Beware These 5 Easy Ways to Ruin Product Sampling Programs

Ninety-million people worldwide are Costco-card carriers. And, these people are loyal to the retailer, with 87% renewing their membership in 2017. It’s believed they come for the toilet paper. After all, the chain sold around $400 million of the product – more than one billion rolls – in 2015. But, if you’ve been to the store on a Saturday afternoon, their shoppers’ intentions may appear otherwise. They are there for the product samples.

In fact, how to snag the most samples without waiting in line at Costco is a popular topic on many online forums. People love to get their hands on samples, and the numbers prove it. For instance, an EventTrack report by the Event Marketing Institute reveals 81% of consumers are most motivated to attend an event when free samples are involved. Further, 80% of them are most influenced to purchase at an event after trying a sample. As a result, product sampling programs have shown to boost sales for a variety of products, from wine (300%) to lipstick and mascara (> 500%) to frozen pizza (600%).

Most importantly, the positive experience makes consumers more loyal to the retailer or brand giving the sample. This enables long-term relationships and more purchases. Costco, for example, ended last year with $126.2 billion in sales – a nine-percent increase over 2016. When you consider today’s turbulent retail industry, it’s obvious their success is no easy feat. Knowing the impact product sampling programs can make, event marketers must execute them with much forethought. Easy mistakes can have the opposite effect, withholding rewards when they are within such close reach.

5 Mistakes of Product Sampling Programs That Cost Brands Big Rewards

Product sampling programs are better positioned for success when taking steps to avoid these errors.

1. Being at the wrong place and/or executing at the wrong time.

Event marketers must look at their target demographics to determine the best location and timing for engagement. Some product sampling programs center around large-scale events, like Coca-Cola’s campaign at The Olympic Torch Relay. This kind of event makes it easy to know where to be and when. Yet, other activations aren’t so cut and dry.

Some locations may start as high-level as a specific metropolitan area and will narrow down to a community event or local retailer. Brands must seek out the best places to find the right people, but also must ensure that those people are in the right frame of mind to receive the message. For example, a natural snack company might want to reach sports fans, but attempting to talk to them during the game will not get the product’s benefits across.

When selecting a time and location, an additional consideration to ensure positive reception of product samples is to engage consumers closest to their point of need. Think a facial cleansing wipe at a health club or a coffee beverage at a business park. By avoiding issues related to time and place you are better equipped to maximize resources and consumer engagement.

2. Not adhering to food safety rules or pulling the right permits.

Nothing will shut down a product sampling program faster than not sticking to the laws. And, those vary country-to-country, state-to-state, and venue-to-venue. A popular district in one California city, for instance, doesn’t allow stationary setups – only street teams – to hand out product samples. Vendors must complete the proper forms, provide a certificate of insurance and pay a fee each day the street team is present. This means careful attention must be given to the logistics of every activation. And, that can be trying with mobile marketing tours that incorporate product sampling.

Knowing where to go for what can also be a challenge. Product sampling programs conducted at farmers’ markets, or county fairs and festivals, may be handled by the area health department. When planning to set up a table on a street or to activate a street team, the authority may be the local government, property owner or a not-for-profit. No matter how simple or complex your activation may be, don’t neglect this critical aspect. Further, simplify your effort by outsourcing permitting, when possible.

3. Having the wrong people hand out samples.

All too often, product sampling programs are staffed by warm bodies who offer consumers no greetings, smiles and/or product information. Samples are simply taken, leaving companies with nothing in return. Another issue lies in inadequate staffing. There aren’t enough people to effectively engage consumers or brand ambassadors don’t fit the brand’s persona. When promotional staffing is underestimated or overlooked, activations suffer. The individuals on your front lines are your activation’s number one asset.

The best product sampling programs will put resources into finding the best people to ensure the sampling campaign is executed beyond expectations. Considerations include the right look and personality and the necessary skills or certifications, among others. With the mere seconds event staff have to achieve your goals, make sure you have the right people with the right product training.

4. Limiting the activation to product sampling only.

We live in a time when the experience reigns supreme. So, what better way to draw more interest for your product sampling program than to offer a fuller brand experience? Take beverage company SOBE for example. On the eve of its 21st birthday, the brand activated a 13-market national sampling tour. The primary purpose was to introduce and sample two new SOBE products. But, the brand used the occasion to show goodwill and its fun nature with interactive games and branded giveaways. This gave brand ambassadors extra time to spend with visitors. And, the result was nearly 5,000 quality consumer engagements and more brand love.

Alcohol brands offer other great examples of how to incorporate product sampling into deeper, more meaningful brand experiences.

5. Lack of campaign measurement.

Perhaps the greatest mistake many marketers make is this – failing to identify the best metrics to measure the results of their campaign. Sometimes companies believe it’s just too difficult for brand ambassadors to accomplish or too intrusive for consumers. But, there are ways to collect consumer information beyond how many samples staff distributed, dependent on the activation at hand.

Samples given at retailers’ or grocers’ locations can be tied to immediate sales and even those over a certain period through digital offer redemption. And, when incorporating games and other experiences, lead generation methods can be seamlessly deployed, with consumer information, such as email, collected. This allows brands to offer other incentives and continue to build a relationship with attendees well after the event’s conclusion, offering more campaign rewards than either party imagined.


Interested in learning more about how to tie lead generation into product sampling? Download the free guide below!


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