By Stephen Bentley, CEO at Granby Marketing Services

Natwest’sporcelain pigs,the Andrex puppy and most recently, comparethemarket.com’s Simples Rewardsmeerkat toys — there is a long line of iconic and successful marketing campaigns that have a simple promotional mechanic and tangible reward at its heart. The physical promotional reward has undergone a renaissance of late, driven by the popularity of Aleksandr and his cuddly friends in Meerkovo. Butare the very ideas, skills and experience needed to deliver ‘traditional’ promotional campaigns in danger of dying out asdigital promotional campaigns and rewards continue to grow in prominence?

In the last couple of years we have seen increased activity by brands wanting to get that personal touchback by returning to ‘traditional’ promotional campaigns and putting something physical into the hands of the consumer. Whilst digital downloads are still extremely attractive as a reward incentive, the sheer delight and satisfaction that consumers get from receiving a free gift in the post that has an intrinsic value and strong brand association is difficult to match. Indeed, the recession has played a key role in the rising redemption rates, but not for the reason that you may think. Consumers have tightened their purse strings and value-for-money (both monetary and emotionally) remains important, but when people are short of time and the ubiquitous money-off promos no longer offers the incentive they once did, an imaginative campaign such as comparethemarket.com’s Simples Rewards can really deliver cut-through.

Behind every successful campaign there’s an interdependent chain of marketers, agencies and suppliers working together to turn a concept into reality; it requires a detailed knowledge of the operational and legal components of promotional mechanics. But the major challenge we see in the industry is that, due to the increasing bias towards digital campaigns, many agencies simply no longer have the in-house specialist skills and experience needed to deliver physical promotional campaigns.The problem is not just isolated to the younger generation; it’s a much broader issue and is symptomatic of a lack of first-hand experience and exposure to traditional sales promotional mechanics across the whole industry.Even those individuals fortunate enough to attend training courses, provided by organisations such as the IPM, can find it difficult to put into practice and build upon the lessons they’ve been taught due to the lack of opportunities.The problem can manifest itself in a variety of ways from late/disjointed briefings and not understanding operational lead times to uncertainty around the legalities of the mechanics and T&Cs.

So how can this skills gap be bridged? Firstly, it’s not one group’s problem, everyone in the industry has a responsibility to address the issue — agencies, brands, suppliers and trade bodies alike. All parties have an inherent interest in promoting best practice; from the agency involving their handling & fulfillment partner early on to reduce costs, to the client who benefits from increased sales and positive brand sentiment as a result of a successful sales promotion campaign. Training and improved awareness of how to plan and execute campaigns will be absolutely key to realising the multitude of benefits the discipline can achieve.

Suppliers to the industry, like ourselves, have a wealth of relevant experience and expertise to draw upon and an increasingly important and central role to play in educating clients and agencies.Beyond what many might consider their traditional remit, suppliers can add real value through consultancy and support throughout the whole process from helping clients develop initial concepts into operationally feasible campaigns to the actual delivery of the activity. Indeed, suppliers arguably have a greater vested interest in promoting best practices they traditionally inherit the problems if briefs aren't correct or operational concepts are ill thought through.

With training budgets being slashed due to the recession, it’s imperative the industry comes together in much more collaborative, efficient and mutually beneficial way. We need to champion best practice and ensure the traditional skills that have long underpinned promotional marketing continue to flourish in this increasingly digital and virtual world.