The Display Police

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

What point-of-purchase efforts need is some form of institional Viagra, says Joe Casper, spokesman for the Washington, DC-based Point of Purchase Advertising Institute. Getting displays up, he holds, is the current biggest problem facing marketers in the marketplace.

“Stores are inundated by P-O-P, especially during certain times of the year,” says Bob Brouillette, senior vp-sales and marketing for Chicago-based merchandising division of News America Marketing. Stores often have no idea what to do with much of the P-O-P materials they receive, and it gets left sitting in the back room.

Blame for this lies everywhere. Except for Kraft Foods, Coke, and Pepsi, the big direct sales forces no longer exist, leaving too few retail personnel to handle P-O-P effectively. Even they are often part-time and poorly trained.

Casper adds that poor planning by manufacturers also complicates the issue. “Brand marketers don’t work as closely with retailers as they should,” he says. In addition, retailers are more picky about “how they want P-O-P displayed,” Casper says. Brouillette agrees: “Some stores don’t want any floorstands; they want their aisles clean.”

Ideally, the implementation of P-O-P should be planned simultaneously with the creative, but often it’s not, Casper says. Gary Ebben, executive director of the Stevens Point, WI-based National Association for Retail Merchandising Services (NARMS), adds that manufacturers and brand managers get so caught up in cost issues that they neglect to provide program details to retailers. The result? “There are incidents where P-O-P has simply been thrown out,” he says.

Compliance casts a shadow There is no doubt about P-O-P’s sales effectiveness. According to Ebben, numerous studies have proved that having P-O-P at retail “will increase sales five to 15 percent above normal movements.”

That kind of increase will occur in any normally executed program of P-O-P, he says. But if manufacturers go a step further and place additional emphasis on retail compliance – ensuring that stores and merchants put up all the P-O-P they receive, sales increases can soar as high as 40 percent.

How to make that happen? Many manufacturers believe that the way to go is to hire retail merchandising firms whose only job is to make sure the P-O-P is in place in time for the promotion.

Since P-O-P is an expensive investment that often hinges on timing, manufacturers cannot afford to have their displays misplaced or left in a back room, never to see the light of the aisle. As consumer brands downsized their field forces and retailers shed employees in the name of cost-cutting, both parties have turned to outside sources. The result has been a meteoric rise in retail merchandising service companies.

These P-O-P cops for hire cut across all product categories and channels of distribution. Services can be offered on a regional, local, or national basis. They can center on specific retail channels or specialize in specific trade classes such as mass market, home center, computer, automotive, and grocery, to name a few.

Some merchandisers deal only with mass market retail chains such as Wal-Mart or Kmart, while some focus on particular product categories such as HBC. New York City-based Sarbin Performance Audits, for example, provides a b road range of merchandising services to the music, entertainment, and fashion trend product industries. All handle special projects on a regular basis on deadline or larger surge/blitz efforts that lie beyond the capacity of routine sales forces.

For manufacturers, outsourcing gives field reps the freedom to do what they do best: sell the brand, according to Casper. And it lets retailers focus on serving their customers more efficiently and controlling operating costs by freeing up resources to meet peak needs.

Casper admits that hiring merchandising companies may mean extra costs, but suggests that the expense is offset by the fact that crack sales forces don’t need to waste valuable selling time setting up displays, doing store sets and out-of-stock corrections, or updating merchandise.

Rogaine’s big play For the makers of Rogaine, timing was everything. Kalamazoo, MI-based Pharmacia & Upjohn saw a chance to use the 1998 NBA playoffs to promote the trial of its new Rogaine Extra Strength. The mix would include a national TV and print ad campaign combined with high-powered P-O-P merchandising. As a promotional incentive, the manufacturers added a $10 rebate sticker to the shelf stock, plus an in-pack phonecard.

The promotion had to break precisely in the middle of the playoff schedule, because the centerpiece of the P-O-P materials was a floorstand made by Chesapeake Display & Packaging featuring Utah Jazz superstar Karl Malone.

The campaign’s staggering scope was another problem. The floorstand and supporting materials had to be placed in 19,000 stores within a four-week period, according to P&U spokesperson Susan Patton.

Could it all get done? Pharmacia & Upjohn didn’t take any chances. Well aware of the low P-O-P implementation rates among retailers, P&U turned to Memphis-based Alpha One, which was tasked with distribution and the proper placement and maintenance of all P-O-P and store-level merchandising including danglers, neck tags, shelf-talkers, and tear-pads. Although Alpha One already provided P&U with regular merchandising service every two to four weeks, this job required something special, a blitz that would call on the services of every one of Alpha One’s 1,500 workers, Patton says.

More and more consumer purchasing decisions are being “made in the aisle,” and P&U marketers knew that the effectiveness of in-store activities would be crucial to the success of the campaign. “The goal was to stimulate trial of the product at the shelf,” says Patton. “This meant using the high visibility of the playoffs and the name recognition of Malone, along with TV advertising, P-O-P materials, and in-store merchandising as a powerful coordinated marketing mix.”

Rogaine Extra Strength was rushed into CVS, Eckerd, Rite Aid, Kmart and other stores, along with the additional store-level maintenance needed to satisfy each retailer’s own P-O-P guidelines.

The floorstand, a shelf-shipper packed with the product, was sent to each store for placement by the merchandiser. Alpha One used its Memphis fulfillment center to send other materials directly to its employees instead of store personnel to make sure it wasn’t lost, misplaced, or simply ignored.

A spy in Aisle 9 With compliance in mind, Chicago-based retail services firm,Visual Marketing Inc. used “secret shoppers” to reward retail salespeople on the presumption that nothing gives life to a program like giving individuals a personal stake in its outcome. Visual was putting together a promo for a Greeneville, SC-based company called Conxus that was trying to market Pocketalk, a voice messaging system that records messages in the voice of the person who made the page. Pocketalk is already in many major U.S. markets, but is only “one of 13 different paging devices that a retail clerk could talk about at the point of sale,” according to Richard Gausselin, vp-sales for Visual.

In a previous effort for Pocketalk, Visual Marketing had done an interactive promo involving a button-pushing P-O-P display that apparently left the bulk of shoppers cold.

The next strategy was to “incentivize the sales force,” says Gausselin. In order to make Pocketalk “more recognizable” at retail, “We came up with an incentive program to immediately reward any salesperson who talked about or recommended a Pocketalk unit,” he says. Visual sent out mystery shoppers who feigned uncertainty about what product they wanted, then doled out $5 to salespeople who suggested Pocketalk.

“The reward, the spiff, isn’t big, but it’s unexpected, a pleasant surprise,” says Gausselin. Plus, word of mouth is a big way of attracting attention, since none of Pocketalk’s competitors such as Cellular 1 or Ameritech are doing the same thing. “It gets around real fast that someone is giving away $5 bills,” he says.

Mobil used mystery shoppers to effect a huge retail tie-in for the “Mobil Oil’s Tour 1997” concert series starring country music stars Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn. Plymouth, MN-based Professional Inventory Management and Merchandising Services asked store personnel of automotive chains and mass merchandisers to make island or endcap case displays of Mobil 1 motor oil and use concert-related P-O-P to recommend the product to customers. Stores were supplied with a standee promoting the tour’s stars plus window posters, counter cards, and take-one pads affixed with offers to win concert tickets and CDs.

Mobil was worried about its ability to track the fate of all that P-O-P. “The number of personnel available for monitoring the campaign came down to seven. There was no way seven field reps could cover a promo of that size,” says Sindey Nelson retail communications coordinator for Mobil Oil Corp. “We needed a special promotion force to give us information from the field.”

With the tour running from February through the end of the year, PIMMS sent its merchandisers into several participating retail chains to verify and reward promotion compliance, according to marketing manager Chris Dammann.

Mobil’s chief concern was to find out if stores were putting up the P-O-P displays and if sales staffers were recommending the designated products, which was part of the commitment retailers had made to the company.

According to Dammann, once mystery shoppers began working a particular city, store managers would call other stores to tell their peers that compliance prizes were being handed out. In addition to mass merchants, PIMMS mystery shoppers visited automotive aftermarket retailers including AutoZone, Discount Auto Parts, Grand Auto, and VIP Discount Auto. The secret merchandisers checked out a total of 1,000 stores coast to coast, hitting on an average of 25 stores per major market.

Posing as average shoppers, the PIMMS spies first determined that the proper window signage and P-O-P displays were in place. Then, working from three prepared scenarios, they asked retailer personnel several questions about choosing a motor oil. When store employees made an endorsement for Mobil, the mystery shoppers gave them vouchers for free concert tickets. “It says a lot about Mobil’s savvy that they were as keen on the program as they were,” says Dammann.

According to Nelson, the campaign was a complete success, with a compliance rate of 100 percent scored by stores visited by the shoppers, including stores that had no advance notice of the shoppers’ arrival.

Tracking Godzilla There’s no doubt that more and more manufacturers and retailers believe that they can take better care of customers if P-O-P placement is handled by third parties, and the growth of retail merchandising service companies bears this out. Ebben founded NARMS in 1995 with only 10 member companies. Current membership stands at 160, and he predicts a rise to 175 by the end of the year.

But, sometimes the promotion agency itself can handle implementation quite effectively. When Chicago-based Wunderman Cato Johnson ran Taco Bell’s tie-in with Sony Pictures’ Godzilla, it developed a two-stage retail promotion that featured in-store advertising combined with a new technology game called Whereis Godzilla? P-O-P elements including door decals, ceiling danglers, and indoor standees were placed in 5,000 stores. Using die-cuts and other techniques, WCJ left blanks where Godzilla’s likeness could be added after the movie premiered.

Sony was very strict about which of Godzilla’s body parts could be used in the displays. “We could show a claw and toe, and an eye,” says Rob Albertson, WCJ’s vp-group creative director. The standees pictured claws enveloping the skyline of New York City, with pictures of promotion prizes and collectible cups that were part of the promo. After the movie opened, the skyline split in half to show Godzilla’s head.

Laurie Gannon, media relations manager for Taco Bell, said Sony loved the P-O-P, and that the promo drove sales in restaurants up to the level of an earlier, highly successful Batman & Robin promotion.

Not all outside merchandisers command the resources of WCJ, and Ebben suggests that marketers consider a number of variables when choosing one.

Do you need a national company that focuses on one class of trade, for instance, or will your program be better served by regional companies that understand local retailers?

Will the investment be worth it for your program? Sending a specialized P-O-P merchandising force into a store for a simple half-hour job probably won’t prove cost-effective. But if it’s a job that involves a wide scope with four or five elements, a specialized retail merchandiser may be the answer.

Bottom line, notes Ebben, if outside merchandisers lift retail sales by 40 percent, they more than pay for themselves. And your standees will actually stand for something.

Customization, consolidation, the coming of high technology. The major trends in the P-O-P industry are easy to spot, says Point of Purchase Advertising Institute spokesman, Joe Casper.

First, there is consolidation. Companies are joining together because “More clients want manufacturing and market research coming from a single place,” he says. “They want full service.”

There is also a growing trend on the part of retailers for customization: “Each retail store location has its own needs. A store in Miami has a different dynamic than a store in Seattle,” says Richard Mandeberg, president of Chicago-based Siren Technologies, a division of Frankel & Co.

Hottest by far is the interest in high-tech P-O-P, whether it’s interactive kiosks or digital signage. “People are looking for smarter and more interactive displays,” says Mike Lauber, president of Gnadenhutten, OH-based Tusco. He believes that “interactive displays will be everywhere soon,” because their costs have been dropping as their attention-getting value has grown.

What is high-tech P-O-P?

According to Tom Blischok, chairman and ceo of The Decisioneering Group, Scottsdale, AZ, everyone from brand marketers to P-O-P suppliers should “start incorporating high-tech solutions now.”

He sees the advent of electronic mall signage that will run around an entire department. When the consumer swipes a card or makes a handprint on a display, the signage will say that “at store location so and so, you fill find a special on five items in your size for the next three minutes.”

He sees a video display showing Julia Childs cooking a chicken. Consumers can use a mouse to click on utensils and appliances she’s using and purchase information will appear on the screen. Click on the chicken, and they’ll see a Tyson logo and recipes.

Electronic signage throughout a store could announce, “In the next seven-and-a-half minutes, everything in the women’s apparel section is on sale.” Signs would move, change color, and “even tags dangling from garments” could be used to convey messages to consumers.

“What’s going to drive this is the retailer’s ability to identify customers,” Blischok says.

Endangered cardboard Mandeberg says Digital P-O-P will likely put the standard cardboard displays on the endangered species list. He claims that Digital P-O-P is far superior to static paper cutouts, because the new displays will arrest attentionwith movement and variety.

“Customers won’t be able to take their eyes off these displays,” says Mandeberg. In a cluttered retail environment, a digital display with motion and animation, “gets you to look where the brand manufacturer wants you to look,” he says. “That’s half the battle.”

Flexibility appears to be Digital P-O-P’s biggest advantage. If a company runs a nationwide campaign, it can use Digital P-O-P local marketing initiatives to alter the message to fit the requirements of the region. Almost instantaneously, prices can be changed, new promotion offers can be added or altered, and different language can be displayed, all from a central source. Digital P-O-P also offers options and presents enormous opportunities to accommodate price fluctuations and take advantage of what’s moving,” says Mandeberg.

“Instead of cardboard, we’re sending out a multi-content message over a distribution network. The same piece of signage can, over the course of a day, change many times. We can use message distribution as a function of geography, selling snow boots in Maine or sunglasses in Arizona. The signage allows a retailer to do anything to offer the right content to the right audience. “

Whether it means multi-media signage or the creation of a display in front of a mountain of soup cans, or on the menu board of a restaurant, Digital P-O-P should be popping up everywhere, he says. “It will be the next big thing in marketing.”

Digital P-O-P doesn’t come cheap. Siren has spent the last two years writing software and working with clients. The client tests ” have gone well,” Mandeberg says.

What Siren intends now is winning specific markets and using Digital P-O-P for specific product rollouts.

“You can’t beat signage tied to inventory and a demographic,” says Mandeberg.

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