Since launching its groundbreaking industry growth strategy (IGS) at last year’s OneShowSM, the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) has been busy sending positive messages out to consumers and the vending industry about the bright future of vending. A major component of the program – the 5-week, 7-city Gratitude Tour – wrapped up recently, wowing crowds of more than 40,000 consumers around the country with the latest machines, products and technology. The Gratitude Tour truck itself traveled for more than 125 hours, covering more than 7,000 miles and reaching an estimated 225,000 additional consumers who saw it rolling down the highways of America.
Through extensive media coverage of the Tour and other aspects of the IGS, consumers are now actively engaged in a “vendialogue” with the industry, and excitement is building among operators and suppliers for renewed growth.
Marking the first time in its history the vending industry has ever embarked on this level of consumer marketing, the Gratitude Tour was designed to convey thanks to Gen Y (and other loyal consumers) for preferring vending, to reinforce that vending delivers what consumers want, when they want it and where they want it, and to put consumers in front of machines. A major catalyst for the Tour was recent NAMA research that showed Gen Y prefers vending over convenience stores and grocery/drug stores for snacks and cold beverages.
Vending operators around the country responded positively to the Gratitude Tour by contacting NAMA to offer their help and involvement, and utilizing the tools provided by the Association to promote the Tour and/or the IGS Facebook contest, Vend.Love.Win. (http://www.facebook.com/vendlovewin), at their local levels. Many operators also indicated their belief that the Tour and related IGS activities are helping to change outdated stereotypes about vending, engaging consumers with new technologies and interactivity, driving more consumers to machines, helping fortify or create new customer relationships, and generating a greater awareness of vending overall through local and national media attention.
Commenting on the Madison, Wis., event, Chris McCarten, district general manager of Canteen Vending, said in a prepared statement, “The students on campus were thrilled by not only the new machine technology, but also the products in the machines. Standing next to the 2bU machine all day, I heard several students commenting about how they had to come see the machine because they had been messaged by their friends about it on Facebook. Our clients (the University of Wisconsin) were thrilled with the excitement of the students. We believe this event will lead to new placements of machines on campus.”
The tour featured a variety of vending machines and unattended retail market exhibits, displayed in high-traffic, outdoor venues in Boston, Mass., New York, N.Y., Atlanta, Ga., Austin, Texas, Phoenix, Ariz., Minneapolis, Minn., and Madison, Wis. Consumers were invited to sample products, machines and technology, and were encouraged to stop by a social media tent where they could get free t-shirts for entering the Vend.Love.Win. Facebook contest. Local entertainment added to the festive feel of the events, as thousands of free vending products were given away.
Throughout the tour, NAMA emphasized that not all the machines, technologies and products on display are available in vending locations today, but that they represent the future of vending, which is high-tech, experiential and customer-focused.
In addition to event attendees, millions more consumers have heard about the Gratitude Tour and the latest developments in vending through extensive national and local media coverage. A successful “vendialogue” has been created through online channels – an interactive buzz built through social media, websites, blogs and web feeds and designed to appeal particularly to Gen Y. This is driven by a core IGS strategy of reaching Gen Y consumers by taking positive messages about vending to them where they are, on the Internet. Through coverage in both online and traditional, mainstream media, the program has reached not only millions of Gen Y consumers but also millions of Gen Xers, baby boomers, legislative audiences and industry leaders.