A complete guide on how to maximize your product sampling services.
Getting your product into the hands of consumers right now is tricky. Getting your product into the hands of the right consumer can be even tricker.
Especially as the pandemic made in-store shopping feel more like a race against time than the leisure activity it once was.
The long-term reality of living with a pandemic has forced consumers to adopt new ways to discover products in-store, online and everywhere in between.
After over a year of major shifts within the CPG sector, brands and retailers alike have been left to find new and innovative ways to reach consumers outside of in-store sampling. Though shopping, offering free samples, and product testing might look a little different today, consumers’ desire to sample new products has remained strong.
But which product sampling strategy is right for you, and your specific objectives? What are the different types of product sampling campaigns and what role can they play in your marketing strategy? We’ll dive into everything you need to know in this piece.
What is product sampling or consumer product sampling?
Product sampling, also known as consumer product sampling, is a form of experiential marketing where brands give consumers the opportunity to try their product for free.
Why does product sampling work?
We all know everyone loves free stuff, but there are several psychological factors that contribute to and explain the success of product sampling. Let’s get into why product sampling has stood the test of time.
As humans, we naturally make decisions to avoid loss over a potential gain. Consider this: most people choose to put their money in a low interest rate bank account over a stock that may have a much higher expected return. Why? The stock has a higher risk.
For consumers, product sampling doesn’t involve any form of commitment or investment, so it feels like a win-win situation to them. With no perceived risk on their end, consumers feel more open minded and willing to give your product a chance.
This is why consumers pick familiar products over ones they have no experience with -- even if the unfamiliar products may be more suited to their lifestyle or interests.
The theory of reciprocity simply entails that we want to pay back what we have received from others. When you share a free product sample with someone, a natural desire to reciprocate comes into play.
Let’s consider an example, imagine you are looking to level up your skin care routine with some luxury products, but don’t know where to begin. You are matched online with a few luxury skin care products that fit your unique skin type. You then manually select which ones you want to sample, and your samples are delivered to your doorstep for you to try in the comfort of your own home. You get to experience the value of these products first hand, on your own time, and pick your favourite.
You want to reciprocate and purchase your favourite product, and this feeling is only enhanced because you feel the product is uniquely yours, and was selected just for you.
Reciprocity in sampling doesn’t just come in the form of a purchase decision for consumers, but also in activities like leaving a review on your eCommerce store, posting user-generated content on social media and telling their friends about how much they loved your sample.
What better way to create a positive sentiment around your product than allowing consumers to interact with it, for free?
Product sampling works because it creates a stronger first impression on consumer sentiment than any stand-alone ad, email, or social media post ever could.
Consumers are being marketed and sold to at all times, and they know that. Product sampling cuts through that noise to provide real value for consumers, which can boost sales.
Sensory marketing appeals to consumer’s 5 senses (smell, taste, touch, sight, hearing). Product sampling engages one or more of the human senses and allows consumers to create an emotional tie or association with the product or brand.
When consumers open up a Hershey Kiss for example, the foil transforms an ordinary piece of chocolate into a special, memorable and delighting experience -- an experience that we all associate with Hershey.
By allowing consumers to physically engage with your product through a sample, you're allowing consumers to relate to your product on an emotional level.
Marketing strategies like user-generated content, word-of-mouth marketing and ratings and reviews have become beyond pivotal in today’s market because, let’s be honest, today’s consumers trust one another more than they trust ads, brands or retailers.
Providing a product sample increases trust in your brand because you’re allowing the value of your product to speak for itself, instead of hiding behind gimmicks, false promises or shortcuts.
Types of product sampling campaigns
Product sampling has been around for decades but its formats have changed over time. What are the types of product sampling campaigns available for brands and what are the pros and cons of each? Let’s get into it.
Traditional in-store or event sampling
Think Costco sample stands, grocery store samples and Red Bull activations at an event. This is the traditional cups to lips experience for grocery brands or the beauty counter sample experience for personal care, beauty and skincare brands.
Here are some of the pros and cons of traditional product sampling for your brand:
- It’s an immersive brand experience, allowing consumers to engage their senses and physically experience the product first-hand.
- Builds brand awareness with consumers who wouldn't have otherwise learned about your product.
- Audience targeting is not possible as in-store samples are handed out at random, it’s not possible to know if you're handing a beef jerky sample to a vegan.
- No opportunities for re-marketing or retargeting to consumers post-sample, as there is no way to follow up with them the moment they walk away from the sample booth.
- Products are wasted as consumers often “double-dip,” and receive 2 or more samples instead of one.
- Logistical challenges like staffing, complex installations, and monitoring the user experience limit the scalability of traditional sampling.
Digital product sampling
The best way to understand how digital product sampling works is through the consumer experience. When setting up a digital sampling profile, consumers answer a set of diagnostic questions to provide some demographic, psychographic, geographic and lifestyle data.
The questionnaire can include anything from the user’s age, location, dietary preferences, shopping habits, and other lifestyle questions like how often they exercise.
From there, consumers are matched with physical samples and digital offers that fit their profile, of which they hand select the ones they want to try and receive a box of samples directly to their doorstep.
Digital product sampling focuses heavily on the data and insights behind sampling to make the consumer sampling experience data-driven and personalized -- something that was never possible with traditional methods alone.
Here are some of the pros and cons of digital product sampling for your brand:
- Target consumers, collect and get insights from their feedback with ease, and re-market to those high-value consumers.
- Reach consumers in the comfort of their own home, where you can gain their undivided attention of your consumer and develop a more loyal consumer base.
- Collect ratings and reviews that can be analyzed and syndicated to your eCommerce store for more credibility at the point of purchase.
- Grow your email list and build a database of consumers who are interested in your product for further re-marketing, long after trial.
- Send a follow-up coupon or digital offer to consumers to incentive or further drive a purchase.
- One of the common barriers for new and emerging brands looking to digitize their sampling methods has been the higher costs associated with it, due in great part to shipping and fulfillment costs and the advanced targeting, data, and re-marketing abilities that it delivers.
Impact of product sampling
We know that product sampling works, and the different kinds of product sampling strategies, but what impact can product sampling have on your business?
Here are some of the ways product sampling can benefit your brand and some real-world examples to show you how it works:
Discover your highest value consumer through data and analytics
- A digital product sampling program allows you to choose from over 700+ segments that include everything from a consumer’s region, to how often they exercise to what type of hobbies they have -- the targeting possibilities are quite significant.
- You are able to challenge your ideas of which audiences will love your products to build more data-driven, robust and human personas to boost your brand.
- With every sampling program you run, the platform gets smarter helping you identify consumer demographics insights that you may not have considered before.
- Barney Butter discovered a new high-value audience segment to re-market to: Kosher dieters. 65% of this segment stated that they were likely to re-purchase their product post sample which shaped future product planning and marketing.
A sampling expert can identify key sub-segments of your sample claimants for you and come up with actual recommendations as to how you can continue to target those consumers to ultimately bring them closer to the next purchase.
Drive ratings and reviews for your eCommerce stores
It is safe to say that ratings and reviews are pivotal in today’s market (95% of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase). A primary use case for product sampling is collecting genuine and valuable feedback from consumers in the form of ratings and reviews. On Sampler’s platform, an average of 81% of consumers will give a 4+ star rating to the products they sample.
- A leading CPG conglomerate received 28,700 online ratings and reviews after their digital sampling program with an average 4.58 star rating (out of 5).
Your sampling dollars are then not only working to engage consumers in a memorable way, but also sustaining a steady flow of consumer feedback.
Increase retailer distribution
- Digital product sampling provides real consumer data to create data-driven retailer pitches.
- Here is an example: A grocery brand looking to secure distribution at Costco leveraged their digital sampling program to target Costco shoppers and studied how many claimants rated their sample highly as well as how many stated an intent to purchase. With this data, the brand was able to prove demand to the retailer by highlighting that 80% of Costco shoppers loved their product.
Entry-level digital sampling for emerging brands on a budget
Every brand has had to adapt the way they sample since the pandemic started, as in-store sampling has largely been cancelled or reduced.
Brands relying on traditional sampling methods still need to build brand awareness and get their products into the hands of shoppers.
At a time where reaching consumers is increasingly challenging, digital product sampling should be attainable for emerging brands or brands with a limited budget.
For the first time in the CPG and product sampling space, brands can launch an entry-level digital sampling program at a cost comparable to traditional in-store sampling tactics while getting consumer feedback, audience targeting, purchase intent data and real-time campaign analytics.
What is product sampling marketing?
Product sampling marketing simply entails adding product sampling into your marketing strategy or a marketing campaign.
What really sets digital sampling apart from traditional methods is the unique ability to continue the conversation with consumers post trial with re-marketing activities. Here are some examples of what that could look like for your brand with some real brand examples:
Grow your email list and personalize your content
- Digital product sampling collects the necessary data to provide a personalized and nurturing consumer experience, allowing brands to continue the conversation with target audiences all the way from trying their sample to their next purchase.
- For example, a snack brand could leverage all of the dietary restriction insights they collected during their digital product sampling program to ensure consumers receive email content that speaks directly to their unique interests and lifestyle.
- This kind of personalized experience inspired 88% of sample claimants in 20,000 Canadian households to opt-in to Reese’s email list after their digital sampling program.
Power organic user-generated content (UGC)
- UGC is the digital equivalent of word-of-mouth marketing or “spreading the word” in our digital post-pandemic world. It’s one of the most trusted form of marketing for today’s consumers with 80% of consumers saying UGC has a high impact on their purchase decisions. It highlights real and authentic stories told by your best content creators: your consumers.
Delivering a sample that matches a consumer’s lifestyle, to their doorstep, not only captures their undivided attention, but also immediately offers an extrinsic reward that inspires them to share their experience on social media.
Improve your digital ad effectiveness
- In a time where traditional ad effectiveness is declining and consumers are less inspired to purchase through traditional ads, what better way to surprise and delight consumers than with a free sample?
- By reinvesting your media spend in a digital sampling program, you can achieve the same or better acquisition metrics all while having your target consumer actually experience your product first-hand.
- Adding a sampling call to action to your digital ad campaign can drive 5x higher ad recall than ads without sampling CTA.
Digital product sampling is then an excellent way to boost the effectiveness of your current ad spend.
First party data collection in a cookie-less future
- Third-party cookies, which have been traditionally been used by advertisers to execute targeted marketing campaigns, are set to be abolished in 2023.
- With a digital product sampling program, brands can get their product into the hands of targeted consumers while collecting valuable first-party data to get and stay in contact with their consumers.
- The average Sampler user shares 26 data points which can be used in re-targeting on social, email marketing initiatives, ads, and even future product innovation -- this makes digital product sampling a great solution for our cookie-less future.
A consumer-centric SEO strategy: topic modelling
- Earlier this year, Sampler released a consumer sentiment and topic analysis tool, which leverages machine learning to give brands an overview of their target consumers and the main topics and sentiments described in their ratings and reviews.
- Path of Life used this tool to see what consumers specifically liked and didn't like about their products. They discovered that consumers especially loved that their products were “tasty” and “easy to make,” these insights were later used in future product messaging and SEO initiatives.
Digital product sampling is a direct way to collect powerful consumer feedback, while ensuring you're speaking the same language as your highest-value consumers.
What are the best product sampling techniques?
We have gone over the impact product sampling can have on your brand and how product sampling marketing can build lasting and profitable relationships with targeted customers. But how do you make the most of these strategies? Here are the best product sampling techniques, from our sampling experts:
Setting an objective
Setting clear goals from the start of your program allows you to boost your sample program effectiveness and get the insights you need to achieve your specific goals. Objectives could include things like driving trail and awareness, building your email list or enhancing your shopper marketing strategies.
Whatever your objective is, determining the purpose of your program early and strategizing with your sampling partner is key.
Start with broad targeting, then refine
The first step in setting up your digital product sampling program is deciding on a target audience. You’ll want to start with broader targeting, like a geographic region or certain demographic, and then narrow it down from consumer survey results to a more high-value audience like expecting families or organic product lovers in a particular market.
Why? This helps you identify the key sub segments that will be more interested in your product and are more likely to purchase. With recommendations from your dedicated sampling expert, you can continue the conversation with these high-value segments post-sample to bring them closer to their next purchase and raise conversion rates.
Boost fulfillment efficiencies
A great way to boost fulfillment efficiencies for early stage brands, those running their very first digital product sampling program or those looking to simply make their existing sampling dollars go a longer way is an exchange program. The beauty of an exchange program is you share a sampling box with other brands who are targeting the same consumers while splitting the cost of shipping and fulfillment.
Bonus tip: Add an insert along with your sample that showcases your unique brand story and leaves a lasting impression on your targeted consumer to take full advantage of this share of voice.
Study the insights
What is really exciting about digital product sampling is the wealth of insights you’ll have after your program. Insights on demographics, lifestyle habits, preferences, and purchase intent of customers is pivotal for any brand.
Answering questions like why your consumers choose your brand over others or which of your products they enjoy best can help you detect key patterns that will make every future sampling dollar count.
Product trial tactics have changed overtime, and the pandemic has certainly accelerated this new digital adoption but one thing still holds true. Offering consumers the opportunity to discover your brand and physically engage their senses by touching, tasting, feeling and seeing your product creates a unique and lasting impression that most stand-alone marketing tactics can’t replicate.
Digital product sampling allows brands to build lasting, profitable and meaningful relationships with consumers, long after they receive their sample. With the help of a sampling expert, you can ensure your next product sampling campaign is not only right for your brand, but also built for long-term brand success.