Product sampling is one of the oldest yet most effective forms of marketing because it encourages consumers to interact directly with the product.
Although it is sometimes a heavy investment to coordinate distribution of free products through sampling events and direct mail, many marketers feel the payoff is worth it. But do they really have a handle on the immediate and lasting consumer engagement that comes from these programs?
According to Cadent Consulting Group’s 2015 Industry Shopper Study, brands allocated more of their 2014 marketing budgets to in-store events, which paid off at retail. More than three quarters of retailers found branded in-store events generated the most sales. In fact, the world’s biggest advertiser, Procter & Gamble, announced it was allocating more marketing dollars into product sampling programs in 2015. P&G’s former Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley referred to sampling as a “point of market entry,” citing a recent Gillette program aimed at sending young men a free razor on their 18th birthday.
Even with the emergence of online shopping, marketers have figured out ways to get product samples into the hands of shoppers. Often, Web-based retailers will include free product samples inside customer orders. Another way marketers are getting samples to online shoppers is through opt-in mail sampling programs, like Birchbox or BarkBox. For a small fee, customers subscribe to receive monthly product samples from specific categories, such as health and beauty or pet supplies.
Regardless of the delivery, the short-term goal of any sampling campaign is to drive trial and perhaps produce a spike in sales. However, long-term objectives typically focus on conversion and ongoing product loyalty. This is where it can be particularly challenging to gather meaningful consumer data. Measurement of who is sampling and buying a product is valuable, but even more important is the ability to track and interact with anonymous samplers after the product trial.
Traditional Sampling Measurement Tactics
Traditionally, sampling programs include basic methods of data capture, with success being difficult to define or measure. During sampling events, retailers often rely on employees or third-party vendors to hand out samples and survey customers with simple yes or no questions about the product. Another method of data capture involves counting in-store foot traffic with a tally counter to establish a proxy for the potential traffic volume to the sampling station. Also, marketers may track how many units are sold at the sampling station or compare how many units are sold at a sampling location versus other locations.
In some cases, a coupon or discount might be included to provide an incentive for trial following exposure to a product sample. However, these coupons are rarely used as a device for gathering targeted consumer information. This is a huge missed opportunity, as this information can make future efforts and re-targeting more personalized and effective.
The Impact Of Technology
Surprisingly, technology has not had a major impact on product sampling because it remains a low-tech, labor-intensive tactic. Incorporating hardware like tablets can increase the expense of events and limit crucial face-to-face interaction with customers. In some cases, the down side of incorporating technology into sampling events may offset the intended up side in trying to make data capture easier and more efficient.
However, integrating digital promotions technologies into sampling events is seamless from the consumer’s perspective and enhances data gathering. By incorporating personalized coupons or promotions featuring unique bar codes into product sampling interactions, marketers can easily capture, measure, and track consumer insights and analyze data once the sampling event is over. Beyond this, some digital promotions campaigns enable retargeting of these consumers with personalized e-mail offers following the initial product sampling interaction. As a result, marketers may be able to better understand consumers’ long-term behaviors based on trial and conversion and adapt their programs accordingly.
The Future Of Product Sampling
Marketers have always known the importance of product sampling, but technology has not truly allowed them to prove and measure the ROI for these tactics until now. Using a digital coupon or promotion to measure engagement addresses this issue and opens the door to more personalized and impactful marketing and promotion efforts.