Maybe you've already seen them: They travel from city to city, filled with endless reserves of energy, setting up tents and vans and interacting with the public for a few short hours before moving on. These wayward folks are not rock stars, however; they're agents of promotional companies, and for a song, they'll help drive more traffic to your store.
Promotional companies offer services you can't get from a conventional marketing or PR firm. Mambo Sprouts Marketing, based in Collingswood, N.J., is one such company, offering programs that benefit retailers, manufacturers and consumers simultaneously. "We blend promotion, advertising and research," says Matthew Saline, president and chief executive officer.
Combining elements of guerilla marketing and conventional marketing, the company launched its Go Mambo! van tours in 2005. With manufacturers' logos emblazoned across three sides, the vehicles travel from store to store for five-week tours, setting up sampling tables and handing out shwag bags filled with merchandise and coupons to consumers curious about new products. Each stop lasts three hours, and the van usually makes two stops per day—one at a natural products store and one at a conventional supermarket. "You can't get more targeted for [a retailer] than being in their store," Saline says.
And for many managers and employees whose disdain for demos is thinly masked—after all, it's a low-margin, high-labor way of raising consumer awareness—having someone else do the dirty work is a welcome relief. "None of the store personnel have to be involved with the demo," says Matt Campbell, director of operations. "We set up, we break down." Mambo Sprouts also provides the signage for each location, and connects with buyers to make sure the products being sampled are approved at each store. The company also touches base with the stores' brokers to make sure enough product is on hand for the big event, which often draws 200 to 300 people. Because manufacturers fund the program, there is no cost to retailers. "It's an amazing deal for the retailers, incredible value-added stuff," Campbell says.
Mambo Sprouts focuses its tours on a particular region—say, New England or the Pacific Northwest. "We're … interested in the demographic and the accessibility of the product. We want to be able to find natural supermarkets and marry in with a mass merchandiser [in the same city]." And in 2007, the company plans to use a van that runs on biodiesel, to try to incorporate corporate ideals into practice.
The main event
Other companies raise awareness through different venues. MusicMatters, based in Minneapolis, concentrates pri?marily on event marketing. Its flagship event, the Organic and Natural Experience, sets up tents at community festivals. "We go to fairs that have deep-fried Twinkies and other junk," says Scott Silverman, retail manager and business development manager. "We provide real food."
That's true—the company gives away bags full of sponsors' products and coupons at ONE events, as well as lists of local retailers that carry the merchandise. And MusicMatters uses bags from an area retailer to hand out the samples. "It associates them with the brands and drives traffic to their stores," Silverman says. Beyond that, any connection with retailers tends to be more coincidental. "It's one of those behind-the-scenes things."
That's especially true with Music?Matters' field marketing programs. "We execute mobile tours for Stonyfield Farm, Luna Bar, Clif, Annie's Homegrown, Fantastic World Foods and others," Silverman says. In the Stonyfield campaign, dubbed "The Mooville Tour," which follows existing fairs and festivals, a talking cow discusses the impact her audible, uh, methane, has on the environment—after excusing herself, of course. "Brand activists"—high-energy people who embody natural-living values—talk up the sponsoring companies' products on these tours, again telling customers where to buy them.
But the relationship with individual retailers is stronger in Go Organic! for Earth Day events, which are organized by MusicMatters and the Organic Trade Association. For those events, MusicMatters supplies individual stores with free coupon books and matching shelf talkers. "We do the design, printing and ship the stuff in a kit to their store," Silverman says. The materials explain what organic means and what Earth Day means. "The whole point is to raise awareness and increase sales of organic products." Like the Go Mambo! tours, manufacturers also fund these events. "It's a massive store-level promotion, and [retailers] really don't have to lift a finger," Silverman says. MusicMatters does ask retailers to highlight the major sponsors of the program with shared end caps and ad circular space, he says.
Such a deal
Events aren't the only way that promo companies drive sales, however. Mambo Sprouts is perhaps best known for its quarterly coupon books, which are mailed to 385,000 consumers in nine markets and delivered to more than 800 natural and mass-market retailers. The manu?facturers participating in the program number in the hundreds, ranging from Amy's Kitchen to Zand. The consumers on the mailing list are highly targeted, selected on the basis of demographics and previous purchasing habits.
Similar programs are available for independent co-ops through the National Cooperative Grocers Association. The NCGA's Co-op Advantage Program sends out fliers that offer members (and their shoppers) specials on national and regional products. "Because our members are independent retailers and do not carry the same product sets, we actually have six or seven versions of this flier each month, customized to each region," says Kelly Smith, NCGA's director of marketing and communications. The CAP flier also connects with consumers, offer?ing recipes and educational information. NCGA creates point-of-sale materials such as shelf talkers and posters that co-ops can use to emphasize that month's savings. The CAP also includes twice-yearly manufacturers' coupon books. "These coupon books are mailed directly to our members' owners and/or distributed in-store—that decision is up to the individual co-op," Smith says. "Many reserve the coupon book as a benefit to their member owners."
Smith says manufacturers are eager to work with the group. "Co-op members are loyal consumers and our promotional vehicles reach a large number of independent co-ops, working together as a virtual chain."
Mambo Sprouts also produces newsletters to communicate new information about health issues, food and natural products. New Hope Natural Media, publisher of The Natural Foods Merchandiser and Delicious Living, also creates custom publications for natural products retailers and select conventional grocery retailers who have embraced the natural and organic category.
"Custom magazines create an opportunity for retailers to brand their stores as being the 'experts' in providing information about natural and organic products, rather than just carrying them," says Bill Crawford, director of retail custom programs for New Hope. "Custom magazines also are a great tool for building both customer loyalty and sales." Crawford says some retail customers report sales increases of 20 percent or more after bringing in custom magazines, and that many also find an online version helps them "more fully reach the potential of their magazines."
Using one of these promotional vehicles doesn't mean you have to forego the relationship you've already created with an advertising company. "We're not looking to take away from them; we're looking to augment," says Mambo Sprouts' Saline. "Once that trepidation is alleviated, they see the synergistic relationship we create, and we end up being more successful for everyone."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 2/p. 18, 22