Product sampling is a well-known marketing technique to encourage trial, recruit new customers and drive sales. But in the age of digital marketing and social networks, is it still relevant? Can it continue to attract consumers who increasingly use their mobile phone to make purchasing decisions? In this article, we look at product sampling, its recent evolution and the benefits for FMCG brands.

Strong consumer appetite

 

Consumers are particularly fond of samples. The “try before you buy” trend is developing in a growing number of industries. Consumers are increasingly sceptical about product claims and want to verify the benefits of a product for themselves before spending their money.

A report from Sampling Effectiveness Advisors shows that 73% of consumers are likely to buy a product after trying it. Only 25% said the same thing about seeing a television commercial.

In addition, in a survey conducted by YA:

  • 77% of consumers said receiving a sample of a product would incentivise them to try another product from that brand
  • 42% said they often or always switch from a brand they normally buy to a new brand as a result of trying a sample

These figures confirm that product sampling is an effective way to build brand affinity, create an emotional connection and generate sales in-store. It is a strategy that be easily implemented to support a product launch or reach a new target.

The power of word-of-mouth

 

Product sampling does not only have an impact on the consumer who tested the product. It also contributes to word-of-mouth. A Nielsen study shows that 59% of consumers are likely to tell others about new products they’ve experienced.

The study highlights that the most persuasive source of new product information is word-of-mouth advice (for 77% of respondents). People are much more likely to buy a product when they learn about it from family and friends than through other channels.

According to McKinsey, word-of-mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50% of all purchasing decisions. Word-of-mouth can be experiential (resulting from a direct experience with a product), consequential (triggered by marketing activities) or intentional (driven by celebrity endorsements for example). It has significant influence when consumers are buying a product for the first time.

New product sampling solutions

 

While product sampling remains an effective marketing strategy, just like for couponing, new digital solutions are opening up new possibilities. Mobile apps such as Shopmium are reinventing sampling, allowing consumers to test products for free or for a discounted price.

With Shopmium, consumers purchase FMCG products in-store and receive a full or partial refund. We regularly work with leading brands to encourage product trial, recruit new buyers and drive shoppers to store.

This new form of sampling is much more targeted, aimed at consumers who are likely to have strong brand or product affinity. This means campaigns are much less expensive and more profitable. In addition, the results and return on investment can be measured precisely. Digital product sampling also reduces waste, contributing to greater sustainability.

Another advantage of sampling 2.0 is that consumer data is collected throughout the process, allowing brands to know more about their shoppers and uncover relevant insights for new product development and innovation.

While sampling 2.0 relies mainly on digital solutions, other approaches have emerged such as Degustabox, a subscription-based surprise food box containing a selection of products from leading brands. The selection is personalised based on the customer profile.

Brands leveraging product sampling

 

Many FMCG brands have made product sampling a key part of their marketing strategy:

  • General Mills invested in product sampling to support the launch of Larabar. Richard Williams, Business Director of New Ventures at General Mills Europe told Baking Business that the brand decided to focus on “touchpoints that drive brand awareness and engagement such as social, targeted experiential sampling and partnerships with key influencers in the nutrition/wellness space.”

 

  • Mars Pet Care partnered with Shopmium to drive awareness of its premium cat treat Sheba Creamy Snacks, the brand’s first care and treat product. A sampling campaign was designed to drive trial and educate on the product usage and application. Consumers could try the product for free through the Shopmium mobile app. The brand also launched a TV commercial and a digital media campaign.

 

  • Fentimans invested £1.2 million in an outdoor campaign designed to attract a younger audience and supported by digital, sampling and experiential activities. Andrew Jackson, Marketing Director at Fentimans, shared with The Spirits Business: “We know from our insight work that flavour and quality ingredients are key preference drivers in the category, and when consumers discover Fentimans, their flavour expectations are usually exceeded.”

 

  • Mondelēz launched the Cadbury Darkmilk range with a £6 million marketing campaign based on in-store activation, sampling, PR and digital activity. Kate Wall, Mondelēz Marketing Manager for Cadbury, said: “In testing, Cadbury Darkmilk achieved our best ever results for both taste and concept”.

Critical Success Factors

 

In order for product sampling campaign to reach their objectives, it is critical to:

  • Ensure proper targeting: while sampling was traditionally massive and untargeted, new digital solutions help have a more targeted approach in order to reach the most relevant consumers. The right targeting criteria helps maximise the return on investment of sampling campaigns.

 

  • Diversify your media mix: a product sampling campaign will be all the more successful if it is supported by other media. The key is to find the right media mix with complementary tactics, from traditional to digital.

 

  • Choose the right timing: timing also plays an important role. Try to find a period of the year that makes sense for your product to launch your sampling campaign. You can also leverage promotional periods and major events. At Shopmium, we regularly organise campaigns around special events.

As a conclusion, product sampling is a powerful way to generate product trial, support new launches or reach a new target. Thanks to new digital solutions such as Shopmium, product sampling can now be more targeted and more profitable, with measurable results. The benefits of product sampling go beyond its immediate impact: it also helps boost word-of-mouth and despite the potential higher cost per unit than raditional sampling, the brand actually recruits a shopper for the first time, driving a full price real life sale as well as someone who is much more likely to go on and re-purchase as they’ve already completed the purchase cycle once. Several brands regularly engage in product sampling as part of their marketing strategy. To succeed, it is critical to have the right target, the right media mix and the right timeline. If you would like to discuss new sampling opportunities, do not hesitate to reach out to us! We would be delighted to help you design a product sampling campaign!