Sales promotion is an important component of a small business's overall marketing strategy, along with advertising, public relations, and personal selling. The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines sales promotion as "media and nonmedia marketing pressure applied for a predetermined, limited period of time in order to stimulate trial, increase consumer demand, or improve product quality." But this definition does not capture all the elements of modern sales promotion. One should add that effective sales promotion increases the basic value of a product for a limited time and directly stimulates consumer purchasing, selling effectiveness, or the effort of the sales force. It can be used to inform, persuade, and remind target customers about the business and its marketing mix. Some common types of sales promotion include samples, coupons, sweepstakes, contests, in-store displays, trade shows, price-off deals, premiums, and rebates.
Businesses can target sales promotions at three different audiences: consumers, resellers, and the company's own sales force. Sales promotion acts as a competitive weapon by providing an extra incentive for the target audience to purchase or support one brand over another. It is particularly effective in spurring product trial and unplanned purchases. Most marketers believe that a given product or service has an established perceived price or value, and they use sales promotion to change this price-value relationship by increasing the value and/or lowering the price. Compared to the other components of the marketing mix (advertising, publicity, and personal selling), sales promotion usually operates on a shorter time line, uses a more rational appeal, returns a tangible or real value, fosters an immediate sale, and contributes highly to profitability.
In determining the relative importance to place on sales promotion in the overall marketing mix, a small business should consider its marketing budget, the stage of the product in its life cycle, the nature of competition in the market, the target of the promotion, and the nature of the product. For example, sales promotion and direct mail are particularly attractive alternatives when the marketing budget is limited, as it is for many small businesses. In addition, sales promotion can be an effective tool in a highly competitive market, when the objective is to convince retailers to carry a product or influence consumers to select it over those of competitors. Similarly, sales promotion is often used in the growth and maturity stages of the product life cycle to stimulate consumers and resellers to choose that product over the competition—rather than in the introduction stage, when mass advertising to build awareness might be more important. Finally, sales promotion tends to work best when it is applied to impulse items whose features can be judged at the point of purchase, rather than more complex, expensive items that might require hands-on demonstration.
Sales promotion has grown substantially in recent years. There are several reasons for this dramatic growth in sales promotion. First, consumers have accepted sales promotion as part of their buying decision criteria. It provides reluctant decision makers with an incentive to make choices by increasing the value offered by a particular brand. Second, the increasing tendency of businesses to focus on short-term results has helped spur growth in sales promotion, which can provide an immediate boost in sales. Product managers also tend to view sales promotion as a way to differentiate their brand from that of competitors in the short term. Third, the emergence of computer technology has enabled manufacturers to get rapid feedback on the results of promotions. Redemption rates for coupons or figures on sales volume can be obtained within days. Finally, an increase in the size and power of retailers has also boosted the use of sales promotion. Historically, the manufacturer held the power in the channel of distribution. Mass marketers utilized national advertising to get directly to consumers, creating a demand for the heavily advertised brands that stores could not afford to ignore. With consolidation and the growth of major retail chains, however, retailers have gained the power to demand incentives from manufacturers to carry their products. Many sales promotions are designed to provide benefits to the retailers.
Although sales promotion is an important strategy for producing quick, short-term, positive results, it is not a cure for a bad product, poor advertising, or an inferior sales team. After a consumer uses a coupon for the initial purchase of a product, the product must then take over and convince them to become repeat buyers. In addition, sales promotion activities may bring several negative consequences, including "clutter" due to the number of competitive promotions. New approaches are promptly cloned by competitors, as each marketer tries to be more creative, more attention getting, or more effective in attracting the attention of consumers and the trade. Finally, consumers and resellers have learned how to milk the sales promotion game. Consumers may wait to buy certain items knowing that prices will eventually be reduced, for example, while resellers have become experts at negotiating deals and manipulating competitors against one another.
Consumer sales promotions are steered toward the ultimate product users—typically individual shoppers in the local market—but the same techniques can be used to promote products sold by one business to another, such as computer systems, cleaning supplies, and machinery. In contrast, trade sales promotions target resellers—wholesalers and retailers—who carry the marketer's product. Following are some of the key techniques used in consumer-oriented sales promotions.
PRICE DEALS A consumer price deal saves the buyer money when a product is purchased. The main types of price deals include discounts, bonus pack deals, refunds or rebates, and coupons. Price deals are usually intended to encourage trial use of a new product or line extension, to recruit new buyers for a mature product, or to convince existing customers to increase their purchases, accelerate their use, or purchase multiple units. Price deals work most effectively when price is the consumer's foremost criterion or when brand loyalty is low.
Buyers may learn about price discounts either at the point of sale or through advertising. At the point of sale, price reductions may be posted on the package, on signs near the product, or in storefront windows. Many types of advertisements can be used to notify consumers of upcoming discounts, including fliers and newspaper and television ads. Price discounts are especially common in the food industry, where local supermarkets run weekly specials. Price discounts may be initiated by the manufacturer, the retailer, or the distributor. For instance, a manufacturer may "pre-price" a product and then convince the retailer to participate in this short-term discount through extra incentives. For price reduction strategies to be effective, they must have the support of all distributors in the channel. Existing customers perceive discounts as rewards and often respond by buying in larger quantities. Price discounts alone, however, usually do not induce first time buyers.
Another type of price deal is the bonus pack or banded pack. When a bonus pack is offered, an extra amount of the product is free when a standard size of the product is bought at the regular price. This technique is routinely used in the marketing of cleaning products, food, and health and beauty aids to introduce a new or larger size. A bonus pack rewards present users but may have little appeal to users of competitive brands. A banded pack offer is when two or more units of a product are sold at a reduction of the regular single-unit price. Sometimes the products are physically banded together, such as in toothbrush and toothpaste offers.
A refund or rebate promotion is an offer by a marketer to return a certain amount of money when the product is purchased alone or in combination with other products. Refunds aim to increase the quantity or frequency of purchase, to encourage customers to "load up" on the product. This strategy dampens competition by temporarily taking consumers out of the market, stimulates the purchase of postponable goods such as major appliances, and creates on-shelf excitement by encouraging special displays. Refunds and rebates are generally viewed as a reward for purchase, and they appear to build brand loyalty rather than diminish it.
Coupons are legal certificates offered by manufacturers and retailers. They grant specified savings on selected products when presented for redemption at the point of purchase. Manufacturers sustain the cost of advertising and distributing their coupons, redeeming their face values, and paying retailers a handling fee. Retailers who offer double or triple the amount of the coupon shoulder the extra cost. Retailers who offer their own coupons incur the total cost, including paying the face value. In this way, retail coupons are equivalent to a cents-off deal.
Manufacturers disseminate coupons in many ways. They may be delivered directly by mail, dropped door to door, or distributed through a central location such as a shopping mall. Coupons may also be distributed through the media—magazines, newspapers, Sunday supplements, or free-standing inserts (FSI) in newspapers. Coupons can be inserted into, attached to, or printed on a package, or they may be distributed by a retailer who uses them to generate store traffic or to tie in with a manufacturer's promotional tactic. Retailer-sponsored coupons are typically distributed through print advertising or at the point of sale. Sometimes, though, specialty retailers or newly opened retailers will distribute coupons door to door or through direct mail.
CONTESTS/SWEEPSTAKES The main difference between contests and sweepstakes is that contests require entrants to perform a task or demonstrate a skill that is judged in order to be deemed a winner, while sweepstakes involve a random drawing or chance contest that may or may not have an entry requirement. At one time, contests were more commonly used as sales promotions, mostly due to legal restrictions on gambling that many marketers feared might apply to sweepstakes. But the use of sweepstakes as a promotional tactic has grown dramatically in recent decades, partly because of legal changes and partly because of their lower cost. Administering a contest once cost about $350 per thousand entries, compared to just $2.75 to $3.75 per thousand entries in a sweepstake. Furthermore, participation in contests is very low compared to sweepstakes, since they require some sort of skill or ability.
SPECIAL EVENTS According to the consulting firm International Events Group (IEG), businesses spend over $2 billion annually to link their products with everything from jazz festivals to golf tournaments to stock car races. In fact, large companies like RJR Nabisco and Anheuser-Busch have special divisions that handle nothing but special events. Special events marketing offers a number of advantages. First, events tend to attract a homogeneous audience that is very appreciative of the sponsors. Therefore, if a product fits well with the event and its audience, the impact of the sales promotion will be high. Second, event sponsorship often builds support among employees—who may receive acknowledgment for their participation—and within the trade. Finally, compared to producing a series of ads, event management is relatively simple. Many elements of event sponsorship are prepackaged and reusable, such as booths, displays, and ads. Special events marketing is available to small businesses, as well, through sponsorship of events on the community level.
PREMIUMS A premium is tangible compensation that is given as incentive for performing a particular act—usually buying a product. The premium may be given for free, or may be offered to consumers for a significantly reduced price. Some examples of premiums include receiving a prize in a cereal box or a free garden tool for visiting the grand opening of a hardware store. Incentives that are given for free at the time of purchase are called direct premiums. These offers provide instant gratification, plus there is no confusion about returning coupons or box tops, or saving bar codes or proofs of purchase.
Other types of direct premiums include traffic builders, door openers, and referral premiums. The garden tool is an example of a traffic-builder premium—an incentive to lure a prospective buyer to a store. A door-opener premium is directed to customers at home or to business people in their offices. For example, a homeowner may receive a free clock radio for allowing an insurance agent to enter their home and listening to his sales pitch. Similarly, an electronics manufacturer might offer free software to an office manager who agrees to an on-site demonstration. The final category of direct premiums, referral premiums, reward the purchaser for referring the seller to other possible customers.
Mail premiums, unlike direct premiums, require the customer to perform some act in order to obtain a premium through return mail. An example might be a limited edition toy car offered by a marketer in exchange for one or more proofs-of-purchase and a payment covering the cost of the item plus handling. The premium is still valuable to the consumer because they cannot readily buy the item for the same amount.
CONTINUITY PROGRAMS Continuity programs retain brand users over a long time period by offering ongoing motivation or incentives. Continuity programs demand that consumers keep buying the product in order to get the premium in the future. Trading stamps, popularized in the 1950s and 1960s, are prime examples. Consumers usually received one stamp for every dime spent at a participating store. The stamp company provided redemption centers where the stamps were traded for merchandise. A catalog listing the quantity of stamps required for each item was available at the participating stores. Today, airlines' frequent-flyer clubs, hotels' frequent-traveler plans, retailers' frequent-shopper programs, and bonus-paying credit cards are common continuity programs. When competing brands have reached parity in terms of price and service, continuity programs sometimes prove a deciding factor among those competitors. By rewarding long-standing customers for their loyalty, continuity programs also reduce the threat of new competitors entering a market.
SAMPLING A sign of a successful marketer is getting the product into the hands of the consumer. Sometimes, particularly when a product is new or is not a market leader, an effective strategy is giving a sample product to the consumer, either free or for a small fee. But in order for sampling to change people's future purchase decisions, the product must have benefits or features that will be obvious during the trial.
There are several means of disseminating samples to consumers. The most popular has been through the mail, but increases in postage costs and packaging requirements have made this method less attractive. An alternative is door-to-door distribution, particularly when the items are bulky and when reputable distribution organizations exist. This method permits selective sampling of neighborhoods, dwellings, or even people. Another method is distributing samples in conjunction with advertising. An ad may include a coupon that the consumer can mail in for the product, or it may include an address or phone number for ordering. Direct sampling can be achieved through prime media using scratch-and-sniff cards and slim foil pouches, or through retailers using special displays or a person hired to hand out samples to passing customers. Though this last technique may build goodwill for the retailer, some retailers resent the inconvenience and require high payments for their cooperation.
A final form of sample distribution deals with specialty types of sampling. For instance, some companies specialize in packing samples together for delivery to homogeneous consumer groups, such as newlyweds, new parents, students, or tourists. Such packages may be delivered at hospitals, hotels, or dormitories and include a number of different types of products.
A trade sales promotion is targeted at resellers—wholesalers and retailers—who distribute manufacturers' products to the ultimate consumers. The objectives of sales promotions aimed at the trade are different from those directed at consumers. In general, trade sales promotions hope to accomplish four goals: 1) Develop in-store merchandising support, as strong support at the retail store level is the key to closing the loop between the customer and the sale. 2) Control inventory by increasing or depleting inventory levels, thus helping to eliminate seasonal peaks and valleys. 3) Expand or improve distribution by opening up new sales areas (trade promotions are also sometimes used to distribute a new size of the product). 4) Generate excitement about the product among those responsible for selling it. Some of the most common forms of trade promotions—profiled below—include point-of-purchase displays, trade shows, sales meetings, sales contests, push money, deal loaders, and promotional allowances.
POINT-OF-PURCHASE (POP) DISPLAYS Manufacturers provide point-of-purchase (POP) display units free to retailers in order to promote a particular brand or group of products. The forms of POP displays include special racks, display cartons, banners, signs, price cards, and mechanical product dispensers. Probably the most effective way to ensure that a reseller will use a POP display is to design it so that it will generate sales for the retailer. High product visibility is the basic goal of POP displays. In industries such as the grocery field where a shopper spends about three-tenths of a second viewing a product, anything increasing product visibility is valuable. POP displays also provide or remind consumers about important decision information, such as the product's name, appearance, and sizes. The theme of the POP display should coordinate with the theme used in ads and by salespeople.
TRADE SHOWS Thousands of manufacturers display their wares and take orders at trade shows. In fact, companies spend over $9 billion yearly on these shows. Trade shows provide a major opportunity to write orders for products. They also provide a chance to demonstrate products, disseminate information, answer questions, and be compared directly to competitors. Related to trade shows, but on a smaller scale, are sales meetings sponsored by manufacturers or wholesalers. Whereas trade shows are open to all potential customers, sales meetings are targeted toward the company's sales force and/or independent sales agents. These meetings are usually conducted regionally and directed by sales managers. The meetings may be used to motivate sales agents, to explain the product or the promotional campaign, or simply to answer questions. For resellers and salespeople, sales contests can also be an effective motivation. Typically, a prize is awarded to the organization or person who exceeds a quota by the largest percentage.
PUSH MONEY Similarly, push money (PM)—also known as spiffs—is an extra payment given to sales-people for meeting a specified sales goal. For example, a manufacturer of refrigerators might pay a $30 bonus for each unit of model A, and a $20 bonus for each unit of model B, sold between March 1 and September 1. At the end of that period, the salesperson would send evidence of these sales to the manufacturer and receive a check in return. Although some people see push money as akin to bribery, many manufacturers offer it.
DEAL LOADERS A deal loader is a premium given by a manufacturer to a retailer for ordering a certain quantity of product. Two types of deal loaders are most typical. The first is a buying loader, which is a gift given for making a specified order size. The second is a display loader, which means the display is given to the retailer after the campaign. For instance, General Electric may have a display containing appliances as part of a special program. When the program is over, the retailer receives all the appliances on the display if a specified order size was achieved.
TRADE DEALS Trade deals are special price concessions superseding, for a limited time, the normal purchasing discounts given to the trade. Trade deals include a group of tactics having a common theme—to encourage sellers to specially promote a product. The marketer might receive special displays, larger-than-usual orders, superior in-store locations, or greater advertising effort. In exchange, the retailer might receive special allowances, discounts, goods, or money. In many industries, trade deals are the primary expectation for retail support, and the marketing funds spent in this area are considerable. There are two main types of trade deals: buying allowances and advertising/display allowances.
BUYING ALLOWANCES A buying allowance is a bonus paid by a manufacturer to a reseller when a certain amount of product is purchased during a specific time period. For example, a reseller who purchases at least 15 cases of product might receive a buying allowance of $6.00 off per case, while a purchase of at least 20 cases would result in $7.00 off per case, and so forth. The payment may take the form of a check or a reduction in the face value of an invoice. In order to take advantage of a buying allowance, some retailers engage in "forward buying." In essence, they order more merchandise than is needed during the deal period, then store the extra merchandise to sell later at regular prices. This assumes that the savings gained through the buying allowance is greater than the cost of warehousing and transporting the extra merchandise. Some marketers try to discourage forward buying, since it reduces profit margins and tends to create cyclical peaks and troughs in demand for the product.
The slotting allowance is a controversial form of buying allowance. Slotting allowances are fees retailers charge manufacturers for each space or slot on the shelf or in the warehouse that new products will occupy. The controversy stems from the fact that in many instances this allowance amounts to little more than paying a bribe to the retailer to convince them to carry your company's products. But many marketers are willing to pay extra to bring their products to the attention of consumers who are pressed for time in the store. Slotting allowances sometimes buy marketers prime spaces on retail shelves, at eye level or near the end of aisles.
The final type of buying allowance is a free goods allowance. In this case, the manufacturer offers a certain amount of product to wholesalers or retailers at no cost if they purchase a stated amount of the same or a different product. The allowance takes the form of free merchandise rather than money.
ADVERTISING ALLOWANCES An advertising allowance is a dividend paid by a marketer to a reseller for advertising their product. The money can only be used to purchase advertising—for example, to print flyers or run ads in a local newspaper. But some resellers take advantage of the system, so many manufacturers require verification. A display allowance is the final form of trade promotional allowance. Some manufacturers pay retailers extra to highlight their display from the many available every week. The payment can take the form of cash or goods. Retailers must furnish written certification of compliance with the terms of the contract before they are paid. Retailers are most likely to select displays that yield high volume and are easy to assemble.
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