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We can all agree that there are few marketing techniques older than sampling. Distributing samples has always been an incredibly effective way for brands to convert new customers and gain attention in competitive environments. Especially in highly experiential categories like beauty and personal care, research confirms that samples are the third-largest driver of full-size product purchases after past experience and recommendations from friends and family. In the past 10 years, sampling has expanded beyond traditional location-based instances and has become an integral pillar in e-commerce CX and social engagement. At my company, we help brands design successful sampling strategies using online brand communities, powered by our technology.
New-age sampling in 2022 and beyond must be interwoven with an inviting consumer experience that is personalized, purpose-driven and emotionally engaging, which ultimately delivers a consumer relationship.
Sampling is usually viewed as a tactic for acquiring new customers, but it’s rare that one product experience—even a positive one—is enough to establish a lasting relationship with a consumer.
Industry shifts like Google’s end to third-party cookies and Apple’s app tracking change have taught us the importance of investing in strategies that deliver owned consumer relationships. And with the increasing demand by consumers to control their data, brands recognize that those relationships won’t come easy.
So marketers must reinvent their sampling efforts, shifting to platforms and environments that enable consumers to opt-in, use the brand in a meaningful way, offer feedback and share with their friends, family and online circles. Consumers who sample and enjoy your product are the ideal audience for first-party relationships, right?
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Whether through a loyalty program, CRM or an online brand community, strategic sampling in these channels can be a valuable tactic to aid short-term acquisition and long-term loyalty. Best of all, the advocacy it generates can attract new converts and reinforce the decision to purchase among existing consumers.
While sampling is effective, it is also one of the most expensive marketing tactics, and brands must be getting the most value out of their investment. Here are three ways marketers should think about reinventing and elevating their sampling efforts:
Personalize sampling to drive ratings and reviews that support e-commerce sell-through.
Seventy-six percent of consumers are more likely to consider companies that personalize. Additionally, 88% of shoppers like the idea of free samples, with more than half willing to write a review of the product and a third willing to post about it on social media. Marrying personalization with sampling unlocks a huge opportunity to drive advocacy. An example of personalized sampling would be where the consumer has a choice in the sample they receive or the sample they receive aligns with personalized data given to the brand. A company like Sephora allows customers to select two samples to be included with every merchandise order online. Another recent example is MAC Cosmetics launching a sampling program with augmented reality, where consumers participate in a product-matching virtual try-on experience. After the automatic shade match, the customers claim their sample.
Sampling is not only an excellent entry point to gather shared data to fuel personalization but also a way to prompt ratings and reviews from authentic product experiences. Establishing a hub for personalized sampling creates a positive feedback loop that can entice consumers to share their experiences.
This is particularly important for new product launches where ratings and reviews can make or break success, as shoppers who read reviews are 104% more likely to buy a product. A personalized sampling experience can help build a steady stream of high-quality and authentic reviews before a product hits shelves.
Brands can also partner with established online communities to drive awareness while building their own personalization hub. For example, clinical skin care brand, Image Skincare, targeted 1,000 consumers as part of PopSugar’s Dabble community. Only 13% of consumers had heard of the brand, but 32% were inspired to leave feedback, generating 228 five-star reviews.
Remember that sampling doesn’t have to be just a physical experience.
Brands can now use technology to illustrate product efficacy without delivering a physical sample. In 2020, Walmart launched its Wonder Lab to encourage kids to participate in a choice-driven digital experience. They can virtually unbox, test and play with popular toys without leaving their homes.
Consumers can interact using several preset options designed to show kids how each toy works. For example, instead of playing with something like Kinetic Sand themselves, they engage in an interactive video where they can select the sand tools, form creations and see how Kinetic Sand works.
Use sampling to fuel product innovation and agile market reactions.
The challenge many marketers face is that sampling is often confined to one-off campaigns that result in one-off feedback. Using sampling as a means for relationship-building via an online brand community or CRM enables your brand to have easy and quick access to engaged consumers, a key market advantage. You can deliver surveys, host online focus groups, cultivate discussions, offer quick polls and much more. Additionally, when consumers see their feedback put into action, it can enhance their relationship with the brand by making them feel valued and special.
One of our clients, a fast-growing frozen food brand, leveraged its online community with sampling to dodge product launch risk. The brand targeted and solicited feedback from community members throughout the U.S. to capture a variety of tastes and, within a week, had insights to deliver to the product development team. With key modifications made, the brand avoided releasing a product that didn’t meet consumer needs.
How marketers get the most bang for their buck with sampling is changing. With technological advancements, this age-old tactic can yield strong relationships, authentic advocacy and valuable insights that will grab the attention of top company executives.
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Author: Susan Frech, Forbes Councils Member