After a disorganized and consequently unsuccessful in-store sampling promotion last year, the Dannon Co. knew its approach had to change.
Rather than plan and execute similar programs by itself, it realized that it could get the job done better if it hired a third party, said Nancy Dachille, sales trade marketing/communications manager for the Tarrytown, N.Y., company.
So when it came time to plan a complicated in-store sampling promotion conducted as part of a joint effort with the Minute Maid orange juice brand, it went to the Sunflower Group, Overland Park, Kan., a sampling firm, for help. Sunflower came prepared with a detailed checklist of what needed to get done, as well as an understanding of manufacturer and retailer needs.
Under the program, samples of a smoothie made with Minute Maid orange juice and Dannon yogurt were handed out with coupons to customers in 3,260 stores nationwide. Dachille said the program was a success, for which she credits the Sunflower Group.
"I would not do another in-store sampling program without them," Dachille said.
One of the main reasons the program worked was that it got off on the right foot, a critical success factor to in-store sampling programs. While many manufacturers run successful in-store sampling events on their own, others point to the benefits of having someone else do the work.
Along with whether to use a third party, there are a host of other decisions manufacturers must make when planning an in-store sampling event. During this process, it's important that they keep in mind several key points. Among them:
If an outside company is hired, it's important that manufacturers keep the communication lines open. Some vendors have even started to use on-line communication systems to facilitate conversations and information transfers between demonstration companies, retail stores and manufacturers.
"Proper communication leads to proper coordination, which obviously leads to a good execution," noted Mike Kent, president, PromoWorks, Schaumburg, Ill., an integrated marketing services firm. "And that leads to good results from an analysis standpoint."
The success of a program often comes down to skills of companies that manufacturers hire to help run it. For Dannon, the key to the success of the Minute Maid/Dannon promotion hinged on using a reputable company, according to Dachille.
Along with checking the qualifications of the company that executes the program, manufacturers need to confirm the skills of the demonstration company, if one is used. Communicating the brand's objectives before, during and after the promotion is needed so that all parties are on the same page.
In the past, Unilever, Greenwich, Conn., ran into problems with demonstrators who were not properly trained to execute programs as they had been designed, according to Ame Cameron, assistant marketing manager for Unilever's Customer Team Brand Development department.
"If the person in contact with your consumer doesn't give the consumer the experience that you are expecting them to have, then you don't have an event," Cameron said.
For instance, Unilever executed a program for Suave products that was formatted as a game show. The event was designed to expose Suave consumers to other products in the line. Because the program was complex, the demonstrator training process should have been extensive to ensure that the game accomplished its purpose. But training was done via Webcast, not in one-on-one, more personal settings. The result was a confusing, unorganized execution.
"The most engaging consumer events occur when the manufacturer provides a simple message and when the demonstrators take the time to learn the event and the brand's objectives," Cameron stressed.
Unilever has since made changes. In a recent successful event for the Thermasilk brand, it made sure demonstrators were trained in the right way. The demonstrators styled customers' hair in 400 stores across the country and offered consumers access to an interactive program in which consumers could then see themselves as an actor in a commercial from Thermasilk's current ad campaign.
The difference between the Thermasilk and Suave programs lay in the staffing and training for the event, said Cameron. For the Thermasilk program, licensed hair stylists were hired to show consumers exactly how to use the hair products being demonstrated. Unilever also made sure that the demonstrators fit the demographic of the product itself: young, good hair, attractive or "model type."
"It comes down to who is hired and what they do with the program, every time," Cameron stressed.
Indeed, hiring a demonstration company with poorly trained workers is one of the most common mistakes being made in the in-store sampling industry, added Kim Flaspohler, vice president of in-store and event services at Sunflower. When the Sunflower Group found that demonstrators had difficulty setting up point-of-sale materials, so simply didn't bother to use any, it reformatted how its point-of-sale was assembled and made sure the demonstrators knew how to use it.
Because of the many details involved in a product demonstration, making things as easy as possible for the demonstrator will go a long way toward making the event a success. Such simplicity should be a key component of all programs, Flaspohler said.
"You have to be realistic in your expectations for human error when you're dealing with human beings," she added.
Suzanne Gocke, senior vice president retail division of Mass Connections, Chicago, an in-store marketing company, said that lack of planning, not providing proper communication to the retailer and not understanding the policies of the retailer are all important issues for a program to address.
"I think there is a general misunderstanding of in-store sampling," she said. "Our events have come a long way from serving cheese on a cracker. I don't think most manufacturers are knowledgeable of the kind of results we are achieving in the in-store arena."
Proper lead times, which come up at all levels of in-store sampling -- both regional and national -- are also key. While some vendors recommend at least six to eight weeks lead time, others say eight to 12 weeks is even better.
"There are so many times that we get called with literally less than two weeks or even a week notice to help a manufacturer execute a program," said Darla McCrary, owner, All Store Marketing Services, Greenville, Texas, a regional vendor that does promotions in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. "You know that they would be unhappy with anything less than 100% execution and everything being perfect, but yet they've not allowed sufficient enough time to plan these things."
Along with lead time, manufacturers need to improve their targeting skills, said Art Averbook, president of Co-Op Promotions, Hollywood, Fla., a sales promotion company. To do so, many brands can tie in with products that relate to theirs.
"You have the potential when you look at consumption to say, 'Gee, if someone is buying this product they also might buy something else,"' said Averbook. "The problem is not taking advantage of the affinity of the demographic."
This type of sampling is different from other in-store demonstrations because while the initial contact is made in the store, the product trial occurs in the consumer's home. So reaching the right group at the point of purchase is an issue, he said.
"Segmenting to the preferred target demographic is so important," said Averbook.
Bristol-Myers Squibb, New York, recently conducted a sampling event that targeted Nuprin, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, to men over the age of 35 who suffered from aches and pains. Bristol-Myers decided that, in this case, a product demonstration wouldn't work.
"It's really hard typically to get a demonstrator to tell who is hurting," noted Averbook, whose company conducted the program.
Because the target was so hard to identify, Bristol-Myers decided to include the pain medication in 1 million packages of Ace bandages. This technique is something Averbook calls bull's-eye marketing, programs designed to cut down on the number of consumers on whom the promotion would be wasted.
Manufacturers who use such programs need to look at all the key variables of their target demographic. Averbook equated it to the process of finding a good mate or a good job, a complicated matching process that has many screens.
In particular, he added, samples should be paired with products that are free of corporate conflicts. They also should have similar promotional goals, common demographics, common distribution, the same seasonality and positioning compatibility.