The majority of manufacturers use sampling as part of their consumer-promotion activities, according to a Brand Marketing survey.
Marketers are divided in terms of how they conduct these activities. According to the survey, 46% said they focus on in-store sampling, while 54% said out-of-store/direct-to-consumer. Published in September 2001, the survey was the second of a three-part report on the industry's promotional practices. Experian, an information solutions company, was a significant contributor. The report was produced in cooperation with the Promotion Marketing Association.
Of those who focus on in-store sampling, 37% said retailer cooperation for events is "better," while 47% said "the same."
Deciding whether a program will be in-store or out-of-store is just part of the battle. Marketers also need to figure out which type of distribution method they'll use.
For instance, those who opt for direct-to-home must decide if those samples will arrive via newspapers, doorknob hangers, in the mailbox, or via the Internet. And those who pick an out-of-home method need to determine whether, say, they'll sample at an athletic or music event, or someplace like a mall. Marketers who decide on in-store sampling must choose whether to sample via demonstrations, goodie bags at exits, or in-pack/on-pack programs. Each tactic, along with the multiple delivery methods, has its advantages, according to brand marketers and vendors that Brand Marketing interviewed. Deciding which to choose largely depends on the brand's objectives. While one marketer may want to increase sales, another may be more interested in gaining customer loyalty, or simply generating good PR.
The type of product being sampled also plays an integral part of the decision process. One technique may be more suitable for a new product in an existing category, while another may be more appropriate for a line extension or a product that creates an entirely new category.
Before a marketer leaps into a sampling program, it must have a clear strategy of what it's trying to accomplish. Among the questions to ask:
Whichever tactic is chosen, marketers should ensure that there is a sufficient return on investment, said Larry Burns, co-chair of the Promotion Marketing Association's Product Sampling and Demonstration Council and chief executive officer of StartSampling, Carol Stream, Ill., an online marketing and promotions firm.
"The goal of sampling is to get the consumer to convert and become a buyer of a brand," Burns said. "So it's a question of what knowledge and understanding does the brand owner have about the mechanics of how their brand should perform. Then it can choose the appropriate set of venues in terms of achieving their goal."
Choosing the right venue can help a marketer optimize its conversion, added Tom Butler, co-chair of the PMA's In-Store Marketing Council and president, in-home division and retail sales and services, Sunflower Group, Overland Park, Kan., a promotional services firm.
Some products, say prepared foods, are more conducive to in-store sampling and demonstrations, while others, like health and beauty care products, are not.
"If it's a prepared product that involves a recipe, it may be better to do it in-store, where consumers can try it, see it on the shelf and then buy it," said Butler.
On the other hand, for a line extension, marketers may be best served if they target existing users, since they are the ones who are most likely to buy the new product. Because these consumers are already users, marketers can use Internet or direct-mail sampling or another method in which they can pre-identify the target market.
Sometimes it's better to not pick one technique over another. Rather, a mix of in-store, event, home and the Web will best serve marketers, said Burns.
"Marketers are beginning to understand that the right approach is a hybrid approach," he said. "Consumers are not homogeneous. You want to get to them with your product at a point in time where there's a greater likelihood of getting them to consider the product, use it, try it and then buy it."
Companies that want to make an impact at the point of sale can look to in-store sampling for help. Though most people think of in-store sampling only as part of a product demonstration, there are plenty of other techniques, including in-pack/on-pack, and goodie bags at the point of entry or exit.
Since two of three decisions are made at the point of sale, some marketers look to get high exposure through in-pack/on-pack samples, said Art Averbook, president of Co-Op Promotions, Hollywood, Fla., which specializes in in-pack/on-pack sampling.
"Creating a value-added promotion at the point of sale helps marketers be more competitive," said Averbook.
Averbook pointed out, however, that marketers must address a host of security issues before they dive into an on-pack program. For instance, the sample must be secured well enough to prevent pilferage.
Marketers who don't want to deal with these issues may instead opt for in-pack samples. "Logistically, in-pack samples are easy. You can just put them into a cereal box," said Averbook.
While this is done a lot in the cereal category, it's also being used in plenty of other areas, including the feminine hygiene, shaving cream and beverage categories.
"You can put samples into virtually anything," he said. "It crosses all categories." Manufacturers have even begun testing this type of sampling with retail private-label brands, putting products like breath mints in the package of private-label mouthwash. Since such sampling benefits the retail brand, this is a powerful trade-relations device, said Averbook.
For this year's cold season, Pfizer, New York, opted for an in-pack sample. It is offering a free in-pack disposable thermometer for its Benadryl cold medication for kids, according to Averbook. The program launched last month and is slated to run through March. About 500,000 samples are being offered in the food, drug and mass classes of trade.
"This is a great way for Pfizer to differentiate itself on the shelf and attract the consumer at the point of sale," he added.
Adams, part of the Warner-Lambert Consumer Group and a division of Pfizer, is using an airline-sampling program for its fruit chews and crunch bars. Both Body Smarts products are touted as wholesome snacks. The chews contain calcium and vitamins A, C and E. The bars contain 17 vitamins and minerals.
The program is effective in that the brand gets high exposure on board the planes. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many airlines eliminated food service on flights under three hours. This means that in many cases, Body Smarts will be the only food that travelers get on the plane.
Since the sample doesn't have to compete against thousands of other products in the store, this type of distribution method is bound to be well-received, said Dick Bogash, president, Sky Marketing, the Flushing, N.Y., sampling company that created the program.
"If someone's on an airplane for three hours without any food service and the flight attendant comes down aisle with food, it will get attention," said Bogash, who noted that many airline passengers even read the packaging of products they receive on planes because of boredom.
While Hormel Foods, Austin, Minn., uses in-store sampling for certain efforts, it's currently focused on out-of-store via a mobile marketing campaign.
It has three Spammobiles, 25-foot-long vehicles that resemble a giant can of Spam, on the road. Each is traveling the country and visiting a variety of events, including fairs, festivals, sporting venues, concerts and retail stores. The goal of the vehicles is to sample five varieties of Spam: Regular, Oven Roasted Turkey, Smoke Flavored, Lite and Less Sodium. Each visitor gets a sample of a "Spamburger," along with coupons and/or branded beach balls or hats.
Hormel is using the vehicle to promote the low cost and convenience of the product, as well as to contemporize the brand, said Nick Meyer, product manager, Spam.
"I could advertise every day, but the brand would still have the same stereotype," said Meyer. "We want people to try Spam, because once they do, they'll realize it's better than expected."
Hormel prefers mobile sampling over in-store at times because it's a controlled environment. For instance, it can target certain demographic groups based on the places and events that the Spammobile visits, like reaching Hispanics at Hispanic festivals.
Michael Napoliello, president of U.S. Marketing & Promotions, the L.A. marketing firm that created the Spammobile program, said mobile marketing campaigns do a great job in building brand awareness.
"Marketers who use mobile marketing get a brief moment with a lot of people in a visible way," said Napoliello. "We see that as a parallel to advertising."
The Hain Celestial Group, Uniondale, N.Y., and Nestle USA, Glendale, Calif., both used newspapers for sampling programs conducted last month.
Hain Celestial used a daily newspaper to sample its teas. Two samples came in a four-page informational packet that pictured nearly three dozen of the brand's herb and specialty teas.
"We offer more delicious teas than you can shake a spoon at," the brochure read, in part. "Start your day with an exotic Island Mate Spice. Relax over a soothing cup of Chamomile with a friend. Try something new today and enjoy the taste and quality that have made us America's favorite name in herb and specialty teas."
Like the Hain Celestial mailing, the After Eight samples came in a four-page informational packet. The brochure included photo descriptions of After Eight's Thin Mints and Truffles, along with its Delight treats and Biscuits cookie.
"Made from the finest cocoa beans and carefully blended with a subtle peppermint oil, [After Eight] offers the perfect complement to sophisticated dinner parties, elegant teas and family celebrations," the brochure stated. "After Eight enhances any social occasion."
Marketers are sampling via the Internet in many ways, including by aligning with third-party sampling companies and also by offering samples on their own Web sites.
The Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati, is doing both. Along with testing third-party sampling programs, it also offers samples on its own through e-newsletters, brand-specific Web sites and even its own corporate Web site, www.pg.com. At pg.com, consumers can visit "Try and Buy," a section where they can request free samples of brands such as Olay, Head & Shoulders and Physique.