When the lockdown first began, the world went on pause to see what would come next. Consumers stocked up on basic necessities from brands they knew, and brands pulled back on marketing spend to survive a 2-3 week hiatus. Now, as we sit in week 10 of lockdown, it’s obvious that this isn’t a short-term business challenge that will blow over. Brands and consumers alike are adapting, and are finding new ways to interact with and discover one another.
These are interesting times for brands. Three months ago, marketers were overwhelmed with choice when it came to their marketing mix, and trying to narrow a strategy down to key channels was the biggest challenge. Today, many of those channels have been eliminated as consumers have retreated deep into their homes to weather the storm. And while stores are slowly beginning to re-open, there’s a level of uncertainty that looks like it’s here to stay (at least for a little while).
Contactless sampling is one of the few physical touchpoints left in the buyer journey
Experiential marketing channels continue to take the biggest hit, leaving brands with the impossible task of attempting sensory marketing through intangible, digital channels. One of the few marketing channels left that allows brands to give consumers a physical experience is contactless sampling—a rapidly growing sector. While digital sampling is nothing new, it’s relevancy has skyrocketed amid the new stay-at-home culture.
Brands that once relied on in-store sampling and event-based marketing are now turning to contactless sampling to reach consumers from the comfort and safety of their own homes. As brands continue to adapt their marketing strategies and consumers continue inching back towards their regular shopping habits, one thing is certain: consumers haven’t stopped wanting to try new products, they just want a safer experience.
Consumer demand to try new products hasn’t gone away
While we all may be stuck at home, the consumer’s desire to sample new products has not only remained strong—it’s actually grown. Since the lockdown began, Sampler has seen a 2.2X growth in user engagement in the months of March and April compared to this time last year. Since the dust settled and staying at home became a more normal reality, consumers have more time to research new products and aren’t bombarded with the same amount of choices as in-store.
One of the primary benefits of in-store sampling for consumers has been the ability to physically experience the product before purchase. In fact, a study by RetailDive revealed that 62% consumers said the ability to see, touch and feel products was the reason they shopped in stores versus online. However, the desire to try products in store in a post-coronavirus-era seems to have been drastically reduced. A recent study revealed that a whopping 78% of consumers do not feel safe testing beauty products in stores. Now, as stores begin to reopen, new hygiene measures are implemented, and in-store sampling is brought to a halt, brands have to rethink how they maintain and deliver this crucial human element to sampling in a socially distant world. For brands to transform these high-touch, high-risk physical experiences into lower-risk contactless ones that consumers deem safe, they can start by rethinking the very place consumers discover and try their products. By taking a direct-to-home approach and eliminating the in-store factor altogether, brands are not only cutting through the noise and delivering a much memorable experience to their consumers, but a safer one - and that is the defining difference in the current landscape.
Brands are getting creative with contactless sampling
A contactless approach to product sampling also poses a great opportunity for brands to get creative and elevate their branded experiences. From drive-thru sampling stations to at-home party kits, marketers are leveraging this touch point to design unique and high value product experiences that delight consumers right at home. One brand very familiar with the merits of in-store sampling, and forced to innovate amid the pandemic is snack brand Pipcorn. In a recent partnership with Sampler and Classtag, the brand is creating the largest “Year-end Popcorn Party” for students and teachers alike who have traded their classrooms for a remote setting. The program enables teachers and parents of students within their class to receive a free bag of popcorn directly at home and celebrate the year-end amidst their new normal. According to Pipcorn co-founder Teresa Tsou, adopting these creative ways of sampling has proven to be very effective: “We were actually able to reach so many more people than standing in an in-store demo for three or four hours.”
COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed the way consumers discover and try products forever. Brands are being held to new standards in safety and hygiene and those who swiftly adapt to their consumers’ changing needs are poised for success. As consumers grow wary of high-touch experiences and steer away from person-to-person interactions, the opportunities to maintain this highly effective “human-touch” are narrowing.The good news for marketers is that this doesn’t make experiential marketing a thing of the past - in fact it’s quite the contrary. This just poses a fresh new opportunity for brands to deliver a high quality branded experience in a unique, memorable, and most importantly - a contactless, way.