Pilot UK has just wrapped up an impressive cross-country marketing initiative to bolster its eco-credentials and reinforce its message of being a green manufacturer.
Here, Alex Sinclair, marketing manager at Pilot Pen UK, talks to OPI‘s Executive Briefing about the recent success of the company’s recent BegreeN campaign.
OPI: Can you explain the strategy behind your recent successful BegreeN campaign?
AS: That can be summed up with five core objectives, they are:
1. To dramatically increase the awareness of BegreeN products. BegreeN was launched as a range in September 2005. However, it has developed with new products being regularly added. The BegreeN Roadshow was designed to make the consumer aware that they now have an environmental alternative.
2. To prove, by trial, that BegreeN offers the same quality as our normal range, with no price premium. We encouraged visitors to try our brand leading G2 pen and compare it to the BegreeN equivalent G Knock. Over 99 percent of visitors confirmed the writing performance as being exactly the same. (It should be as they both use the same refill.) The only difference is that G Knock is made with 81.5 percent recycled material.
3. To increase sales for BegreeN stockists. We now have over 2,000 outlets stocking BegreeN.
4. To forge an identity that sets BegreeN apart from competitors.
5. To develop this market sector and gain dominant share We now have BegreeN products listed by all the major players in all channels. No other supplier comes close to this!
OPI: Have you been surprised by the reaction?
AS: Over the course of the BegreeN month the brand was seen by more than 15 million consumers and we met almost 100,000 of them. We demonstrated that our BegreeN range is not only the same quality as our standard range but also the same price. When we asked would they choose a BegreeN product next time, a common reaction was "well why wouldn’t I- Other comments included "I can’t believe that no one has thought of this before!"
OPI: What opportunities are there with the BegreeN range for the dealer community?
AS: The independent Trade has been losing the battle with their Mass Market competitors over recent years. It has become clear that the supermarkets are able to offer key products, many as own brands, at selected times of the year (such as Back to school and January Sale) at a fraction of the cost available from the independent sector. This sounds as if I believe the end of the independent is here, but that is not the case. To survive, the local dealer must adapt and specialise, look for niche markets and sell products which are more feature focused and not so price sensitive. BegreeN is a perfect example, with its unique selling proposition of being the only full range of writing instruments made using recycled materials. Instead of having to sell the lowest value pen, we are offering a higher priced product with a totally unique advantage.
OPI: How important is the environment in the mind of the customer?
AS: Over 90 percent of consumers in a recent poll expressed an intention to be more environmentally friendly. Over 50 percent say they are significantly more focused than five years ago. The problem the consumer has is that they want to be more "green" but they can’t afford it and why should they? Faced with a like for like choice I believe we would all choose the environmental option, but not enough manufacturers offer a level playing field, choosing to use the environment as a way of increasing the retail price. At Pilot we are offering a product of equal quality at the same price, despite the fact that it costs us more to produce. We want other suppliers to follow our lead.
OPI: How do you seek to match this new eco-demand?
AS: By the end of 2007 almost 12 percent of our business will be in BegreeN products and we expect this to grow substantially in 2008. One factor that may restrict this could be the availability of recycled plastic.
OPI: How would you describe the writing instrument market?
AS: Generally the market is quite flat with little new and innovative products being produced. At Pilot UK we have seen sustained growth over the past year as BegreeN has become established. Further planned extensions to the range should see our growth continue.
OPI: How do you seek to differentiate yourself from your competitors?
AS: Not only do we sell products, such as BegreeN, which are environmentally friendly but we also try to limit our own impact on our local surroundings. All the Pilot factories in Japan have obtained the ISO 14001 accreditation. Pilot UK also has ISO 14001. All the packaging used, all the promotional products, in fact everything we are currently working on, has the environment at its core. We are not just selling a concept, we believe in it and this comes across to our customers.
OPI: What changes have you noticed in the marketplace in recent times?
AS: Recent GFK data shows the Mass Market players are extremely dominant at key times of the year. Until recently Pilot UK had dealt through a third party, but we are now dealing direct with all three of the top supermarkets. While this increases our work load, they have the ability to increase our brand exposure very quickly. We are not alone in making these types of changes, other suppliers are now following suit.
OPI: Dealers ask for more support from the manufacturers, but what would you like to see in return?
AS: The market is changing and if dealers don’t recognise this then they will not be around for the long term. Manufacturers are the most knowledgeable about their own products and when they produce displays, literature and other Point of Sale material, dealers should use them. Failing this they should use materials produced by their buying group or wholesaler. The reseller market is full of marketing ideas and dealers need to embrace them.
OPI: Pilot is renowned for innovation; are there similar BegreeN campaigns planned for the rest of the year?
AS: We will be working closely with a number of dealers to promote BegreeN in the coming months. One way we believe we will be successful is to cross promote (with non-competitive suppliers) with products which are equally as environmentally focused. If the consumer has already made the conscious decision to buy one "green" product, then we simply want to let them know what else is available. We will continue our extensive sampling campaign as we believe that end users need to see, touch and use a BegreeN pen, before they will become convinced of its high quality.
OPI: The pen amnesty is a marketing coup. How many pens did you recover and how are you disposing of them?
AS: At each of the 20 events we offered visitors a free pen simply for taking part in the "trial". We also offered them additional samples to replace any pens that they threw into our recycling bin. We received almost 3,000 pens from visitors to the BegreeN Roadshow. Shortly we will be visiting our local (Bourne End) recycling centre where the plastic will be re-used to produce products like the BegreeN range – ironic really!
OPI: How do you see this green market developing?
AS: Open a newspaper, switch on a TV and all we hear about is the environment. End users are looking for alternatives which are more sustainable, but they must be of equal value and quality. We have recently learnt that current landfill sites in the UK will be full within 9 years and that local councils are going to start to weigh the amount of rubbish we throw away and charge us accordingly! So we see this niche area spreading into more main stream markets. Supermarkets in the UK have already recognised the potential and are keen to be in the lead with "no more carrier bag days" and incentives to return packaging to stores.
OPI: How does Pilot UK as a company seek to reduce its ‘carbon footprint’?
AS: As apart of our ISO 14001 accreditation we are constantly reviewing our environmental impact. Following a recent Environmental audit we are installing voltage reduction meters to our lighting system, PIR sensors to cut down on unwanted lights and are changing the way we heat our warehouse to be more efficient. We also have a fleet of Hybrid cars (battery/motor).