Field marketing companies used to be defined as a single street marketing communications partner, that is, a company helping the product or brand communicates with a potential consumer “in the field”, normally through standard advertising media plus POS and merchandising opportunities. In recent years, though (roughly since the mid 1990s), the practice of marketing in the field has grown to encompass two way communications, where the consumer is encouraged to “talk back to” the product or brand, normally through surveys and questionnaires.
A third strand is added to the field marketing bowstring by the mystery shopper. Technically, a mystery shopper is an employee of the market research company who is sent on his or her “mission” – which means he or she is not quite the same as a genuine member of the public. As a recipient of a wage, the mystery shopper is disposed to give slightly more attention to elements within the store or service of the product he or she buys. Such is their attention that is in many cases dictated by the questionnaire given to him or her by the employer.
Still, the mystery shopper is a genuine avenue with the help of which the public can “talk back” at the product or brand; normally by reporting on a range of set criteria, which are carefully constructed by market research companies to reveal meaningful data about the customer experience with a brand or even a single product.
The difference between field marketing companies and traditional advertising is that use of the companies delivers marketing on a face to face or personalised basis. This, at least, is the potential differentiation, though it must also be remarked that the existence of any advert “in the field” is technically an element in a field marketing campaign.
The spirit of the idea is that one on one contact with a customer is a potentially ironclad way of promoting products and brands. Of course, the promoter must take into account the prospect of brand failure her, that is, of the consumer failing to engage with the brand because of poor product placement, irrelevant POS displays or a simple lack of knowledge on the part of staff.
Staff “interrogation” is one of the primary purposes of the mystery shopper element in a field marketing campaign. It’s impossible to get a good idea of the real efficacy of staff in a store, or affiliated with a brand, through either “normal” means (talking to them directly) or by listening to customer complaints, which are traditionally difficult to parse. Some consumer complaints are genuinely useful; others, though, can be motivated by irrational dislikes or simply a customer having a bad day outside of the store.
The mystery shopper, on the other hand, is able to observe staff in what they believe is a normal situation. The mystery shopper technique, however, may be diluted somewhat if the management of the store in question have prior knowledge of his or her arrival. The most effective uses of mystery shopping in field marketing are entirely unannounced and “spontaneous.”
Used wisely, field marketing companies can develop a representative picture of brand performance.