The psychology of free sampling marketing

June 15, 2016
Kelly Stewart

The psychology of free sampling marketing

Let's face it, we all love getting free stuff. Whether it's a dessert at Costco or a sample-size lotion from Sephora, it's hard to say no to free samples. We know sampling works, but we often forget to mention the root of why.

To help you understand, we did a little digging ourselves and broke down the top factors that make sampling so successful. 

What is free sampling marketing?

Before we dive into why sampling works, what is free sampling marketing? Free sampling marketing, also known as product sampling marketing, is a marketing strategy where brands give target consumers their product to try for free before purchasing. Objectives for a free sample marketing campaign could include driving brand awareness in a specific target market, collecting feedback on a new product, building your email list, or driving ratings and reviews to your e-commerce store.

For emerging brands or small businesses, free sampling marketing is an especially great way to not only build brand awareness but also understand the drivers, pain points and interests of your target market(s).

With the budget pressures many brands are facing today, it’s more important than ever to direct efforts (and budget) to those high-value consumers that provide the biggest return for your brand -- if you want your marketing dollars to have the highest impact, non-targeted sampling is not the way. 

Free sampling marketing

What Role Do Free Samples Play in Branding?

These are the four most important benefits that sampling marketing can bring to brands:

1. Loyalty

One of the main roles played by a sample in psychology marketing is to increase customer loyalty, as it delights established customers and entices them to purchase more.

2. Awareness

Sampling psychology also shows us that this is a great way to boost brand awareness. If you are a newly-launched business with a small customer base, you can offer free products to attract new people to your brand.

3. Product Quality

By giving away freebies and samples, brands can also request customer feedback and reviews, which in turn helps them improve product quality in the long run.

4. Sentiment

As we said, everybody loves free products. By offering a free sample, you can create a stronger and longer-lasting first impression that drives more customers to buy from you.

Digital product sampling and free sampling marketing

A digital sampling program is a form of free sampling marketing. You can target consumers based on over 700+ segments that include everything from a consumer's region, to how often they exercise and what type of hobbies they have. What is unique to digital sampling is that target consumers can be targeted and re-marketed to on social media or through email marketing, long after they have sampled your product.

Digital sampling helps brands focus their efforts (and dollars) on the consumers who are most likely to love their products and help them bring consumers closer to their next purchase.

free sampling marketing

Risk Aversion

Trying a product doesn't involve any form of commitment, loss or investment on the consumer's end, so it feels like a win-win situation to them. As psychologist Dr. Shahrah Heshmat explains in Psychology Today, when humans make decisions “we focus more on what we might lose rather than on what we might get.”

Product sampling involves no obligation or perceived risk for consumers, so they feel more open minded and willing to give your product a chance after they get a free sample. A driving factor in sampling’s global and long-standing popularity is exactly that, risk aversion. 

Giving away free products is also a great way to softly nudge consumers towards picking your brand over another as consumers are more likely to buy a product they've tried rather than one that is foreign to them.


Humans naturally feel indebted to those who have done something for them. For example, when a friend gives you a gift or a co-worker helps you with a project, you feel indebted to them in some way, you want to reciprocate.  

This also applies to something as simple as giving consumers a free sample. When you share a free product with a consumer, a mental desire to reciprocate the gesture comes into play.

This is another primary reason why consumers love sampling, and buy the products they sample. When you share a free product with someone, especially a product they know was matched with their interests and lifestyle, consumers want to reciprocate.


When you give your consumers the opportunity to trial your product, you're giving them a chance to intimately interact with it. Allowing them to taste, smell and experience your product creates a sentimental bond that is more powerful than any other direct marketing method.

By providing a free sample within your marketing efforts, brands can create a stronger first impression than any stand alone marketing efforts ever could.

7 Free Sample Program Ideas That You Must Try

Let’s now take a look at some great ideas for sampling marketing programs that work.

1. Online Sign-Up Samples

By creating specific landing pages, you offer customers the possibility to request free samples from you.

2. In-Person Samples

Retail and food businesses can attract passing customers by offering free product samples and closing lots of sales on the spot.

3. Post-Purchase Samples

When a customer buys one product, you can include a similar one which encourages them to try it – for free, of course.

4. Free Gifts

Free Gifts

With one purchase, give your customers another item – in pocket-size. Go the extra mile and let your customer choose which sample to take home.

5. Social Media Samples

Team up with social media influencers and personalities by sending them free samples of your products in return for reviews, ratings, or social shares.

6. Direct Mail Samples

Send carefully handpicked customers regular coupons or free products via snail mail.

7. Sample Packs

Introduce your customers to products they might like by offering them as free samples – and hoping they will end up buying them in the future.

How Can You Sample?

If you're looking to create your very own free sampling marketing strategy, you have to do your research. Make sure you're capable of sampling the product, whether it be trial-sized or a free product voucher that can be redeemed in-store. Depending on your marketing goals, you can create an in-store, omni-channel or online experience that fits your needs.

As CPG marketing efforts become increasingly digital post-pandemic, so will sampling. Digital sampling can allow you to target niche audiences and measure how your campaign is doing in real time. The best part? With the help of your dedicated sampling expert, you can not only create a free sampling marketing strategy that drives your specific objectives, but also build lasting relationships with your highest-value consumers.


Interested in learning more about Sampler?

Connect with one of our sampling experts today

Speak to a sampling expert