What a Waste: Has Product Sampling Led To Global Warming?

How Innovation Has Made Sampling Better.......And Saved the Earth Tons of Trash!

If there was an area of marketing ripe for innovation it had to be sampling!

If you have any doubts, then the next time a smiley young person presses a face cream pack or International SIM card into your hand, just check the mountain of discarded packets round the corner.

Then just think of all that waste from all the sampling campaigns across all the cities and towns where teams are handing out sachets and packets heading to landfill sites and then you get an idea of the environmental problem. 

Whether from live sampling teams in co-ordinated sweatshirts or sachets glued into magazines pages, apart from the environmental waste of all that bubble wrap, traditional sampling’s problems are:

  • scatter-gun targeting meaning products go to people who will never become customers;
  • no feedback as to who liked and disliked the product and why; and
  • little conclusive link between the sample distribution and future purchases.

Yet sampling remains a valuable tool for marketers looking to introduce a new product or grow market share because it removes the ‘price barrier’ to adoption and lets potential customers try the product ‘risk free’.

With the emergence of online and social, we have seen three stages of samples distribution, each of which has successively improved targeting, feedback and reach reducing waste and improving return on investment for sample distribution.

Stage 1: Requesting samples online

The first innovation was that brands and retailers allowed potential customers to go direct to a site like L’Oréal or Sephora and request free samples be sent by post. Alternatively, a potential customer can go to a sample aggregator site likeTime Inc's  All YouSamplebuddy  or Samplesmom  and select samples from a variety of different brands.

The main advantage of these online options is that it reduces wastefulness by allowing ‘self-selection’. Secondly, the brand or retailer (or aggregator site), would also get personal details like an email, address and phone number to send newsletters, future samples and coupons.  And feedback forms and coupons can also be sent by post with the samples.

But the main drawback is that potential customers must actually know these options exist, know that they actually want to receive samples and then actually request them. Whereas, plenty of potential customers have never heard of these sites, nor think that that they want or need samples. This is particularly true when the brand is launching a new product for a ‘need’ that customers have not yet discovered.

Stage 2: Sample subscription boxes

The next step in sample distribution innovation has seen the proliferation of sample box subscription sites, such as BirchboxGlossyboxIpsy etc. in the beauty and personal care industry alone. These services provide a personalised box of beauty and personal product samples sent by post each month in return for a low monthly or annual payment to cover postage and admin costs.

The main advantage of these businesses compared to the above websites is that that they automatically send boxes each month so subscribers don't need to remember to request new samples. They can also ‘learn’ what we are likely to appreciate based on feedback, while allowing for serendipity by including a few 'different' samples each month. Compared to a brand's own sample service they can also include products from several different suppliers.

Also, unlike beauty brands, because this is their only business they can concentrate their marketing resources solely on building awareness of the sample distribution service.  

The main disadvantage is that customers need to be made aware that these services exist and sign up. Potential customers who don’t sign up and pay won’t get the samples.

Another problem is that because subscription box services have expanded across every conceivable vertical, marketing costs have greatly increased for search terms like 'subscription box service'. And with limited attention spans and wallet shares, it is often a question of which subscription box services should get your cash rather than should you sign up for one!

Stage 3: Social Customer-get-Customer

The next stage in the evolution of sample distribution has been to return to old fashioned principles of ‘word of mouth’ to get potential customers to recommend samples to their friends and family, but supercharge this by combining new social sharing technologies and incentives that appeal to the maximum number of participants.

As an example, Buyapowa worked with a leading beauty brand on a new product launch and dramatically increased the reach of their product sampling campaign with a viral invite-a-friend programme.

Beauty and styling products are passion products with a culture of evangelism where people love to talk about which products they’re using, about their new discoveries and their dream products. So what we did was incentvise and equip everyone who claimed a free product sample to share with like-minded friends and get them claiming samples too. We did this by embedding a campaign into the brand’s website that invited people to sign up for a sample, share with friends and then work towards two kinds of rewards:

  • Communal incentives where if enough people signed up to receive the sample within 48 hours then everyone participating got a money off coupon, valid against their first full-size purchase of the product; and
  • Gamification prizes where the person who got the most friends to claim the samples won £500 to spend at a leading department store. The five immediate runners-up each got gift-packs and the next 50 all got a full size unit of the sample product.

Using Buyapowa’s powerful social sharing and referral tracking tools, these incentives gave the seed audience all the motivation and tools they needed to go out and recruit their friends delivering a huge targeted population of potential customers. An added advantage was that friends’ recommendations acted as an extra filter to ensure that the samples reached the right customer demographic as people generally only invited friends they thought would want to receive the samples. This, of course, also created a targeted seed data-base for future sample offers.

Amplifying Stage 1 and 2

The techniques explained in stage 3 can be applied by businesses using the techniques referred to in stages 1 and 2 as a way to greatly increase awareness of and sign-ups to their services and at a much better cost per acquisition than via paid search or via affiliates. In particular, through friend recommendations the brand or retailer can reach people who never knew they wanted or needed samples in the first place and who would never have been searching for samples or subscription boxes online.

The key to scaling such invite-a-friend schemes is to enlist the power of social referrals and mix concepts like personal rewards, gamification and communal targets. The above example was for a beauty brand, as an example of a passion product that customers happily share, but these principles are equally valid for many other types of products typically promoted via sampling including food, sauces, SIM cards or razor blades etc..

If you would like to catch up about how we can supercharge your sampling campaigns drop us a line.

Attribution: Gideon Wright

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