Owner/Marketer: Chris Coffey

At its essence, on-site marketing is about getting a message in front of consumers at a time when they are most susceptible to purchase. And while this might seem simple enough, Chris Coffey, the founder of the In Group, explains there’s a little more to it.

How did your business come about? What was missing from the New Zealand market?

In my previous life I ran a healthcare advertising agency across New Zealand and Australia. My clients were always looking for more targeted ways to get their messages and samples out to their customers. I noticed that the medical waiting room was a fantastic untapped promotional space; a large captive audience with health needs, a credible environment and very little promotion. So I developed a business called inWaiting. We offered advertising and product sampling in 2,500 New Zealand waiting rooms. 

How did it grow from the there?

In 2013, to give our clients a complete sampling service, we added on two brand ambassador offerings,  inStore (supermarket and retail demos) and inField (events, public sampling and experiential).  We then became the In Group.

Your business places quite a bit of emphasis on product sampling, experiential and promotional advertising campaigns? What is it about these approaches that appeals to you so much?

They are smart, targeted marketing approaches that meet a growing consumer need. For the FMCG industry the number of brands and SKUs has exploded over the last decade. Consumers are overwhelmed and marketers are finding it harder to be heard. Our business helps FMCG marketers to cut through to the people most likely to buy their products and let them try before they buy, which has a direct impact on sales. Below the line brand activation as a proportion of the marketing mix is rapidly growing both in New Zealand and worldwide so it is also a sensible business strategy for us. 

What makes your inSite, inStore, inField and inWaiting services different from anything offered by other marketing-service providers? 

Both inWaiting and inSite are unique worldwide. They create brand ambassadors of everyday people—the office manager, the hair stylist, the dog groomer, the medical receptionist. Since research shows consumers are more likely to be influenced to purchase by someone they know than by a stranger, these techniques deliver results. They are the most cost-effective ways to run large sampling campaigns that are also highly engaging.

Our brand ambassador offerings, inSite and inField, stand out for two reasons: 1) we use staff that are matched carefully to the brand and who are trained to sell, not just look good. And 2) we are experts in logistics. We have a dedicated logistics manager and full distribution facilities. From my 22 years in marketing and advertising, these are the two areas that most commonly reduce the effectiveness of in-store and experiential campaigns. 

It seems that partnerships are integral to the success of your business. What does it take to establish lasting business relationships with companies? 

This is true in so many ways. Strong relationships with both our sampling locations and our clients are essential to our business.

I believe developing long-lasting business relationships is all about delivering above expectations and focusing on what is important to your business partner rather than just what is important to yourself or your business. 

What mistakes do marketers make when trying to establish lasting business partnerships?

The key mistake here I believe is playing a short game. Partnerships are about respecting the other party irrespective of their perceived ‘power’ in the relationship and looking for the long-term win/win rather than the short-term gain. It’s about being just as passionate about fulfilling your business partner’s goals as your own. The current ‘supermarkets versus suppliers’ situation is a good example of what happens when this does not occur.

Do you use any digital channels to complement the person-to-person approach that you use?

Yes, we have found digital communication an essential part of our activities. We use tools such as social media, online surveys, online video, web promotion and email marketing to inform, test, measure and extend the reach of our campaigns.

Given that your business model is dependent on the placement of brand ambassadors at strategic places, what makes a good brand ambassador?

When we do use traditional brand ambassadors we look for five key attributes: 1) Fit with the brand: the ambassador has to be able to relate to the customer. For example, a dog lover is more likely to ‘be able to sell a dog food; 2) ability to engage: they are usually the people you feel you want to talk to at a party. They are happy to approach strangers and connect quickly; 3) ability to sell: they are persuasive, but in a friendly and sincere way; 4) smart: they can think on their feet, remember the key messages and work out what to do if things go wrong; and 5) reliability: They will do what they are asked to do 100 percent of the time. 

As someone who promotes products for other people, how do you go about promoting your own business?

Most promotion of our business is through word of mouth and through face-to-face presentations. Many of our clients will recommend us to other marketers or to their new companies if they move on. We also use some PR, social media and SEO.

  • This story was originally published in the July/August edition of NZ Marketing.

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