Digital sampling may sound like a contradiction – but there can be major advantages to injecting a digital element into the process of getting samples into people’s hands, says Dave Corlett of Ready

It’s sampling, Jim, but not as we know it


Digital sampling may sound like a contradiction – but there can be major advantages to injecting a digital element into the process of getting samples into people’s hands, says Dave Corlett of Ready

It’s universally accepted that experiential sampling campaigns are highly effective at introducing consumers to new products and variants.

But there can be disadvantages to this tactic. Brand ambassadors often have no idea who they’ve just handed a sample to, and can only target people at a select number of locations. Their options are also limited when it comes to continuing the conversation.

Using samples as prizes, rewards or gifts in online promotional campaigns has the potential to address all of these issues. But it’s not necessarily the right approach for every brand or occasion.

So who should be thinking about swapping streets for screens? And how can those who do, make sure they achieve the best results?

When to consider going digital

The first rule of thumb is that the higher the value of your sample, the more relevant a digital approach becomes.

Consumers simply aren’t going to spend precious time handing over their details for a mini can of Coke Zero, and probably won’t feel comfortable doing so. But if the value exchange is more substantial, the chances of persuading them to provide personal data increases exponentially.

This tactic also works well for brands that only have a limited number of samples. In this case, it’s vital to make each one work harder. One way to do this is to create an online game or challenge, offering those who complete it the chance to win one of the samples (as well as a grand prize, of course).

Research shows that competitions become more attractive when a range of smaller and larger prizes are offered, and when participants are instantly notified of success or failure. Using samples as the smaller prizes kills both these birds with one stone.

What are the key benefits?

The most pertinent advantage over experiential sampling is audience targeting. With a physical campaign, it’s true that this can be reasonably sophisticated, especially in environments such as shopping centres; but ultimately, it’s still something of a scattergun approach once the activity commences. And in many instances, that’s absolutely fine.

But with a digital campaign, a pot of media spend can be allocated to targeting precisely the right customer. Moreover, those who win a prize and submit their details are more likely to fit your core customer, as they have chosen to participate rather than simply having a product thrust at them in the street.

In addition, a digital approach has the potential to reach anyone, anywhere. It isn’t restricted to a handful of locations. And although some sampling campaigns do involve an element of data capture, integrating this into a digital activation is seamless, easy and almost instant.

Just remember to make sure it’s all GDPR-compliant!

The drawbacks?

There are certainly a few considerations to take into account.

First up, logistics. There are fulfilment processes to arrange, which add a layer of complexity to the activity. They also add costs to it, as does the requisite digital development. But it could be argued that these are offset by the absence of the logistical and staffing costs that come with a physical sampling campaign.

Secondly, how big are the samples you will be sending out? Any larger than the average letterbox, and sending them out becomes too much of an inconvenience for the recipient. Not every food and drink samples is suitable either, for obvious freshness-related reasons.

If this is the case, but the digital angle still appeals, then why not switch samples for coupons? This eliminates the ‘snail mail’ element entirely. But it does mean less products in people’s hands, as not everyone will redeem their coupon.

You could add in a prize promotion element (like we did for client Soap & Glory – see picture), making the allocation of money-off coupons random, and encouraging multiple or unlimited entries to provide more chance of winning (and more chance of getting high quality data). However, you can’t give everybody an identical coupon and call it a ‘prize’ – that’s against the CAP Code. You can still give everyone who participates a coupon, you just have to call it a reward or a gift.

Not all brands or products are suitable for digital sampling, as mentioned above; lower-value FMCG products may be just as loved by consumers as higher-value ones, but the value and size of their samples means that compelling people to jump through extra hoops can make using digital tricky.

You may be best to stick to the streets for these folks.

To sum up…

There are huge benefits to physical sampling, and I’m certainly not suggesting otherwise – or that every brand that does it should scrap the idea in favour of a digital campaign.

However, for brands in sectors like beauty, skincare, personal care and the luxury end of the FMCG market, digital sampling can be a very effective way of getting products into the right hands – and learning more about who those hands belong to.

Dave Corlett is New Business Director of Bath-based agency Ready, which creates bold promotional and tactical campaigns for clients including Soap & Glory, Quidco, Kiddylicious, and Burt’s Bees.