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It’s no secret that product sampling works – it always has and always will, especially if the swag is choice and the price is right (wink, wink). What’s truly exciting for marketers, though, is the ways in which this old trick is evolving. With websites such as BzzAgent, House Party and Start Sampling gaining attention, it’d be easy to assess that the sample lady isn’t the only way to introduce a brand’s experience directly to potential users. But to the thrill of integrated marketers, research suggests otherwise. One recent survey from Progressive Grocer claims that 78 percent of shoppers ages 21 to 25 (aka Millennials) actually prefer discussing a product with a brand representative over simply getting something for free, especially if that representative knows how to engage them in a meaningful way. Meanwhile, brands such as Dannon, Gold ’n Soft and Swiss chocolatier Lindt understand that high brand visibility still occurs best in-person; last week, Lindt served as a host sponsor of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, which last year drew over 300,000 tennis fans. Face-to-face promotion translates not just to education, but also to credibility and consumer trust. The Progressive Grocer report suggests there are lessons to be learned from the young: “Millennials will think more highly of companies that take the time to demonstrate and discuss products, show how they work or why they are better than competitors.” By doing so, brands foster loyalty and word of mouth campaigns that play out in person and online. No matter the age of the shopper, that’s something worth doling out with a heavy hand.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems like product sampling is more sophisticated than ever. The marketplace is loaded with creative and exciting ways to engage consumers, and offering them opportunities for feedback insures brands get “something for nothing,” too.
Perhaps no business knows sampling better than Costco, where “sample ladies” line the aisles eager to share a bite, a bit of product information and hopefully some know-how. The same goes for luxury cosmetics counters, where consumers don’t just buy; increasingly, they learn how to use new products and technologies. Sampling, after all, is a waste of money if your product is going into the hands of the wrong consumers. The only way to distinguish is to engage. Vertical Marketing Network understood this when executing demographic-specific campaigns for Dannon yogurt and Gold ’n Soft margarine. The agency currently has a brand ambassador program sampling new product lines for the yogurt brand, which has an existing healthy presence in the global Hispanic market. For the margarine brand, Vertical Marketing Network tapped research for the potential high use of margarine among Hispanic households to target this growing demographic, which led to Gold ’n Soft becoming the #1 margarine brand with Hispanics in Southern California.
Some brands, such as Kleenex, are sampling with totally integrated campaigns. The tissue titan’s recent “Softness Worth Sharing” promotion gifted some one million packages of Kleenex to shoppers, and in the middle of cold season, to boot. The promotion screams “warm fuzzy,” and will march on virtually via the brand’s Facebook page and company website, where consumers can send virtual Kleenex, and also offer product feedback. Kraft did something similar, distributing some 100,000 new product samples via the brand’s Facebook page, where recipients dished back what one blogger called “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” It sounds counterintuitive, she writes, but consumer reviews – even the bad ones – are good for brands (think of them as character building).
But most important – as we’re learning – are the ways in which consumers come to learn about a product in the first place. The Progressive Grocer report suggests personal engagement trumps product gain. Which could explain the secret behind websites like BzzAgent and Start Sampling. Sure, both put products in the hands of consumers, but both also rely on said consumers to act as advocates for their products and spread their opinions virally. The Progressive Grocer report concludes that in our Facebook and Twitter saturated world, it’s surprising that younger consumers seek face-to-face and information-heavy interaction. But is it, really?
Perhaps the sample lady knew best all along, she just needed an update.