Sales Promotion Tutorial
In a time when customers are exposed daily to a nearly infinite amount of promotional messages, many marketers are discovering that advertising alone is not enough to move members of a target market to take action, such as getting them to try a new product. Instead, marketers have learned that to meet their goals they must use additional promotional methods in conjunction with advertising.
Other marketers have found that certain characteristics of their target market (e.g., small but geographically dispersed) or characteristics of their product (e.g., highly complex) make advertising a less attractive option. For these marketers better results may be obtained using other promotional approaches and may lead to directing all their promotional spending to non-advertising promotions.
Finally, the high cost of advertising may drive many to seek alternative, lower cost promotional techniques to meet their promotion goals.
In this section of our detailed Principles of Marketing Tutorials we continue our discussion of promotion decisions by looking at a second promotion mix item: sales promotion. Sales promotions are used widely in many industries and especially by marketers selling to consumers. We will see that the objectives of sales promotion are quite different than advertising and are specifically designed to encourage customer response.
What is Sales Promotion?
Sales promotion describes promotional methods using special short-term techniques to persuade members of a target market to respond or undertake certain activity. As a reward, marketers offer something of value to those responding generally in the form of lower cost of ownership for a purchased product (e.g., lower purchase price, money back) or the inclusion of additional value-added material (e.g., something more for the same price).
Sales promotions are often confused with advertising. For instance, a television advertisement mentioning a contest awarding winners with a free trip to a Caribbean island may give the contest the appearance of advertising. While the delivery of the marketer’s message through television media is certainly labeled as advertising, what is contained in the message, namely the contest, is considered a sales promotion. The factors that distinguish between the two promotional approaches are:
- whether the promotion involves a short-term value proposition (e.g., the contest is only offered for a limited period of time), and
- the customer must perform some activity in order to be eligible to receive the value proposition (e.g., customer must enter contest).
The inclusion of a timing constraint and an activity requirement are hallmarks of sales promotion.
Sales promotions are used by a wide range of organizations in both the consumer and business markets, though the frequency and spending levels are much greater for consumer products marketers. One estimate by the Promotion Marketing Association suggests that in the US alone spending on sales promotion exceeds that of advertising.
Classification of Sales Promotion
Sales promotion can be classified based on the primary target audience to whom the promotion is directed. These include:
- Consumer Market Directed - Possibly the most well-known methods of sales promotion are those intended to appeal to the final consumer. Consumers are exposed to sales promotions nearly everyday, and as discussed later, many buyers are conditioned to look for sales promotions prior to making purchase decisions.
- Trade Market Directed – Marketers use sales promotions to target all customers including partners within their channel of distribution. Trade promotions are initially used to entice channel members to carry a marketer’s products and, once products are stocked, marketers utilize promotions to strengthen the channel relationship.
- Business-to-Business Market Directed – A small, but important, sub-set of sales promotions are targeted to the business-to-business market. While these promotions may not carry the glamour associated with consumer or trade promotions, B-to-B promotions are used in many industries.
An extensive discussion of different types of promotions for each classification can be found in our Types of Sales Promotion tutorial.
Objectives of Sales Promotion
Sales promotion is a tool used to achieve most of the five major promotional objectives discussed in the Promotion Decisions tutorial:
- Building Product Awareness – Several sales promotion techniques are highly effective in exposing customers to products for the first time and can serve as key promotional components in the early stages of new product introduction. Additionally, as part of the effort to build product awareness, several sales promotion techniques possess the added advantage of capturing customer information at the time of exposure to the promotion. In this way sales promotion can act as an effective customer information gathering tool (i.e., sales lead generation), which can then be used as part of follow-up marketing efforts.
- Creating Interest – Marketers find that sales promotions are very effective in creating interest in a product. In fact, creating interest is often considered the most important use of sales promotion. In the retail industry an appealing sales promotions can significantly increase customer traffic to retail outlets. Internet marketers can use similar approaches to bolster the number of website visitors. Another important way to create interest is to move customers to experience a product. Several sales promotion techniques offer the opportunity for customers to try products for free or at low cost.
- Providing Information – Generally sales promotion techniques are designed to move customers to some action and are rarely simply informational in nature. However, some sales promotions do offer customers access to product information. For instance, a promotion may allow customers to try a fee-based online service for free for several days. This free access may include receiving product information via email.
- Stimulating Demand – Next to building initial product awareness, the most important use of sales promotion is to build demand by convincing customers to make a purchase. Special promotions, especially those that lower the cost of ownership to the customer (e.g., price reduction), can be employed to stimulate sales.
- Reinforcing the Brand – Once customers have made a purchase sales promotion can be used to both encourage additional purchasing and also as a reward for purchase loyalty (see loyalty programs below). Many companies, including airlines and retail stores, reward good or “preferred” customers with special promotions, such as email “special deals” and surprise price reductions at the cash register.
Sales Promotion Trends: Customers Expectations
Marketers who employ sales promotion as a key component in their promotional strategy should be aware of how the climate for these types of promotions is changing. For instance, the onslaught of sales promotion activity over the last several decades has eroded the value of the short-term requirement to act on sales promotions. Many customers are conditioned to expect a promotion at the time of purchase otherwise they may withhold or even alter their purchase if a promotion is not present. For instance, food shoppers are inundated on a weekly basis with such a wide variety of sales promotions that their loyalty to certain products has been replaced by their loyalty to current value items (i.e., products with a sales promotion). For marketers the challenge is to balance the advantages short-term promotions offer versus the potential to erode loyalty to the product.