Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reblog: Sales Incentive Marketing, Bigger is Not Always Better

Originally published here on This Tool's Life.

They are marketing mercenaries, incentive administrators for hire. Brands, like Mountain Dew, pay them to take on the trouble of running sweepstakes, contests, rebates and the like. Companies like Young America are an intermediary point of contact between the consumer (who enters a contest, or mails in a rebate), and the brand who sponsors the incentive. Of course, the whole point of marketing incentives is to build consumer relationship with a particular brand through the path of interest, interaction, intimacy, and influence. Depending on how well a marketing scheme is executed, a consumer’s relationship to a brand may be strengthened or weakened.
Young America’s corporate website touts their complex structure:
“We’re bigger. And when the stakes are high, that means better. Our massive, expandable promotion infrastructure deploys the largest, most elaborate promotion fulfillment and engagement marketing programs – without compromising accuracy or turn time.”
While Young America’s expandability and years of experience could be appealing to the corporate marketer, large complex organizations often have trouble interacting with the individual because they run many parallel promotions in which thousands of people may be involved. Since consumer relationship is all about particular individuals’ interaction with a brand, it is at this point that damage may be done.

I have recently been involved in a very informal way in the product development and marketing of Mountain Dew White Out through my participation in DEWlabs (a sort of extreme consumer panel). Throughout my time in DEWlabs I have developed a casual relationship with the brand managers (via conference calls, live chats, email and the like). The group is small enough that the brand people can have this type of interaction without a logistical problem. I know a few of the team by name, and can honestly say that I like them.

On the other hand, I also won a prize during a separate marketing campaign in which Mountain Dew was the sponsor and Young America (YA) was the contest administer. With this contest, bigger turned out not to be better. There were several bumps along the way that, were it not for my perspective on the Mountain Dew brand, would have soured me to brand altogether.

In case you happen to be a marketer considering YA, I'll outline my experience for you so you know what you might be getting yourself into. 10 days after winning, I was emailed an affidavit asking for my mailing address that said that after I return it (which I did within hours) I should wait for further information regarding my prize. Further information never came, when I emailed them about it I received a form response “the rules say delivery could take 8-10 weeks” instead of an answer to my question. After I waited 13 weeks without word from YA, I emailed them asking if they had record that I had actually won the prize and if it was coming. A response was received a week later (14 weeks now) that I had failed to give them my shirt size in the affidavit. I kept a copy of the original affidavit and it never asked me for my shirt size. A month after I mailed them my shirt size, I still had not received my prize or word from them regarding it. I emailed YA, the Mountain Dew brand team, and Motive (an awesome Colorado based hybrid agency responsible for actually making the prizes). Motive said that the last they heard from YA, all the prizes had been shipped out. YA said that the prizes were shipping out within the next 2 weeks. After two weeks past I sent YA an email asking to speak with a supervisor. The next day, my prize arrived (22 weeks after I won) but was incomplete. I was to receive a video camera and 9 shirts; only 4 shirts came… all the wrong size, which is odd because YA said that they were waiting for my size to send my prize.

I think I simply slipped through the cracks. I think they sent me the wrong affidavit at the beginning, then when I responded and wasn’t on some list corresponding to the affidavit I was forgotten until I began sending emails. The new affidavit asking for my shirt size was a cover-up to make it look like the error was mine. By this time the majority of the prizes were out (other people said they received theirs, and Motive said YA had shipped them out). Shipping my prize probably required a special order, so it took a couple weeks and they were just out of inventory on the shirts.

In YA’s defense, they do seem to take complaints seriously provided they are loud enough. I wrote a message to the sales team informing them that I planned to write this article about my experience with YA. Within the hour I received a response from Leone Hunter (Vice President, Client Services / Product Manager, Sweepstakes), and later in the day a call. Without admitting any fault, she informed me that YA takes quality of service seriously, and explained the inherent complexity involved in managing a contest. There was a delay in receiving the shirts, and size preference is difficult to coordinate (and not guaranteed). We talked some more and made arrangements to make things right for me personally.

Making things right for me personally turned out to mean receiving a couple of beanies, a belt buckle, some wrist sweat bands, and a vintage looking poster print in the mail with a couple of coupons.

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