Product sampling is one of the oldest and most effective forms of field marketing. It is a strategy that can be employed by virtually all industries to connect with customers and is effective both for introducing new products and encouraging the increased consumer consumption of established items or services.
As the name would imply, a product sampling campaign involves giving away a small amount or ‘sample' of a product or service that your firm normally offers at a price point. By giving away a sample in this fashion, it is hoped that a proportion of those that receive it will enjoy it enough to return as paying customers next time.
Despite sometimes being considered a campaign strategy more suited to larger firms, small businesses have the potential to benefit massively from an effective product sampling campaign, if tailored appropriately. Another common misconception regarding sampling campaigns is that they are simple. While the concept itself may be straightforward, there are several techniques and tactics small businesses should be aware of to ensure they make the most of a campaign and maximise their return on investment.
Key Factors For Sampling Success
The people who you want to end up paying for your goods or services will undoubtedly play an important role in dictating how you tailor every aspect of your campaign for maximum efficiency.
For example, smaller business-to-business (B2B) firms may need to employ drastically different tactics than those used by larger business-to-consumer (B2C) organisations. The demographic your sample is intended for will therefore be a deciding factor that will influence every aspect of your campaign. The most obvious, and indeed, important factor here is quite simply ensuring that your sample reaches the hands of your target demographic.
Techniques for distribution will depend a great deal on the target market and the product sample itself. Each sample a company gives away for free is a cost or added investment to a campaign and for smaller businesses every available efficiency gain is essential, so cutting out any wastage due to poor demographic targeting is vital.
One method that smaller businesses can use is directly delivering the samples themselves. For example, a small stationary firm may wish to distribute samples of their pens to offices in the local area while a small independent sportswear producer may wish to offer samples specifically to members of local sports teams.
While it may be the most obvious aspect of the campaign, small businesses should put a lot of thought into the product sample itself. Factors such as quality, quantity and value will certainly influence the campaigns success. The size of the sample will be one of the main variables to consider- should it be a miniature version of your standard product or the standard retail product in full?
This is straightforward in some industries but can be more complex in others. To be effective, a sample has to be of a size adequate enough to give the consumer an accurate impression of the full item or service but not large enough to take away the incentive of actually paying for the product.
The quantity of a distributed sample is also important to campaigns run by small businesses. If during a promotion, an item runs out of stock and is not available as a free sample for an extended period of time, customers may be put off, and see the company as unprofessional. Loss of trust in this way could be a serious problem. Therefore good planning, including ensuring you have plenty of stock for the duration of the promotion, and for possible increased sales immediately after, is vital.
It is also important to ensure, whether we are talking about products or services, that the free samples are of the same quality as the paid product or service. If the free sample were of a lower quality than the paid product or service, then customers may associate this poor quality with the brand, and all it's products.
The way your product reaches the public will undoubtedly influence how effective the sample is in converting members of the public into paying customers.
Presentation can cover everything from the location of the sample distribution to the staff employed to promote the product. All these factors will influence what the general public associate with both your product and brand. As a small business this can really be an area in which to excel, as these aspects often cost nothing, but can really impact on your campaigns response rate.
Employing effective brand advocates is really important, as the people who actually distribute the samples will be the faces the public will associate with your firm. Simple steps such as making sure the advocates are correctly and comprehensively briefed on both the item and brand ethos will work wonders in boosting the public's perception of your product.
The locations from which the samples are distributed will also play and important role in a campaigns success. By placing handout areas near to points of purchase can lead to a greater conversion rate as potential customers are likely to be already paying for other goods which reduces the weight of the decision of adding an extra item. Professional field marketing firms are experts on how subtle aspects such as product placement can effect a campaigns success, and take all these points and more into consideration during the planning stages… you should too!
A product sampling campaign involves a financial risk and like any investment, it is important for small businesses to take steps to gauge the success of any promotional work undertaken. As with all branches of marketing, success can be measured in several different ways, with some being more quantifiable than others. Small businesses should take steps to measure any increase in sales of a product or service that is experienced both during and following a product sampling scheme. Improvements to brand image and outreach can be much harder to measure.
One technique small businesses may wish to consider is combining a traditional technique such a product sampling with a digital platform such as Facebook, Foursquare or Twitter. By encouraging samplers to interact with social profiles it is easier to gauge how effective a scheme is in boosting brand awareness. Metrics such as ‘likes', ‘check ins' and ‘follows' offer an insight as to what the general public actually thinks about your business.
By taking these aspects of product sampling into consideration, any forward-thinking small business should be able to utilise field marketing techniques that are usually reserved for big businesses. That said, it would be wise to bring in the experise of a a professional agency for large campaigns.
About the author
Stewart Wells is the Business Unit Director – Consumer Engagement for Cosine, a leading field marketing company based in Haddenham, Buckinghamshire, who manage all sampling and demonstration work on behalf of Sainsbury's and have several multinational brands in their client base. Follow Cosine on Twitter.