By Ahmer Rasheed
BTL or below-the-line marketing is evolving in Pakistan at an encouraging pace. Rapid increase in cable penetration and mushroom growth of TV and radio channels has increased ad clutter for consumers. Hence, marketers are bound to significantly increase spending in order for brands to effectively cut through the clutter, which is why we have witnessed significant increase in brand activation budgets during the last decade. This trend is increasing even faster as smaller companies are also realizing its importance and following the footprints of industry leaders like P&G and Unilever.
What is InterACT all about?
In lieu with this growing trend, Markematics decided to introduce an effective tool that will help marketers in evaluating their BTL activities to gauge effectiveness and consumer impact along with the return on investment (ROI). Hence, we pioneered BTL evaluation in Pakistan in 2011 with the launch of InterACT – a powerful tool that effectively calculates ROI on various BTL activities and brand activations. Prior to this, there was no research tool to measure the reach and ROI of these activities. Marketers had no other choice but to trust activation agencies’ claimed numbers of consumer reach. To top it all, this reach number didn’t provide any clue on the effective reach or precisely whether activation objectives were being met or not. You would be surprised to know that on an average 40% of BTL investments go to waste.
This might make you wonder if it indicates that marketers should probably expect a 40% leakage every time they plan a BTL activity. Actually no; it all depends on various factors like the type of activation, product category, target audience, activation SOP and activation agency’s performance. We have seen worse case scenarios where we have identified up to 85% leakage in consumer activation, 97% non-compliance of POS (Point of Sale) deployment and 84% non-compliance of Planogram execution (the product shelf space plan). On the other hand, there are several activities that only have 2% leakage in the execution. Hence, we are required to define the success criteria for each activity considering all the parameters and specific objectives for the activity being undertaken. The key to activation success lies in clearly defined goals, SOPs and strategic planning. The whole idea behind introducing InterACT is to help marketers plan better and minimize the level of wastage.
So far, our InterACT experience includes 6 clients representing local companies and MNCs representing a cross-section of food and non-food sector. To date, we have evaluated activations conducted by 8 different BTL execution agencies including monitoring of clients’ sales and distribution teams. The scope of BTL evaluation includes Door to Door, Neighborhood Activations, School/College Education Program, Road Shows, and In-store Marketing. While, InterACT Trade Marketing Module covers activities like Retail Visibility, (Point of Sales Material) POSM Deployment, Merchandising, Planogram Compliance and others.
During the past four years, InterACT has evaluated over 50 BTL initiatives that yielded a database of over 2 million consumer interactions. In addition, through InterACT Trade module, Markematics has evaluated over a dozen trade marketing initiatives covering 250,000 outlets. That’s why we are confident that our numbers are good enough to generalize the overall effectiveness of BTL in Pakistan.
Challenges InterACT Faced
When we started market research and evaluation for BTL activities, there was no tool preceding us in Pakistan; neither in terms of benchmarks available with clients nor global best practices. Information load was too huge due to high number of attributes evaluated in each activity – hence it was difficult to analyze and sift through the information. Moreover, performance of teams working on various activities couldn’t be benchmarked with each other due to the difference in evaluation parameters. Most importantly, averages could be deceptive in evaluating overall performance as Financial Parameters should have more weightage in determining the overall performance in comparison to execution quality parameters.
To answer all these challenges, we developed an Activation Performance Index (API) that takes into account all variables at play in accordance with their relative importance. With the help of API Modelling, we made it possible to get a single number performance indictor. Now marketers have a single number to evaluate effective reach of their BTL activations making it easier for them to assess and interpret the overall activity impact.
How InterACT works
Based on our extensive database of over 2 million consumer connects, we have established benchmarks for almost all types of BTL activation for particular aspects of the activation process. For example, Door to Door is the most challenging activity where, with all controls, the average API Score remains within the range of 60 to 70 points whereas for In-store activation the average remains 95 points or above. This benchmarking is the greatest achievement of InterACT that enables marketers to plan their activations accordingly and set the success criteria for their activation agencies.
ROI is not part of the API score but InterACT has the capability of separately measuring ROI on the basis of activation objectives. For example, if an activity is targeted towards generating brand trial, InterACT will be able to measure the % of trials generated through activation vs. a control group. Additionally, it can provide Message cut-through based on consumers’ recall or CPT (Cost per thousand) as a separate measure to see ROI of the activity.
I must say that this is by far one of the most important aspects of InterACT. It is developed in such a way that it enables a continuous quality assurance process throughout the activation period. With its near real-time reporting mechanism, marketers can keep track of quality of execution and areas of improvement throughout the Activation Program Life Cycle.
InterACT’s deep diving capability also helps marketers to identify opportunity areas; for example, API scores are available by city, by teams and other such parameters. But as they say that the devil is in the details, we all know that at times cumulative results fail to identify real issues. For instance, even if we identify that the API score for Karachi is way less than Lahore, should we replace the entire team of Karachi? In most cases, it is impractical or not even justified. To resolve this issue, we have developed an individual level report card i.e. for each activation agent, a report card is provided that helps identify weak-links in a particular activation team. This aspect is really helping the industry players derive practical results out of the tool. For instance, there are certain activation agencies that have developed a reward-penalty program for their teams on the basis of the InterACT report card.
In terms of areas of improvement, I think the use of technology will certainly take BTL evaluation via InterACT to the next level. We have already initiated GPS based tracking that helps us in verifying the actual physical location of the activity. Additionally, time stamped pictures and videos are also proving to be a big support in the verification process. But obviously, this is one area that remains to be explored to make InterACT a more effective as well as intuitive tool in future.
InterACT also has a great level of scalability. The application of this tool is certainly vast as the basic rules of the game remain consistent regardless of the business sector. Primarily, it is a quality assurance tool which can be applied to any business process that needs standardized execution. I would definitely encourage other business areas such as telecom, education and health to explore this tool to benefit from greater efficiencies and enable accelerated growth.
What marketers should keep in mind before engaging in BTL activities and activation
Based on my experience, if there’s a word of caution I have to give to marketers, it would be this:
Due to the prevailing economic situation, Free Sampling, Discounted Selling and Product Demo are becoming the major areas of financial leakages and exploitation. Therefore, any activity involving sampling, sales or demo requires special attention at the planning stage as well as continuous monitoring to ensure that the target audience is actually benefitting from such activities.
Moreover, weak message delivery or sales pitch is the single largest factor that adversely affects the quality of execution and has a very high impact on the activation ROI.
Effective targeting is another area of focus which is greatly neglected in most activations. Recently, we monitored a door to door activity which aimed at generating brand trial. Unfortunately and obviously without much background research, the client only specified SEC A and B households as the target audience. Despite the fact that the activation agency covered both the segments completely, the ROI of the activity was less than 3%. This came as no surprise to us because 45% of the activity households were already the brand users at the time of the activation. Hence, the client was not able to achieve the desired increase in sales and it was just a wasted effort. Had they used marketing insights at the time of planning, the results would have been very different.
In a nutshell, BTL success not only depends on the activation excellence but rather marketers’ insight – there’s a need of paradigm shift at the BTL planning stage – marketers need to focus on the strategy aspect for the tactical plan to fall together smoothly.
Last but not the least, I would encourage more marketers to consider InerACT as a BTL planning and evaluation tool to help generate better results, impact and monitor key metrics for continuous improvement and effective accountability through ROI.
Ahmer is the Founder and CEO of Markematics, and the first elected President of Marketing Research Society of Pakistan (MRSP). He is a leading marketing, research and strategy consultant in Pakistan and abroad with over 18 years of experience. He was instrumental in establishing Nielsen and MEMRB in Pakistan and has rich experience with GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly.