Looking ahead: In-store sampling reimagined

June 11, 2020


Contributed article by: Jared Kligerman, President of The Think Tank

In-store sampling is one of the most effective marketing tactics for engaging consumers. It drives trial and boost sales for brands,  many of whom credit sampling for helping to establish their brand through a more intimate, face-to-face shopper interaction. However, this in-person component is exactly why in-store sampling won’t be an option for the foreseeable future, due to new social protocols and a sea of change in the retail experience.

So with in-store sampling off the table, how can you continue to incentivize shoppers and drive trial in our new low and no contact existence? Here’s 5 ways to tackle trial in a less tactile world:

Stay In-store

While more options are becoming available in-store for brands, the best solutions among them are shelf-ready packaging and RTD shippers.  A hurried parent who has been primed by your campaign doesn't want to have to hunt for your product on-shelf – they’re looking for easily distinguishable branding and consistent communications. Similarly, having a branded SRP/RTD shipper can be an opportunity to visually disrupt shoppers on their journey, grabbing the eye and increasing the probability of purchase. Retailer programs provide another avenue for brands, which include the likes of loyalty programs and coupons. Most retailer programs apply to both brick and mortar locations as well as online stores, allowing you to reach both sets of consumers. In addition to strengthening retailer relationships, this option also provides brands with  metrics to help evaluate its direct impact versus packaging or in-store sampling.

Be Direct

As grocers pivot further towards direct-to-consumer, so is sampling. There is an array of options, from mass to niche markets and from broad focus multi-item to solo boxes. Consider sampling as you would a media buy – more targeted options come at a higher price but also tend to have a corresponding higher ROI. This makes having a clearly defined target audience, objective and budget that much more critical in determining which is right for your brand. Broadly distributed multi-box items have a lower price-per-unit and reach mass market but deliver a crowded experience and limited consumer engagement. Conversely, targeted sampling limits the number of items per experience, increasing the probability of trial and reviews, the latter being particularly significant given the vast majority of consumers don’t take action until they have vetted the reviews. Additionally, the specialized delivery allows for unique integrations and provides higher quality consumer data, which can be leveraged for future campaigns. Regardless of the option, you should consider including a coupon to encourage purchase and as a means of tracking effectiveness of the campaign.

Go Digital

Physical coupons are coming back online, however, digital coupons have seen a surge in use as apps and websites make it easy for consumers to collect those offers relevant to them. There are a plethora of ways to get digital offers to consumers, from digital couponing platforms to promotional codes on social media and/or banner ads. Alternatively, you can leverage targeted databases for promo codes with a direct link to the ecommerce site or preferred online retailer.

Think Influential

The power of reviews and word of mouth is why you should be considering influencers as part of your marketing strategy. Including a promo code or integrating sampling directly into their social campaigns (“swipe up to sample”) gives a call to action for the consumer while also providing an easy way to measure the effectiveness of the influencer campaign. When looking at which influencers to work with, consider those who appeal to your target, but also those who are authentic—the kind you respect and would want to meet yourself, and most importantly one that aligns with your brand. To get the most for your money, micro influencers (10,000-50,000 followers) are an ideal partner, as they are typically less expensive with a more engaged and targeted following.

Get Creative

Sometimes that breakthrough comes from a little out-of-the-box thinking, so get creative and explore ways to make your brand standout with relevant and memorable communications that don’t come across as opportunistic. There have been some incredibly creative initiatives over the COVID-19 outbreak from big and small players alike. Dove managed to tug at our heartstrings yet again as they continue to redefine beauty with a nod to frontline medical workers while the Three Wishes Cereal pop-up drive-thru sampling program at local retailers, provided shoppers with an unexpected and convenient way to try something new amidst our new normal.

Even though in-store sampling may be on hold indefinitely, there are many other innovative ways brands can continue to reach consumers. From creating more shelf visibility in-store to exploring digital experiential channels, now is the time to explore and test new tactics that can have a big impact on driving trial.

About the author

Jared Kligerman is president of The Think Tank, a full-service communications agency supporting brands across North America. For the past decade, Jared has provided strategic consultation to a diverse set of organizations; enhancing performance of global sales and marketing teams, optimizing customer service procedures, and developing strong tactical alliances. Along with Sherri-Anne (VP client strategy + services) and Justin (VP creative director), they develop the strategic and creative tools for brands to stand out from the crowd and connect with consumers where they consume – in-store, online and beyond.


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