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With budgets tightening, special promotions are often the first to go, and that means sampling goes too. It’s too bad, really, since sampling is one of the most effective ways for a brand to attract new customers (or win back old ones) and for retailers to add extra value.

sampling.jpgAdding that extra value is oh-so-important during a recession, when consumers grumble about companies that cut back and sing the praises of those that give more. (And thanks to the blogosphere, those gripes and glories are no longer relegated to dinner parties and playgroups. They spread fast, travel far and don’t get forgotten. You know, Google never forgets).

So instead of cutting out sampling, consider creative ways to do it better. We have found success with our Go Mambo! mobile marketing tour, offering retailers and manufacturers a co-op event that features many brands at once. Resources are pooled, costs are shared, and in the end you pack a bigger punch.

Sampling is a dual point-of-sale and brand building promotion. In the immediate, it raises visibility for your product and generates some impulse buys. In the long run, it builds awareness and affinity. Evidence shows that sampling is an effective way to introduce new products and to maintain customer loyalty for established brands.

Co-op programs work well for many manufactures because they go beyond standard giveaways. Co-op programs leverage a theme and tie-in multiple product brands, attracting more attention and generating more consumer excitement. These integrated programs also have more value from an educational standpoint.

You can imagine how these multi-brand events create far more opportunities to strike up conversations, raise certain issues, and stimulate questions. I’ve seen it happen time and time again — One person asks about organic milk, which leads to a question about farming, which leads to a comment on pesticides… and pretty soon you have a nice group of people gathered around your sample table. These soon-to-be customers are talking, sampling and attracting other future brand advocates.

It’s infectious. It works. And when the economy turns around, those companies in the lead are going to be those that continued sampling and brand building during the recession.

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