Natalie Betts of Response One looks at sampling in cosmetics

Do good things come in small packages?


Natalie Betts of Response One looks at sampling in cosmetics

COMMENT The cosmetics industry is based around selling little objects of desire, and its marketers are always eager to innovate and add some gloss to their customer communications. Traditionally, they have been heavy users of sampling and free gifts, in various forms – given away with magazines, in-store or through beauty salons, for example.

But the internet is having a massive impact on the sector. The UK hair and beauty market was worth almost £5bn last year, and there was an 80% hike in online sales between 2014 and 2015.

Recent research conducted by our St Ives Group sister consultancy Pragma showed that web-based research is becoming more frequent among both sexes. For young women in particular, the trend is for consulting vloggers such as Zoella and Tanya Burr, with 85% of 16- to 20-year-old females within the 2,000 people surveyed regularly viewing vlogs.

A key challenge for online shopping is finding a way to stimulate the non-visual senses of people browsing items on a 2D screen. Just as people still want physical newspapers to read, they like to hold beauty products to test them out. In particular, touch and smell are vital considerations. So how can all of that digital deliberation be brought to life with a multi-sensory experience?

A deeper delve into the data suggests sampling is still the answer. Respondents cited it as a key reason for buying a new product, second only to price and offers. Some 41% of women and 18% of men said testers were important in their decision making; this ranks above channels such as advertising, brand image, ingredients, reviews and medical endorsements. The stats show a growing appetite for sampling across age groups. Despite this, however, many brands are still only paying lip service to it.

In-store sampling is the traditional route and remains popular. But from experience we know brands are missing out on trade due to lack of available samples and clearly marked testers. So they should also consider getting directly into people’s hands, giving them a ‘wow’ moment when they are already a captive audience.

One way to do this is via affinity sampling, where brands partner with online retailers who have a matching customer profile to include samples and testers in that retailer’s regular parcels.

Recipients are encouraged to share their delight at their free gift via social media, and this can be amplified by the brand and retail partner. For example, we recently ran a campaign for L’Oreal Garnier Ultimate Blends where testers were placed in ASOS deliveries.

Sampling has traditionally been heavily targeted at ‘warm’ customers, people who are already in the cosmetics section of a department store, for example. Affinity sampling has a much wider reach and also gets to people in their own homes.

It’s a relatively new channel, so there’s a high chance of cut-through in a cluttered marketplace. Getting a product into someone’s hands can be much more effective than bombarding them with messages on the daily commute. Conversely, sampling can also support above-the-line work. Royal Mail research shows TV and print ads resonate longer and stronger when followed up with tangible communications.

Understanding the customer allows brands to plan the perfect moment to reach them. Lots of women, for example, buy make-up for specific occasions, from a party to a night out after work. If a new item is received that day, it’s a great opportunity for someone to test it while they’re in the right environment and in the right frame of mind.

With lots of positive feedback from their family or friends, they are much more likely to return for a full-sized item. Rimmel found this when it placed creams in Missguided deliveries, while Davidoff learned the same process also works for men when it sampled a fragrance alongside shirt orders from The Saville Row Company.

Targeting beauty customers is more challenging than ever. The post-digital customer journey has opened the floodgates to new brands and empowered consumers to discover products in myriad ways. Innovation is critical in this landscape, and harnessing people’s growing desire to test and sample is a potentially lucrative way to engage them.

Natalie Betts is Experience Marketing Manager at agency Response One, a St Ives Group company

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