If you’ve regularly crossed the concourse of a city centre rail terminus during rush hour, chances are you’ve been handed a new drink, a breakfast bar or even a moisturiser? Or in a supermarket, have you steered your trolley down the aisle to someone handing out tasty morsels? If so, did you then go on to purchase the product?
Sampling is big business when it comes to FMCG product launches as brand experience is acknowledged by marketers to lead to engagement. However, creating an experiential campaign around sampling is more valuable than someone in a branded t-shirt thrusting a snack bar into the hand of a commuter. Done properly, that moment can be memorable and can also be used to collect an email address, perhaps with the promise of a digital coupon.
But can digital be a more effective way to spread the word? Marketers have used e-coupons for some time to get their products into the hands of consumers. Although this cuts out the cost of creating sample size packs, there is a reliance on the consumer to jump through a few hoops before they experience the product. It’s better to do the work for them and just put a sample product in their hands.
Amazon is ramping up its game to help brands build loyal custom. The world’s biggest e-retailer is rolling out a service that delivers free samples to consumers. They’re not reinventing the wheel here, but they do have the ability to target specific cohorts matched from the millions Amazon accounts.
Amazon has been experimenting with sampling for a while. Recognising the power of reviews, its ‘Vine Voices’ initiative invites users who the platform considers their “most trusted reviewers” and sends them free samples in return for ‘helpful’ reviews. These reviews can be very useful to brands looking to get early feedback posted on the product detail pages of new lines. That said, the review won’t always be glowing.
Elsewhere, most notably in the beauty categories, the likes of Birchbox and LookFantastic have tapped into audiences willing to subscribe to regularly mailed cartons of sample products. Subscribers tend to be teens and twenty-somethings, often living without the convenience of department stores or big-name retailers on their doorsteps. This is the Instagram generation who will post pictures of box contents and share their opinions with friends and followers. The amplification can be considerable, especially in an arena with so many influencers.
Savvy brands are tapping into the boxes for product launches and can do a limited level of targeting based on profiles supplied by subscribers. Most services are linked to e-commerce sites, so orders can follow but that can bring hurdles like delivery charges on minimal orders, so brands need to understand where else those consumers are and be able to retarget them
When Amazon began its initial testing last summer social media posts started appearing from Amazon customers questioning the additional products that arrived with their orders. If a consumer is asking “Why did I get this?” then something isn’t right. Perhaps the pilot service has learnt from this, but it does highlight a need for shopper marketers to have visibility and understanding of each step of the journey. They also need to know how their customers behave. Previous research might not cover a Gen Z’s desire for samples for example, but by investing in this area, insights can be gained, and relevant strategy honed. Driving product awareness and conversion is not achieved by a surprise in a box.
Amazon is effectively sending targeted advertising by courier. They have the data to do this. Unlike the other mammoth ad platforms - Google and Facebook - this is based on what people actually buy. Marketers can now to consider this format as part of their wider strategy.
How will others react? Could we soon see other data-rich retailers use sampling as a formal income stream? What’s to stop the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s from entering the fray?
Fashion retailers may also consider sampling of sorts. In a sector that has got used to consumers ordering like they are in a bricks-and-mortar changing room – sending back items is the norm – there may be space for samples. Initiatives like payment provider, Klarna have already increased order sizes and loyalty for the likes of ASOS and Topshop with the buy now pay later model. The next step could be using AI to predict garments the consumer didn’t know they wanted. Try it on. If you like it, pay for it at a discounted rate or send it back for free (with all the other stuff).
Sampling through digital channels may appear straightforward but brands need to consider sampling as part of a defined path to conversion. Identifying and targeting the audience with the product may now be straightforward, but driving them to make a purchase, tell their friends or discover the other flavours in the range requires researched understanding of consumer mindsets.