afaqs!

What's ahead for BTL marketing?

By Tarana Khan , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | January 06, 2009
A look at the factors that have helped in the growth of BTL marketing in India and the trends to expect in 2009

Going & #BANNER1 & # by the marketing campaigns we have witnessed in 2008, it seems that brand managers have been open to experimenting with all forms of brand communication. Though television is a staple in media plans, radio promotions, OOH, digital media and below-the-line marketing are becoming increasingly important.

BTL marketing, in particular, has caught the attention of marketers for its visible impact and cost effectiveness. According to industry estimates, BTL marketing has grown by about 20 per cent in 2008. This is only an estimate though, as the BTL industry is still unorganised. BTL marketing witnessed good growth from 2006 up to the first two quarters of 2008. Post September 2008, the economic slowdown had an impact on all marketing spends.

As far as budgets go, the average ratio of television versus other media, including BTL, is 70:30. However, this depends on the product category. Categories such as telecom, for instance, allot as much as 50 per cent to BTL. With the focus shifting away from television, BTL agencies expect that in 2009, this ratio will inch towards the midpoint.

Ambika Sharma, national head of Jagran Solutions, says, "Below-the-line initiatives are gaining success because of their customer centric communication, low spillover and, above all, the ability to deliver the brand experience as against pure messaging."

Since indicators of the BTL industry may not be representative enough, afaqs! spoke to a few industry professionals to identify the five factors that have probably helped the industry to grow over the past year or so.

1. Rise in integrated campaigns
If it's not truly integrated, it's not a complete campaign, seems to be the belief of most marketers. There was a marked increase in companies allocating fixed budgets to non-traditional marketing right at the start, instead of launching a mass campaign and trickling down the message to other media. To get their message across, companies strove to catch the customer everywhere - at home, in the car, in malls and theatres and on the street.

Nirmallya Roy Chowdhury, who has been in the advertising industry for almost 10 years and currently works with RMG Connect, says, "There is a rising awareness among clients as well as agencies that so called 360-degree or BTL platforms are not just for the placement of the same message, but for taking forward the core brand thought and executing it in synergy with other media, to create an overall brand involvement."

Therefore, campaigns for brands such as Maruti A-Star, Chevrolet Spark, HP, Domino's, SanDisk and Max New York Life Insurance were integrated on traditional media with a healthy dose of BTL. For instance, Maruti Suzuki is estimated to have earmarked Rs 45 crore for its newest launch, Maruti A-Star, for a campaign encompassing TV, print, OOH, radio, digital and on-ground activation.

2. New brands join the movement
It's not just the usual suspects which gave BTL a go; the new ones also realised the potential. Whether it was to stay competitive or to expand their reach, brands that had never ventured beyond traditional media began to do so.

Therefore, BTL activities were executed by Asian Paints, Nirula's, Canon, Zapak, Godrej Eon, Himani Fast Relief, Timex and the Kerala Tourism Board. Online brands, such as BigFlix.com and Sulekha.com, and brands that target specific audiences, such as Piramal Healthcare, Victorinox, Mahindra Mitsubishi Electric and VLCC, also realised that BTL helps them target the right audience.

Priya Monga, business head at RC&M, says, "We have already seen FMCG and automobile clients going heavily active with on-ground activations, but in the last few months, we have also observed retailers, banking institutions, food joints and TV shows jumping into this pool to influence and engage their TG (target groups) at prominent locations."

3. Involvement of personal media
Media fragmentation onto various personal devices has not only helped BTL agencies to get more accurate results, but also to ensure that brands have more touchpoints with customers.

Agencies have used digital media effectively to generate interest in the on-ground activity, receive feedback and evaluate results. "Alongside more personal and conversational messages, consumers are also demanding more tailor-made messages, befitting their individual personality," says Sharma of Jagran Solutions.

To take a case in point, Tata Tea, in a campaign for encouraging people to vote, centred its communication round a website, www.jaagore.com. The site was used to get voter registrations through a campaign that comprised a TV commercial, OOH and on-ground activation in colleges and offices.

ING Vysya Bank also launched a social responsibility campaign, which started on the Internet and moved to on-ground. It launched a website, www.kidzzbank.com, to educate children about the importance of saving money and investing. Later, the initiative was taken to underprivileged children in South India.

4. Growth of modern retail

Malls have come up in at least 40 towns in India, with other formats, such as fresh food stores, convenience stores and supermarkets, penetrating even deeper. This infrastructure allows brands to reach these markets and interact with customers through activation.

Vijay Singh, managing director, 141 Sercon, says, "With retail undergoing a makeover, consumers are shopping differently and making brand decisions on the shop floor. The shop floor is the new primetime. Brands now need to attract attention and find their way into the shopping carts by undertaking more consumer touchpoint based brand activation."

Atul Nath, managing director of Candid Marketing, agrees, "The continued development of consumer behaviour towards organised and modern retail allows activation to be more effective for brands." Candid has organised retail activities for brands such as Kwality Walls and Vaseline.

Malls, in particular, allow for brands to get the undivided attention of customers because visiting malls is a leisure-time activity. Malls also form a good platform for sampling, which has been used successfully by FMCG companies such as ITC's Bingo and telecom manufacturers such as Nokia.

5. Apprehension of a slowdown
They may not admit it, but marketers are apprehensive of the global economic recession. They are being asked to justify ad spends for every penny spent on advertising. In a way, BTL emerges as just the right approach at this time.

Singh says, "The overall economic conditions have prompted brands to look at more result-oriented marketing techniques. BTL marketing is precise, measurable and result driven. Hence, brands have focused more on this."

Compared to other forms of marketing, the impact of BTL activities can have a direct bearing on sales. Monga says, "BTL provides immediate returns on the money that has been spent on activations. The data that is collated post activations help in closures through telecalling."

Take, for example, a campaign that RC&M did for Mahindra's Bhoomi Putra tractor - the agency claims that for an activity that reached 2,500 farmers in 11 states, 400 spot sales were achieved.

What's ahead?
For the year ahead, one of the key expectations is the emergence of strategic agencies for brand activation. Singh remarks, "Brands are seeking out BTL marketing specialist agencies and are looking at engaging them as strategic partners in the business process rather than looking at them as tactical executors."

Another expectation is the growing importance of customer retention programmes in an environment where customer preferences change easily. Chowdhury says, "The focus will be on existing and loyal customers who are already in the fold and need to be pampered. The hunt for new customers will slow down because the cost of acquiring a new customer is much higher than retaining and gaining share."

Sharma says that it's time for marketers to look beyond the usual. "In India, brands have mostly played safe with only conventional forms of BTL, like events and road shows, exhibitions, conferences and sampling. However, BTL opportunities extend to many other forms, such as word of mouth, viral marketing, podcasting, consumer generated media, field marketing, contests, as well as innovations within the conventional media."

Clearly, the BTL industry is set for interesting times ahead, not just in terms of a greater share of the budget, but also in terms of more experimentation from marketers.