The Gordon Grade coffee company one day decided to distribute free samples of the new Dr. Drip’s eco-friendly brand of coffee to the students of New York University. This preceded their May 23 release date before which they planned to distribute the new product to students during the week of their final exams. Clearly it was the perfect time to give out caffeine as students would be up all night cramming for the big tests. It was their first step into the world of sample marketing. Jesse Gordon, the company’s co-founder said of sampling, “You just don’t know if result will justify the expense of putting the team together and getting the product into the people’s hands.”
However, it’s hardly a new practice in marketing and I daresay it’s one as old as time. Even so it can be a strain on companies, especially those new to the business and to this marketing concept. How they can they be sure to achieve success? We’re not strangers to samples from foods and sauces in the local grocery stores to herbal supplements that come in the mail and cosmetic products and perfumes we sample in malls and department stores. Other industries can benefit from this as well, even the rarer industries though they may not risk it. Sampling is a great way to show off your products and what they can do for customers.
The way sampling is done has evolved over the years too. It’s no longer bound to the traditional sample providers you see shopping centre and supermarkets. Many companies have come up with new and innovated avenue to sample their products. Some advertise their websites on services like Google and social media websites allowing for customers to sign up for direct mail samples. Others offer samples for reviews while some will target popular bloggers and celebrities. The goal is ultimately the same, however.
Remember that your sampling will be different based on the product you provide. Are you providing a sample to let the customer experience a taste, a smell, or even overall feel or experience? This is determined by your product and how your customer uses it.
Take for example Hosung NY who started a line of plush stuffed animals by the name of miYim. They included accessories for infants and toddlers and were made from nontoxic recycled cotton. With their release they provide in store examples that customers could touch and feel before making a decision. Sarah Chae, the company’s president explained that when people hear about their tools they never expect how soft they’ll be. The pleasant surprise for just how soft and soothing they are to the touch is enough to make a sale without even giving the product away. It all comes down to the customer experience. What will make them want to keep it?
Find Your Audience
As in any marketing practice you have to find your target audience. This will determine who your product would most appeal to and therefore who you will be aiming towards providing samples for. For example, would this be an organic wholefood? You might try particularly middle-aged women but anyone into all natural or organic. With a new men’s cologne, you will of course be targeting men. For toy samples children and their parents.
Who will your chosen product appeal to most? These people will most likely walk away after sampling, remembering your product for next time.
Have a Plan
Take the example of Ole Henriksen who began a product line as his namesake in 1984. He made and labelled his own samples while providing and storing them in the back room of his Los Angeles Spa. Ole was known for his generosity in providing samples in the day as he saw it more as a gift to his customers. Today he continues to sample with generosity but also with a plan. Sampling can be expensive and should be done with care. Generally, businesses will allocate resources specially for samples so they don’t lose track of what they provide pro Bono. Back to a furry friend from miYim for example, they tend to increase their samples by about 20% during the holidays as they anticipate more sales.
Simply decide what you can afford to provide free of charge and how much it’s worth the potential business you’ll bring in.
Show Off What You Got
Remember this is essentially the first chance you have to “show off” your product. Everything from the sampling method to the packaging the sample is provided in can make break your next sale. Make sure everything is of the utmost quality and tailored for maximum consumer appeal. Ole Henrikson purposely used bright colours on his packaging to do just that as not to be lost in their sea of product lines.
Imagine that you are the customer walking by the sample. Does it stick out, does it entice you to try, or do you even notice it at all? Creativity is a big deal too, effectiveness will be at its lowest when you’re just doing what every other business has been doing for years. Make your sample stick out.
Turn Your Samples into Business
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is insanity. So how do you determine if your sampling strategy is working so you can make changes if necessary? You need to record information and watch carefully as you introduce your samples to the market. One meter used by Gordon Grafe would notice that students trying their product would then join on their social networks. POM used a similar approach and noticed astounding results on their Twitter page.
Are your sampling efforts working at all? To decide if your samples are working, you must track their success. For example, Gordon Grade hoped its student samplers would give the product a try and join their social network.
Ole Henrikson often attached codes for free shipping and sampling with his products, allowing him to track how many people we’re on board.
Tracking your success and re-strategising when necessary is the key to success.