When in 2003, Ricola, the renowned leading Swiss herb candy maker, asked Euro RSCG Partnership to think about a solution to help regain sales momentum in the Singapore market, no one had CRM or direct communication in mind.

There were good reasons for this.

Firstly, it is accepted that the cost of acquiring a customer using direct marketing was far higher for FMCG brands than the cost they bear when using mass media.

Secondly, FMCG products involve high numbers of customers, often measured in millions, which makes the management of such big numbers a challenge.

Finally, there have been very few examples of FMCG brands relying on direct marketing techniques to advertise their products, making it very difficult for a brand manager to want to give it a try.

But most of these reasons don’t stand when challenged.

FMCGs have a large customer base (sometimes up to 50% of the total population), therefore making it easier and far less expensive to acquire.

The second reason may have been relevant in the past when information technology wasn’t as developed as today. But when it comes to Singapore with its high PC, handphone and Internet penetration, managing a large number of customers is not an issue anymore.

The third reason remains, as being a trailblazer has never been easy for anyone.

As far as Ricola was concerned, the market situation was tough. Various factors like the overall 2003 economic situation, the marketing activity of the competition and the introduction of many new products had eroded Ricola’s leading position in the Singapore’s market.

It was the right time to try something new.

And Singapore was the perfect place to try something new, evaluate the numbers and eventually extend the experiment to other Asian urban centres, as its limited size and high development level created the perfect test market conditions.

So Euro RSCG Partnership proposed that Ricola adopt a 1-to-1 communication approach. For the first time concepts such as Return On Investment, Measurability, Effective Integration, Sustained Loyalty and Accountability were part of a marketing plan for Ricola.

The idea was simple – build an on-going relationship with customers in order to make them buy more Ricola candies more often and to track and measure customer data individually in order to customize on-going promotional offers.

Central to the idea was the Internet. A new website was created, www.Ilovericola.com, to provide purchase incentives to customers and track leads. To push people to the website, TV, print, online advertising and POS were used in support. Interestingly, the proportion of media spent on TV versus online communication shifted to 60/40, in favour of online.

Every single pack of Ricola got an individual code number that would help track sales of the different SKUs from various distribution channels, including petrol stations, supermarkets and convenience stores.

The call to action was simple – go to www.Ilovericola.com and play instant win games as well as register for a lucky draw with the chance of winning a whale watching trip in New Zealand. However, participation was only possible for people entering the individual codes (found on the Ricola packs) online and entering their personal particulars.

The results were quite amazing. Sales increased significantly over the same period of the previous year, total registrations exceeded the expectations, and www.Ilovericola.com became the most visited FMCG web site in Singapore during the period.

What’s more, for the first time, Ricola have a deeper understanding of their customers’ profile and purchase behaviours, which will be invaluable as they continue to offer customised promotions in the future.