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The Definitive Guide to Product Sampling in 2024 and Beyond [An Influencer Platform’s POV]

David Morneau

By David Morneau
19 min READ | Apr 6 2024

Table of contents

Product sampling is as old as time, and it’s a simple strategy.

Warning: Simple is (hardly ever) the same as easy.

So, this article will teach you how to master it for your future campaigns.

We’ll discuss different types of product sampling, strategies, and practical examples with actionable insights from us – an influencer marketing platform.

We’ll even include a free product sampling campaign plan you can implement today.

Keep reading below.

TL;DR

  • Product sampling involves giving away free goods, merchandise, or services to the public.
  • Types of product sampling include direct, indirect, traditional, cashback, samples, limited-time samples, mail drops, and virtual samples.
  • Product sampling is effective because it boosts brand awareness, generates user-generated content, builds trust, attracts new customers, increases the likelihood of conversion, and boosts retention.
  • You can implement product sampling if your goals include increasing brand awareness, educating consumers about your product, building trust, encouraging brand switching, gathering feedback for product development, boosting sales, overcoming high price barriers, or enhancing e-commerce experiences.
  • A product sampling plan starts with defining your goals, identifying your target audience, selecting the right product, choosing distribution channels, planning logistics, ensuring a seamless customer experience, leveraging digital engagement, collecting feedback, analyzing results, and optimizing for future campaigns.
  • Work with a product sampling agency for better results.

What Is Product Sampling?

Product sampling is a type of experiential marketing that entails giving away goods, merchandise, or services to the public for free.

Some examples of product sampling marketing strategies include:

  • Giving a taste of small servings of a new food product at sampling stations in a grocery store
  • Handing out free beauty product samples to customers at a department store
  • Offering a travel-sized product with a full-size product

Note: Product sampling is different from product seeding.

Product seeding entails strategically sending a limited number of free products to specific influencers and reviewers, usually (but not always) in exchange for user-generated content.

Conversely, product sampling allows the public at large to try out your company’s products or services.

Types of Product Sampling

Understanding the different types of product sampling tactics allows you to choose the right one for your business goals and target consumers.

Here’s how we categorize the product sampling campaigns some of our inBeat clients are doing:

By the nature of product sampling:

  • Direct: Direct product sampling occurs face-to-face. The advantage here is that you can notice the audience’s reaction and have a more extended conversation with them.
  • Indirect: Indirect sampling doesn’t happen face-to-face. The advantages, in this case, are saving time and resources.

By type:

  • Traditional: The standard practice of offering potential shoppers freebies.
  • Cashback: Offering coupons to acquire certain products/services or cashback after the purchase.
  • Samples: Offering trial products/services to create desire.
  • Limited-time samples: Like the category above, but within a limited time frame to create scarcity and FOMO.
  • Mail drops: Samples or coupons you send directly to your customers’ mailboxes.
  • Virtual samples: Allowing people the opportunity to try a product online, usually by using Artificial Reality (AR).

How Effective Is Product Sampling?

At inBeat, we found that product sampling is very effective because gets you more customers with fewer buying regrets.

The numbers are on our side too.

According to research by Marsh Supermarkets:

  • 68% of consumers claim product sampling led them to purchase
  • 85% of consumers like in-store product sampling more than newspaper or TV promotions
  • 83% of buyers agree that in-store events skyrocket their shopping experience
  • 75% claim sampling helps them find products in store easier

Sampling also increased this store’s sales by 600% to 2,000%.

Besides, Statista shows that product sampling is the most important purchase reason for 34% of people.

And 72% of customers stay loyal to brands offering free product samples.

5 Benefits of Product Sampling Our Customers Experienced

Our clients have noticed the following product sampling benefits (which are also proven by numbers):

1. Increase Brand Awareness

Product sampling has helped our clients increase brand awareness because it:

  • Can kickstart the customer journey. Even the most cautious spenders are willing to try a free sample as we’ve seen from the stats above. And 35% of potential customers who tried your sample offers will also purchase your product.
  • Increases memorability and brand recognition. People who try a free sample but don’t convert immediately will still have a memorable experience because they interacted with someone from your company and got something for free.

Sephora offers free sample products as part of their in-store and online shopping experience.

Therefore, potential customers become more aware of new products they might have otherwise missed.

Source

2. Get User-Generated Content

Our clients at inBeat noticed that product sampling generates reviews and other UGC to attract even more potential customers.

Costco is a renowned example, gaining lots of social media attention thanks to its free samples:

Source

UGC or user-generated content helps you stand out from the crowd, get your customers’ attention, and build social proof.

It will also increase your sales; studies show that 90% of customers decide to purchase based in part on user-generated content.

Here’s how to leverage it:

If you target influencers as part of your product sampling program, you can generate UGC that will be tailored to and seen by your target audience.

Pro tip: Use custom packaging when sending these samples to your influencers so they'll be more inclined to test and mention your products.

An influencer marketplace such as inBeat can connect you with the right influencers for your brand and help you manage marketing activities effectively.

Choosing the best content creators will skyrocket the effectiveness of product sampling.‌‌

3. Attract New and Unexpected Customers

Usually, a marketing campaign focuses on a specific demographic and audience.

Social media algorithms and AI have allowed for laser-focused ad campaigns that will only be put in front of the people most likely to buy from your company.

What about the people who aren’t likely to purchase your products?

At inBeat, we discovered that solid product sampling methods can help you attract them, too.

Therefore, you can engage and persuade a new demographic, increasing your purchase rate in the process.

4. Increase Retention

While product sampling is great for attracting prospective customers, it’s also an excellent tool for increasing retention.

Retention is vital because:

  • Loyal repeat customers spend more money on your products than new customers.
  • New customers have a lower chance of buying, and it costs much more to convert them.
  • Loyal customers are the best advocates for a brand; they are the heart and soul of a business.

Product sampling can improve customer retention by:

  • Offering an opportunity for engagement with loyal customers
  • Nurturing the relationship between the customer and the brand
  • Keeping the brand top-of-mind for repeat customers
  • Demonstrating generosity on the part of the brand
  • Increasing consumer confidence
  • Making repeat customers feel like VIPs when they have an opportunity to try new products

Pro tip: You can further improve customer retention numbers with an omnichannel strategy and gamification.

For example, you can use inBeat to find customers who are also social media influencers and offer them some freebies.

Simultaneously, other samples can be offered to in-store customers only.

This makes the experience more customized and more fun while increasing product popularity.

5. Test Out New Products & Gather Data

Innovating and implementing new products and services is expensive, uncertain, and risky.

It’s also necessary to survive in the rapidly evolving modern business world.

Side note: That’s why you need data analysis to devise the best products and the communication surrounding them.

A product sampling campaign is also a simple way to quickly gather a wide range of data.

To find out if a new product is viable, let people test it out and then ask for their feedback.

Leverage the opportunity to gather qualitative data and organize it into themes for easy analysis.

Pro tip: Don’t use product sampling just for new products.

You can sample a bestseller and find out precisely what people like about it and what they wish was different.

This information could lead to an improvement on the item or even the creation of a new product.

Should You Go For a Product Sampling Campaign?

Sampling programs don't just work for consumer brands.

You can create a successful product sampling campaign too, but that requires a strategic assessment of your company's goals, the nature of your product, and the characteristics of your target market.

As a marketer with a keen understanding of your brand's objectives and challenges, consider the following scenarios where a product sampling campaign could be particularly advantageous:

  • Brand awareness and expansion: If your primary goal is to increase brand awareness, especially in a new market or segment, product sampling can serve as a direct way to introduce potential customers to your brand. This is particularly effective for new or lesser-known brands aiming to establish a foothold and increase future purchases.
  • Product education: For products that are innovative, complex, or require some level of consumer education to appreciate their full value, sampling offers a hands-on experience. It allows consumers to understand and appreciate the product's benefits firsthand, which can be more compelling than traditional advertising.
  • Building consumer trust: In industries where trust and quality are paramount, such as skin care, food, and wellness, samples allow consumers to test and validate your product's claims without a financial commitment. This can be crucial in building long-term customer relationships, especially if you also get good customer reviews based on those samples.
  • Encouraging switching behavior: If your target market includes users of competing products, samples can incentivize consumers to try your product, potentially leading to a switch. This product trial is particularly effective when you have a clear competitive advantage or unique selling proposition.
  • Feedback and product development: For brands in the process of product development or iteration, sampling can be a valuable tool for gathering consumer insights  before a full-scale launch. This can help refine the product and marketing strategy based on real user experiences.
  • Increasing conversion rate: You can include product sampling in your marketing efforts to increase your email list, get more people to your retail store, or drive online purchases. Of course, you will need the right special offers to attract your customer base.
  • Driving loyalty: Post-purchase samples can boost sales by encouraging rewarding existing customers. This can be an effective strategy to increase basket size or frequency of purchase.
  • Overcoming high price points: The initial cost can be a barrier to trial for premium or luxury products. Samples allow consumers to experience the quality and effectiveness of the product, which can justify the price and lead to full-size purchases.
  • Maximizing e-commerce opportunities: In the digital shopping environment, where physical interaction with the product is not possible, samples included with online orders can enhance the customer experience and introduce shoppers to new products they might not have considered otherwise.

A product sampling campaign can be a powerful component of your marketing strategy when aligned with specific business goals and customer needs.

However, it's essential to weigh the costs against the expected benefits and consider the logistics and execution to ensure the campaign's success.

Free Product Sampling Campaign Plan

Developing a product sampling strategy involves a series of well-thought-out steps designed to ensure the campaign reaches the right audience, delivers the intended value, and achieves your marketing objectives.

Follow this step-by-step guide to create a compelling product sampling campaign:

  1. Define your objectives: Clearly articulate what you want to achieve with your sampling campaign. Whether it's increasing brand awareness, driving sales, gathering consumer feedback, or introducing a new product, your objectives will guide every decision in the campaign.
  2. Identify your exact target audience: Determine who your ideal customers are, including their demographics, preferences, and purchasing behaviors. Understanding your audience ensures the samples reach those most likely to be interested in your product.
  3. Select the right product: Choose a product that represents your brand well and has broad appeal to your target audience. Consider factors such as ease of use, the likelihood of repeat purchases, and the product's ability to stand out in its category.
  4. Determine distribution channels: Decide how you will distribute your samples. Options include direct mail, in-store distribution, events, partnerships with complementary brands, or digital platforms. The choice should align with where your target audience is most accessible and engaged.
  5. Plan the logistics: Work out the details of how the samples will be produced, packaged, and delivered. Consider the costs, environmental impact, and the customer's unboxing experience to ensure it reflects your brand's values and quality.
  6. Create a seamless customer experience: Ensure that receiving, using, and potentially purchasing the full-size product is a smooth process for the customer. Include clear instructions, easy access to more information, and a simple path to purchase.
  7. Leverage digital engagement: Complement your sampling campaign with digital content that educates about the product, shares user experiences, and encourages social sharing. This can amplify the impact of your sampling effort.
  8. Collect feedback: Design mechanisms to gather direct feedback from those who receive your samples. This could be through follow-up surveys, social media engagement, or incentivized reviews. Honest feedback is invaluable for understanding customer perceptions and making necessary adjustments.
  9. Measure and analyze results: Set up metrics to evaluate the success of your sampling campaign against your initial objectives. Analyze data to understand the return on investment, customer conversion rates, and other relevant metrics to gauge the campaign's effectiveness.
  10. Iterate and optimize: Use the insights gained from your campaign to refine your approach for future sampling efforts. Identify what worked well and areas for improvement, adjusting your strategy accordingly for increased impact.

7 Product Sampling Strategies [with Examples]

Now that you’re here, you know how product sampling works and why it does.

But if you’re not yet sure what would work for your company, let’s review the examples below:

1. ICI Paris XL: Advertise Your In-Store Sampling Campaign

This Belgium-based beauty shop offers in-store product samples to convince more people to try their products.

This traditional sampling strategy works because it solves certain problems that these types of brands face:

  • Beauty products in the same price range offer similar quality.
  • The vast majority of beauty products solve similar needs.
  • Customers loyal to a specific brand are less likely to try the competitors’ products.
  • There are too many such companies and products to research and try unless you’re doing that for a living.

So, ICI Paris XL invites everyone into their stores to take home their sample offers, thus increasing customer satisfaction:

And yes, they advertise their free samples on all channels, not just outside their stores, including Instagram:

Source

And their website:

Source

Remember: Organizing a traditional product sampling campaign outside your premises doesn’t exclude advertising it on social media channels.

In fact, this allows you to:

  • Increase awareness of this promotion
  • Remind people who’ve tried your samples to return for the post-sample purchase
  • Create scarcity and FOMO, especially if your campaign is limited

2. Costco: Make Product Sampling Your Unique Selling Proposition

Costco are experts in product sampling.

Why does this work so well for them?

Well, Costco is retailing low-value consumer goods.

These products are cheap, and the degree of loyalty from the consumer base is low.

So, offering free samples of great products (that are usually underrated) is their unique selling proposition.

Warning: Don’t offer low-quality samples.

Studies show that quality affects enjoyment, and your purpose is not to reduce your potential consumers’ happiness.

And Costco is so famous for this USP that it’s now entered popular culture.

Here’s how you can tell:

  • Zoomers post videos about it on TikTok, talking excitedly about new promotions they found like these were rare gems:
Source
  • #Costcosamples and #Costcofind are genuine hashtags used by millions of people worldwide across social channels.
  • Product sampling TikTok videos about Costco have millions of views and six-figure likes.

3. Grammarly: Always Have a Free Trial of Your Software Solutions

Just like other software solutions, Grammarly offers a free version for people to try.

The happy customers who see improvements after using the free Grammarly tool for a time will purchase the paid version.

Grammarly:

  • Understands its audience’s needs,
  • Shows their free version can solve them, and:
  • Highlights the added benefits of purchasing the paid plan.

Side note: This type of online sampling is much more difficult than the direct, face-to-face product sampling strategy because it can easily be ignored.

Here’s an example:

Grammarly on Tiktok
Source

This TikTok clip introduces Grammarly’s new citation feature that helps students write citations correctly in different styles.

Lessons to learn:

  • Hook: Notice the initial hook and the outlined problem (professors grade your citation-related mistakes)
  • Solution: The solution is clearly presented, as the free version helps you correct your citations according to the required style.
  • Expensive extra: The bonus comes up in the form of Grammarly Premium, which offers real-time suggestions.
  • Call-to-action: There’s a clear CTA at the end.

Pro tip: Here’s the structure we recommend our clients follow when promoting their online product samples.

Feel free to steal it, too:

  1. Hook
  2. Audience’s current problem
  3. The solution offered by your free samples
  4. The advantage of getting the paid version
  5. The call-to-action

4. For the Love of Homeschooling Nature Study Club: Offer Product Samples to Influencers

The homeschooling club offers several homeschool resources.

To increase awareness, the club sometimes sends product samples to content creators.

These influencers will then create user-generated content that:

  • Presents the product to their followers
  • Shows how they adapt this product to their needs
  • Emphasizes the problems that this product solves

Here are the lessons you can learn based on this example and our clients’ experiences:

  • Pick the right influencer: The club has picked the perfect content creator to promote the massive discount to their World Around Me Package: a mom who has chosen to live with her kids on a forest farm. And she also homeschools them.
  • Be helpful: The package helps the mom homeschool her eldest by teaching him how to make a map of the forest they live in.
  • Offer the right incentive: The discount is massive, from $800 to $25. Basically, this discount acts like a coupon, so it fits into the cashback type of product sampling.
  • Build FOMO: There’s a time limit to this offer, creating scarcity.
Product sampling - World Around Me campaign
Source

Pro tip: To find the right influencers for your needs:

5. Ikea Studio: Use an AR App

The idea behind this indirect sampling strategy is simple: offer customers the chance to see what your products look like in their homes.

Source

To achieve the best results:

  • Ensure the app is integrated into your website. You don’t want people to go between your website and the app, inputting measurements and searching for products. You want these things to be done automatically.
  • Add the shoppability feature. Once users customize the product selection to their needs, you want them to finalize the purchase as fast as possible. So, you need to add a visible, easy-to-reach shopping button.

6. Warby Parker: Allow Home Tries with Returns

Buying glasses is tricky especially because glass shop mirrors make you look different.

Besides, you’re only trying on frames for a few seconds.

Warby Parker understands that customer regret associated with purchasing glasses is specifically high.

That’s why they created the #WarbyHomeTryOn campaign.

The purpose:

  • People take an online quiz, choose five frames, and test them at home for a few days.
  • Afterward, they pick the best pair.

Here’s a recent happy customer:

Source

Here’s what Warby Parker’s 2015 campaign looked like on Instagram:

Parker Warby in 2015
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And the revived campaign in 2021:

Parker Warby in 2021
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Pro tip: If you want a significant increase in sales, understand what your ideal consumer needs and how you can solve it.

7. Kosas: Use Cashback Promotions and Paid Samples

Source

Kosas uses an innovative approach to product sampling: paid samples and cashback.

This approach boosts sales by acting as a virtual coupon for the consumer.

For each sample bought, they receive a cashback, credited as a bonus for subsequent purchases.

This setup allows customers to try out products without the risk of waste if the product doesn't meet their preferences, effectively giving them a sense of winning something.

This effective product sampling campaign is rooted in incentives, motivating customers to make a purchase.

Cashback sampling is particularly suitable for items that pose shipping challenges or carry high shipping costs, such as alcoholic beverages or large-scale products.

Additionally, it's a more environmentally friendly option, as it minimizes the use of packaging materials and reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation.

When Should You Launch a Product Sampling Campaign?

When contemplating the launch of a product sampling campaign, it's crucial to align your strategy with the broader marketing goals and market dynamics.

As a savvy marketer, you recognize that timing is everything.

Here are some key considerations for determining the optimal moment to launch a product sampling campaign:

  • Pre-launch buzz: Before the official market introduction of a new product, a sampling campaign can serve as a powerful tool to build anticipation and buzz. Use samples to create a group of early adopters who can become brand advocates.
  • Market entry: At the time of entering a new market or segment, samples can help you introduce your product to a new audience. This is especially effective if your brand or product is not yet well-known in the new market.
  • Competitive response: In response to a move by a competitor, such as the launch of a similar product, a sampling campaign can help you defend your market position. Use it to remind your target audience of your product's unique benefits and features.
  • Customer feedback loop: When you're considering a product iteration based on customer feedback or market trends, sampling new versions to a select group can provide invaluable insights before a full-scale launch.
  • Seasonal peaks: Align your sampling campaigns with seasonal buying patterns. For products with seasonal appeal, getting samples into potential customers' hands right before the peak season can drive significant sales uplift.
  • Event leveraging: Tie your sampling efforts to relevant events, trade shows, or industry gatherings. These occasions provide a captive audience already interested in your industry, making them more receptive to new products.
  • Digital product launches: In the digital space, consider launching a sampling campaign coinciding with significant updates or feature releases. This can re-engage existing users and attract new ones.
  • Influencer collaborations: Launch a sampling campaign as part of a broader influencer marketing strategy. Influencers can amplify the reach of your samples by showcasing them to their followers.

Start Your Own Product Sampling Campaign

As you can see, product sampling has many benefits, but it also comes in many shapes and sizes.

Your product sampling strategy will vary depending on your current goals, the type of products/services you’re retailing, and your audience.

You can try to:

  • Run one-off sampling campaigns in front of your store.
  • Build your entire brand identity around free samples.
  • Offer free and paid versions of your services.
  • Create product seeding campaigns with various influencers.
  • Use an augmented reality app to help customers try your products at home.
  • Mail your products to your customers, allowing a limited-time use.

Regardless of the strategy you choose, inBeat is always here to help.

Try our free ad mockup generators to create the perfect social media content for your product sampling campaign.

Or, contact us for a free strategy talk to help you build the perfect campaign plan.

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