Opinion

The secret power of offering product samples

Martin Rothwell of experiential marketing agency GottaBe! explains the awesome power of this simple technique
By
Martin Rothwell

For brands looking to grow their customer base and increase loyalty, finding the correct strategy and channels to truly reach their ideal target audience can be tricky. Sampling has been a tried-and-true marketing strategy for decades, and for good reason. In fact, according to a report by the Content Marketing Institute, sampling is the most effective content marketing tactic, with 87% of marketers using it. 

This masterclass covers the benefits of sampling, the different types and tips for how to utilise it as part of your brand strategy. 

High involvement or low involvement? 

Broadly speaking, sampling initiatives fall into two pots. 

High-involvement sampling is all about building emotional connections with your brand. If you have a team handing out freebies at a festival, for instance, it’s not just about the give-away; the experience you give people sampling the product matters too. So, a water brand might want to provide a little bit of luxury, such as a chill-out zone where consumers can recharge, alongside the sampling activity. It’s more likely to get people to remember and pick your brand when they’re at the supermarket shelf. 

Low-involvement sampling, on the other hand, is geared towards trial and building purchase intent. Think including samples in delivery boxes from the likes of Hello Fresh or sampling in offices. This also offers an opportunity to drive people online with codes and offers so they start a digital journey. Which works well, for example, if the goal is specifically to encourage sales through your e-commerce site. This type of activity suits large audience pushes, with the chance to get feedback and plug learnings into the next iteration - for an improved sampling experience. 

Moving seamlessly from physical to digital 

Sampling in physical spaces is the traditional form of activity in this sphere - and it’s still massively important. 

However, as alluded to above, digital is becoming as much a driver of brand sampling activity and is too important to ignore. But what’s the smart way to go about it? 

In truth, there a lots of ways digital supports sampling - that’s an article in itself. But to spark your thoughts, consider the boom in brands using online influencers over the past decade or so.  

There are three ways the word ‘influencer’ can work well that you may not have previously considered. 

First, getting influencers on board early can help shape the strategy in ways that will appeal to your - and their - audience. It can flag the physical event you’ve planned before it happens and give people a reason to pop along to pick up a sample. 

Second, if you then drive that audience to digital, perhaps using a QR code on the promotional pack that promises more goodies when they go online, you can track redemption and other activity. Through this, you can build a picture of where the influencer’s audience lives: thus helping you plan more targeted high- and low-involvement campaigns for the future. By creating QR codes, you can effectively gather valuable insights into your audience's demographics and interests, enabling you to tailor your marketing strategies more effectively

And third, it’s worth realising that people who visit your physical sampling event can become micro-influencers of their own. Give them a reason to create and share User Generated Content, and their audience can subsequently share it too - meaning you might soon reach a much larger audience.

Gain valuable insights into your target audience 

By collecting feedback from customers who have sampled your products, you can gain valuable intel on what your customers like or dislike about your products. This feedback can then be used to improve the product or position the product differently in the market, leading to a better customer experience and ultimately increasing customer loyalty.  

Brands can choose to either conduct wet or dry sampling. Wet sampling involves providing customers with a freshly made product, while dry sampling involves giving customers pre-packaged products.  

Wet sampling can be more effective in creating a memorable experience because they can taste and experience the product firsthand. However, it can also be more costly because it requires the brand to provide samples and potentially pay for the space or event where the sampling is taking place.  

Dry sampling can be more cost-effective because the brand can produce and distribute the samples at a lower cost. It can also be more convenient for consumers because they can try the product on their own time and in their own environment.  

Stand out from the competition 

In a crowded marketplace, providing complimentary product samples can help your brand differentiate itself and capture the attention of potential customers. This can be especially effective for new or niche brands trying to establish themselves in a market.  

To make sure your sampling campaign stands out, we recommend creating a unique brand activation that will attract potential customers' attention. This can include creating interactive displays or partnering with influencers to create buzz around your product. 

Another great, often unexplored, tactic is to target events your rivals may have overlooked. If you’re a protein supplement brand, for example, don’t just go to the big fitness or training shows; discover something with more niche appeal but which still attracts the audience you’re after. 

We recently helped Dorset Tea activate a sampling campaign at rural fairs - a category hot competition hadn’t thought of, with very satisfying results. Over a two day ever we sampled over 2,000 cups of tea, increasing awareness through website traffic across the following week post-activation. 

By selecting the right location and time for sampling, you can ensure that you are reaching the people who are most likely to be interested in your products. This targeted approach can lead to increased conversions and a higher return on investment. It also ensures that your product sampling campaign is not just reaching anyone and everyone, but specifically, the people who are most likely to become loyal customers. 

Sampling is a smart marketing strategy for brands looking to grow their customer base and increase brand loyalty. Get your products into the hands of potential customers and let them experience the value first-hand! Not only will this give you valuable insights into your target audience, but it will also set you apart from the competition, help you connect with customers on a personal level, and allow you to reach specific audiences. The positive impact on your bottom line is undeniable.

Written by
Martin Rothwell