducting them into your brand and your business, and working with them to develop an optimised training programme for your promoters. Just like you would define an online brand personality, you must define a promoter profile that aligns with your brand. You want consistency across all promoters; from how they engage, look and portray your brand.

This is also an opportunity to settle on some distinguishing characteristics that your promoters must have. Let me explain. A premium beer brand made a decision not to actively pursue their consumers through an active sell. Rather they wanted promoters to be stationed statically – allowing them to only engage consumers who wanted to engage with the brand. The thinking was: “Our brand doesn’t chase consumers, consumers must choose us.” Naturally, the promoters embodied this ethos.

Set Realistic Budgets
I have yet to work with an organisation that states: “We want to recruit and retain the most intelligent, best looking and engaging talent in the country, but we want to pay them as little as possible”. I probably haven’t come across this because it doesn’t make business sense! So why apply this thinking to promoters and brand ambassadors; the very people who are at the coal face supporting and building brands?

Imagine what it would cost to develop, produce, sell in and place 1 000 electronic billboards in an aisle, in a store where you want to promote and sell your product. This billboard doesn’t only push messages, but also receives, understands and responds appropriately securing conversions, sales, and at the very least a brand engagement. That’s essentially what a promoter does.

Pay fairly for what you expect and then make sure you optimise the spend with proper training, induction, KPIs, and feedback.

Get Feedback
Don’t let the potential data and insights go to waste during your promotions and activations. You have brand ambassadors having real conversations with your consumers; thousands of them. Determine up front if there are any insights or specific consumer feedback that you want to test. This could be anything from product feedback, brand perceptions, pricing, or even competitor feedback. It’s important to gather sufficient data to spot trends across channels, consumers, and activation or promotion type.

Promoters Not Robots
In closing, while I am not making excuses for mediocre promoters, as an industry we must recognise that even well-trained promoters have days where they are less efficient and not as faultless as we want them to be. Promoters are employees, just like you – just like me; they are human (believe it or not) which means they have good, bad and in-between days.

The reality is though – with the rise of pop-up promotional agencies that lack proper systems, industry knowledge and don’t offer training – along with companies moving their promotions in-house, the promotions space is fast getting a bad rap. The quality of the promoters being offered by these agencies is sadly lacking and they are unable to act as equity building brand assets; all they really are is coupon generating machines that smile occasionally and create indifferent or even negative brand engagements.


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