By David Louis, Sales & Marketing Director, Field Sales Solutions
Covid had a profound impact on brands across the world, and marketers and agencies had to adapt to the unique challenges of different countries, and even regions. But the commercial world has quickly moved forward, and increasingly there is a borderless business landscape, and one that field marketing, like other communications channels, has to operate in.
What is becoming increasingly important for field marketing, is the ability to support brands through cross border capability. Having Europewide reach is necessary. This is due to several factors, not least because the owners of big brands have never considered international boundaries as a barrier to trade. At most they are viewed as an inconvenience. But more than that, marketing is more and more driven by other influences, such as the growth in the number of global products, and the increase in international sponsorship.
Pan European sponsorship promotions
International sports sponsorship necessarily comes with the need for European wide networked marketing support. This is due to the bulk of budgeting involved going into activation rather than the buying of naming rights and applying brand names to whatever tournament, team or individual is involved. The majority of investment is spent on themed promotions that cross international boundaries, and field marketing frequently has a key role to play.
With sports sponsorship expected to grow 18 per cent a year in the next four years – an annual increase of £45 billion – according to the latest analysis by Report Linker, much of that spending will be in Europe.
But it won’t just be big brands operating across international borders. Independent and tertiary brands frequently also have a need to operate on a wider scale. This is partly due to natural ambition, but also based on the need for the safety of expanding sales into alternative markets.
Arrival of Chinese brands
However, there is major new factor coming that will drive the increasing need for pan European networked field marketing. Chinese consumer brands are already making their presence felt throughout Europe, with some having their own retail outlets. Once China’s Covid troubles are resolved, it will signal the start for renewed focus on overseas growth.
Chinese brands have already successfully seen off many of the big name European and US rivals that once dominated their domestic markets. They now have international ambitions, and this includes FMCG. A combination of natural business ambition, plus the Confucian culture of spreading risk through expansion into new areas, means brands from China are going to be an increasingly common presence. What is more, the Chinese view of Europe is one of it being a single entity.
A result of all these factors means field marketing, like other marketing channels, needs to adapt by providing cross border services. This entails creating dependable networks to provide localised services in each European country. And local knowledge is essential.
Brands are often different in different countries
It is not uncommon for brands to mean different things in different countries. Schweppes is a good example. In the UK it is considered a mixer drink, in Spain a generic soft drink brand, but in Germany an exclusive mixer. Schweppes profile changes, but it has a history of international sponsorship that includes Formula 1. The Europe wide sponsorship promotions it ran to activate its F1 sponsorship needed tailoring for each country. Unified messaging would have confused consumers, and wouldn’t have worked. It had to strike the correct message in every territory based on localised interpretation.
However, it is not only consumer understanding of brand position that changes from country to country. Compliance laws and regulations are different too. GDPR was intended to create a data law that applied consistently throughout Europe, and be policed centrally. Both aims ended up being scrapped by Brussels when it decided each government could interpret the law how they wanted, and existing national data agencies would enforce it. As a result, GDPR is different in every country. Similarly, countries apply promotional regulations according to what is considered most important to them. For example, the recently introduced Article 6a covering price promotion can be very different nation to nation.
Because of all of this, Pan European field marketing can get very tangled if stringent control is attempted centrally. To be effective, execution has to be brokered to partner agencies with the ability to interpret core objectives and apply them at local level. It means being part of a network with a high level of assurance that all those involved perform to high standards. The network also needs to be permanent. The alternative of putting together an untried international group as a one off is guaranteed to lead to significant problems.
At one point it was hoped the answer to having a readymade string of partner agencies was InterDirect. It provides a banner for 1,000s of different types of marketing supplier in Europe and beyond. But crucially there is no qualification for joining. No form of guarantee of work quality. It means that though laudable in intention, InterDirect is little more in practice than a database of marketing service companies.
This means that to be part of an established European network, field marketing agencies need to be members of a dedicated Pan European field marketing group, a collective of independent practitioners that have created working relationships, or be part of a wider global communications company.
The business world is becoming a smaller place with an increasing number of brands and manufacturers with ambitions to take reward from cross border sales. In this scenario, field marketing has to respond in by having the right partners in the right places at all times.