If you’re a consumer packaged goods (CPG) brand, you’re well aware of how vital product sampling is to your overall marketing strategy. And make no mistake, the demand for sampling is growing.

Vice president of shopper and omnichannel marketing at Campbell Soup once said, “Sampling is this amazing and beautiful thing. There is nothing better than actually seeing and tasting the product versus seeing a digital ad or TV. As much as the world gets complicated, sampling will always be there.”

The vice president of marketing at global wholesale beauty supplier, Qosmedix, says, “Samples are so accessible to more consumers now,” adding, “Consumer behavior has also changed. Consumers are no longer loyal to one brand. Sampling and mini sizes provide a way for new types of beauty consumers to continually try new products.”

But what makes product sampling programs so effective for brands, and why do they matter? And how do you measure a product sampling campaign to determine its success?

What is a product sampling program?

A product sampling program is an organized marketing campaign to deliver a complimentary brand experience to prospective customers.

Most brands will manufacture sample-sized or mini versions of their products for this very purpose – hoping to entice people to purchase the full-size product.

How do you do product sampling?

There are many different ways to conduct product sampling, with innovations gaining traction yearly. The four most popular ways to execute a product sampling program are:

  1. Direct sampling
  2. Event-based sampling
  3. Digital & social sampling
  4. Ecommerce sampling

Direct product sampling

Direct sampling involves delivering a brand experience at either a point of purchase or a point of usage.

A snack brand distributing samples at a grocery store would be considered a point of purchase sampling program, while a deodorant brand distributing samples at a popular gym chain would be regarded as point of usage.

No other name is associated more with in-store product sampling than Costco. While Costco is often quiet about the effectiveness of this marketing strategy, an executive told The Atlantic that samples of frozen pizza helped boost sales of that pizza product by 600% at national chains, saying, “When we compare it to other in-store mediums … in-store product demonstration has the highest [sales] lift.”

It’s essential to consider your consumer’s path to purchase when deciding what kind of direct sampling is needed.

For highly experiential products such as food, beverages, and some beauty, point of purchase product sampling is an effective way to generate trial and conversion immediately. Once you have a nibble of a yummy snack, you’re likely to want to buy more to take home with you.

For products that require multiple uses to achieve desired results or can only be used in specific settings (i.e., a shampoo sampled at a hotel), it makes more sense to research sampling venues where a consumer is most likely to try your product.

Event-based product sampling

Event-based product sampling involves partnering with a dedicated event organizer and distributing samples to their attendees. This typically involves face-to-face interaction between brand representatives and prospective consumers.

When determining an event-based product sampling program, it is important to consider the audience. For brands targeting Gen Z, college campus events are a prime opportunity to drive trial. College is also a key transitional period for consumers when brand loyalty can be easily captured and sustained for long periods.

With event-based sampling, the presentation of your product is everything. This could include a promotional brand booth, dedicated street teams, and partnering with event entertainment. Your brand representatives must be knowledgeable, engaging, and offer clear next steps to help drive future purchases or further brand communication.

Digital & social sampling

Our online worlds are more important than ever, and it is no surprise that brands want to utilize this channel for product sampling.

Digital product sampling is a method of soliciting consumers to opt-in online to try a product sample that is mailed to them. Social sampling involves an organized effort to deliver samples to targeted consumers and prompt social sharing, with the goal of driving word-of-mouth on social media platforms.

The most obvious advantage of digital product sampling and social product sampling is the data you can collect and the content generated, but there are many benefits to utilizing this channel for your brand. Vesta’s online community platform has helped hundreds of brands to leverage online and social sampling to drive trial, awareness, and purchase. This kind of product sampling program can be done in several ways.

“Open” sampling via a public opt-in form – this kind of online sampling is typically done through a dedicated landing page where consumers can sign up to receive a sample. While this is a great way to collect leads and build databases for retargeting, it is challenging to control the audience who is receiving a sample.

Sampling to a brand advocate community – brand advocates are a vast resource. Designing a product sampling program for brand advocates not only drives trial, but also empowers you to spark word-of-mouth, product ratings & reviews, and user-generated content. Brands can also go back to consumers to collect product feedback and consumer insights to fuel product development.

Take a look at Hero Cosmetics, a brand that generated more than 400 product reviews in just 100 days after launching sampling programs through its Hero Skin Squad community. Recommendations are still considered the most effective form of advertising, and a product sampling program to a community of brand advocates is a surefire way to generate advocacy.

Personalized sampling – using consumer data, you can deliver samples tailored to specific preferences and interests, making a full purchase much more likely. Some brands like MAC Cosmetics have even utilized augmented reality and artificial intelligence to help determine the right shade for consumers to sample their products.

Ecommerce sampling

Ecommerce sampling is another flavor of digital product sampling, but it is typically a surprise & delight moment for consumers when opening a package from an online purchase. This sampling method became hugely necessary during the height of the COVID pandemic when physical sampling was unavailable.

With ecommerce sampling, you can often use data and purchase history to determine the right audience and lifestyle. When consumers receive their online order in the mail, they will find a free product to try. To help drive conversion, you can include a unique QR code or exclusive offer to drive signup or purchase.

While ecommerce sampling is often a surprise, some retailers make it a part of their shopping experience. Sephora famously allows shoppers to select multiple samples to be delivered in-home with their purchase.

Another trend is consumer-paid sampling. This is seen in many subscription boxes such as Birchbox, FabFitFun, and BarkBox, where consumers are offered an elevated sampling experience.

What are the objectives of product sampling?

Like any marketing strategy, it’s important to have clear objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure your product sampling program.

Product sampling programs can serve your business in many ways, including:

Generate interest and awareness – this is especially important for new product launches. Sampling cuts through the clutter of other marketing messages.

Drive purchase and new customer acquisition – according to research, 73% of consumers said they were likely to buy a product after trying it. Only 25% said the same thing about seeing a television commercial. Product sampling is an incredibly effective way to spark new purchases.

Fuel word-of-mouth and brand advocacy – consumers heavily rely on digital neighbors to determine which products to buy. Product sampling programs supercharge your word-of-mouth and achieve advocacy at scale. A solid product sampling program strategy will produce a steady pipeline of compelling user-generated content.

Gather feedback and insights – product sampling programs are a natural opportunity to solicit opinions from consumers about their experiences. This helps brands avoid market risks by making strategic tweaks.

What are the benefits of using a software platform for product sampling?

For today’s discerning marketers, using technology to execute your product sampling programs is not a luxury. Software platforms are especially critical in online sampling, whether through social media, online communities, or ecommerce.

Product sampling software ensures your product sampling programs are not disjointed and that you don’t lose valuable consumer information. Nothing is worse than a consumer who tries and likes your product but can’t find a way to connect with you.

Before anyone feels, smells, or tastes your product, technology can help you with targeting and ensure the right person is trying your product at the right time.

The product sample itself is often the gateway to starting a brand relationship. Software can help you collect and store key consumer data to trigger personalized engagement.

An online community platform is an excellent choice for product sampling programs as it empowers you to distribute samples to targeted audiences and communicate with them throughout their experience. You can also activate your community to spread the word about online sampling opportunities and create user-generated content.

Finally, software can help you measure your product sampling programs and demonstrate ROI. This can include monitoring the number of samples distributed, surveying consumers to understand product trial, capturing social conversation and retail reviews, and tracking conversion to purchase.

Questions about product sampling programs?

The Vesta team is always here to answer your product sampling questions. Reach out to us – we’re happy to help.

Interested in more?

Sign up for a demo today.

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VP, Product Strategy