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By Hamilton Colwell
Startup brands – like new and emerging businesses in all industries – have limited marketing resources at their disposal. With small budgets and limited distribution, the marketing tactics of big food and big advertising – such as FSI’s, television, and radio – are either too costly or ineffective for these smaller businesses to explore. In today’s changing social/digital media landscape with increased consumer education and connectivity, the efficacy of these tactics, even for big food brands, has come into question.
Consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from, and want to connect on a deeper and more personal level with the brands and manufacturers of the products they consume. Thus, the dialogue between brand and consumer can no longer be one directional – consumers want brands to speak with them, not at them.
Product demonstrations (“demos” for short), when executed properly, are perfect for creating exactly this type of dialogue, resulting in raised awareness and boosting sales. What’s more, they can fit within any startup brand’s budget.
Not only are demos effective for engaging with customers, they are also great tools for suppliers to build and deepen a relationship with retailers. Retailers understand the real value of in store brand ambassadors, as they help to drive sales and traffic to the store. Additionally, a skilled demo team doubles as a sales force by supporting accounts and merchandising, helping the brand to differentiate – something that’s particularly helpful in increasingly crowded food categories like yogurt.
Good Demos and Bad Demos
That being said, it is important to note that not all demos are effective. In fact, the majority of demos we see being conducted in the field are sub-par at best. From less-than-enthusiastic brand ambassadors, to those who are texting on their phones while potential customers pass casually by, poor execution seems to be rampant. This is why it’s important to devote significant resources, both in terms of manpower and dollars, towards building, training, educating, and motivating our demo team to the highest standards.
A strong demo team must be trained to accomplish several goals: Increase brand awareness and customer engagement, drive sales, and to provide feedback and data. At Maia Yogurt, we train our brand ambassadors to be politely persistent; we try not to let a single consumer miss the opportunity to try a sample. They are trained to ask twice – even if the shopper initially declines the offering – by politely saying something along the lines of, “Are you sure? This yogurt is truly amazing. This is why we are different…”
During the engagement, these brand ambassadors get the shoppers to verbally repeat the brand name, immediately after they try it. This is part of the experience. When you are conducting experiential marketing like demos, it’s important to engage as many of the shopper’s senses as possible to immerse them in the brand. You are creating a sense of theater and every aspect of the performance is important: the stage, the sounds, the script, each gesture, the smile of the brand ambassador – all of those elements of the performance that drive the shopper to the final act of sampling the product.
A successful demo isn’t complete until the brand ambassador fills out a report detailing everything from the volume of yogurts sold to the day’s weather. This data is invaluable to us, and creates a context for each demo we do. What other form of marketing provides you with such direct feedback from the consumer and the retailer?
Demos Aren’t Easy
The question to ask then is: If well-executed demos are so valuable, why don’t more brands do them? The answer is simple: Demos are hard work. It can be difficult to find people as passionate about your product as you are, and even harder to keep them engaged from dozens, if not hundreds of miles away. Multiply that by hundreds of people across the country and you have an organizational nightmare if you don’t have the systems and people in place to manage and grow with your organization.
Take the time to find and work with energetic, confident, and outgoing brand ambassadors. Incentivize them with commission and rewards – it is essential to invest in talent. Our brand ambassadors understand that sales are a by-product of the combination of energy and a high number of samples distributed. Top-tier brand ambassadors are self-sufficient, and make their own schedule based on high trafficked grocery hours, reducing the burden on our managers. They are worth the investment. We’ve found that students excel in conducting demos, as they are very eager to learn, and we prefer to hire those who understand the battle is won in the trenches and consumer trends gain momentum in grocery aisles.
At Maia Yogurt, demos are crucial to our business, and are so effective in moving the needle, we have spent as much time recruiting and training our brand ambassadors as we have spent perfecting our delicious yogurt recipe. That’s been our recipe for success.
The right team of brand ambassadors pays dividends into the future. There is no better way to build a real consumer-centric brand.
Editor's Note: Hamilton Colwell is founder of New York-based Maia Yogurt. He can be reached at [email protected].