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Guide To Brand Sampling Program Success

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Brand Sampling Program Guide

In a hyper-competitive marketplace, the quest for a strategic advantage in connecting brands with target customers is endless. Sampling programs, a tactic as old as marketing itself can create an advantage when wisely executed. Depending on the category, sales conversions have been reported as high as 90%, bringing a new level of disruptive power for brands.

Sampling Connects The Brand With The World Around It

Of course, not all products or services can be sampled by giving them away. And just because you can sample your product or service, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. In most cases, sampling should be considered as an opportunity to introduce a new offering with the brand’s clearly defined target group … and at a time and place that creates maximum synergy toward a measurable, strategic goal. In that way, sampling is not a strategy per se, but a means to accomplishing a strategy – a marketing tactic.

Eight Dimensions Of Sampling For The Brand Marketer:

1. Creating awareness and curiosity for the brand. That’s a big reason why sampling is so popular when launching a new brand. An important note here: It’s not enough just to sample a product. The sampling promotion must be adequately supported by whatever media (online, print, direct mail, etc.) works for your market. Your customer may respond: “I hadn’t heard of this brand before. This looks/tastes/feels/smells/sounds interesting.”

2. No or low risk to personally experience the brand by eliminating barriers to trial. “I wouldn’t risk paying for that, but since you’re offering it for free, I’ll be willing to try it.”

3. Association of the brand as something beneficial or pleasurable at a critical moment or point of decision. Sampling a product out of context, even it’s the right target group will be ineffective. “I was really thirsty and this tasted great. Next time I’ll consider this.”

4. Creates a reciprocal relationship between your brand and your customer. Your “gift” will be appreciated and may be passed along to someone else who will also appreciate it. Further, sampling triggers a psychological obligation to give back, or purchase.

5. Gathering valuable customer insight and reviews about a new product or service.

6. Establishing future purchase behavior, often by means of an added incentive. This also provides a much-needed metric to evaluate sales lift – particularly in a test market – before a larger rollout.  “This was good, and I can save on my next purchase, too.”

7. Creating talk and social media value about the brand. Social media, such as Facebook, is also being effectively used by brands to promote sampling programs and collect data on their new consumers. “You should try this brand. I did.” Or “I think I’ll ask for a sample of that while they last.”

8. Enhanced brand perception when sampled in conjunction with an event, cause, venue or organization aligned with the brand’s values. “This brand supports what I support in a very real way.”

Sampling Can Be A Part Of Branding “Generously”

Branding Strategy Insider Co-Author Mark Di Somma reminds us that brands can be more successful by being more generous. Giving products away, in the context of the right event, cause, emergency, or challenge, provides a very tangible empathetic message from the brand to those at their point of need, especially when the need aligns with the brand’s values.

Sampling Can Help Overcome Resistance To Change

Some brands will face a greater challenge than a competitor – they will face the challenge of changing perception in order to gain acceptance. As Steve Wunker describes in his piece on lowering barriers to product trial sometimes it comes down to fighting consumer inertia, as in the case of Trader Joe’s offering free samples of its private label products to promote trial and purchase. Or CLIF Protein Bars offering free tastes of its products at sports expos. Or any one of a thousand apps that are launched as freeware in order to find a spot on your smart phone and becoming a part of your life’s routine – and later even more so with subscription upgrades that enhance the experience and capabilities.

Sampling Achieves What Other Marketing Communication Cannot

Sampling has the power of connecting the brand to the heart and mind of the consumer by virtue of a real encounter and personal experience with the brand in a way that is unachievable by any other means. Advertising and promotion may create awareness and may even place the brand on the consumer’s consideration set for a particular category, but it may not be enough to create an opportunity for the all-important trial purchase. Sampling can bridge the gap that stands between mere knowledge of the brand and true “ownership” of it through personal experience.

Sampling Differs From Trial Offers

With a trial offer, there is an implied or assumed future commitment to the brand by purchase or subscription (disclaimers “to cancel” at the end of the free trial period not withstanding). So with a trial offer, there may be a risk to some of an undesired commitment or entanglement should the experience be unsatisfactory. With sampling however, there is no such risk. There are no strings attached. It’s just free to enjoy in hopes that you will want to repeat the experience next time with a purchase.

Sampling And Event Synergy

Every July 4th, the world’s largest 10k foot race, the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, Georgia, attracts 55,000 runners and thousands more spectators along the course and at pre-race festivities. It also demonstrates the power of sampling by virtue of the 8 dimensions outlined above. For example, dozens of brands of waters, juices, ice creams, and fruit snacks (many of which are relatively unknown – see Point #1) sample their products to sweaty, thirsty, and hungry participants across acres of a downtown park at the finish line (Points #3, #6). It’s not uncommon to see hoards of tired runners board the buses and light rail for home, arms laden with free food and drink to share and consume with family and friends later (Points #2, #5). Brands that most likely would never find their way into the participant’s shopping cart are now suddenly, and happily, in their refrigerator, waiting to be tried and enjoyed. (Point #4). Probably no amount of advertising could have connected the dots so effectively as that. Not to mention the exponential brand exposure, post-event, to thousands more across an MSA of approximately 4.5 million.

Sampling And Timing Synergy

Sampling isn’t limited to packaged goods. Perhaps the best example of this is satellite radio and premium TV cable channels that sample their programming around weekends and holidays when potential subscribers are stuck in their cars or stuck in their homes with free time for some free entertainment. Sirius XM uses strong awareness campaigns to alert their target audience that their free listening event is happening, creating the urgency to tune in while it lasts. Just as with consumer packaged goods, these marketers are betting that this serendipitous effect with their potential audience will create enough trial to translate into customers for life.

Here are 10 fundamental questions every marketer should address when considering sampling as part of their brand’s marketing strategy:

  1. Are you properly considering sampling as a tactic and not a strategy? Big difference. Sampling should be viewed as a means to an end: Introduction, awareness, trial, market share, etc. And you should avoid sampling to current users of your brand – you will not gain any more loyalty than you already have.
  2. Are you carefully selecting the right venue and timing? Just because the opportunity is there to sample doesn’t mean it’s the best opportunity for your brand.
  3. Are you supporting your sampling via marketing communication or promotion? Sirius XM is an excellent example.
  4. Are you watching all of your logistical details? Sampled products must be fresh, packaging must be pristine, and the “brand ambassador” serving the product must be reasonably knowledgeable about the product, as well as a properly presented representative. Sample supplies must exceed anticipated distribution – don’t run out!
  5. Are you providing any follow up incentive? Your mission is to convert prospects into customers. Provide an irresistible means of doing that with a strong, time sensitive offer.
  6. Are you inviting engagement by means of surveying, rating, or referrals?
  7. Are you tracking the results from your sampling promotion and are you learning anything? Note that measurement as it relates to sampling doesn’t mean how many products you gave away. It does mean comparing the sampling investment against the purchase conversion that results.
  8. Are you connecting the prospect with your brand on a wider level? Are you inviting them to your website and social media to learn more and receive other offers?
  9. Are you donating your unused samples to charity (if acceptable) or disposing of them?
  10. Are you reaffirming your brand’s commitment and support for the cause or event where you are being sampled? Don’t assume the consumer will make the connection. Make the alignment stronger and more obvious between your consumer’s values and those of your brand’s by reinforcing it through your marketing communications.

The Blake Project Can Help: Accelerate Brand Growth Through Powerful Emotional Connections

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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