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How to make sampling pay back

Sense London Account Director, Diana Petre-Mag explains how simple it is to achieve positive ROI with any sampling campaign.


When it comes to direct marketing – of which product sampling is of course, a type – campaigns need to pay back.  We aren’t talking about long term strategic brand building here, where short term gains can be sacrificed for the bigger picture: if direct marketing activity doesn’t translate directly to increased rate of sale, or penetration, then it serves little purpose.

ROI like this can be particularly tricky with product sampling, since the costs tend to be quite high – sometimes as much as £2 or £3 per contact.  This means needing a conversion rate of perhaps more than 50% – incredibly ambitious for any marketing activity!  Therefore you need to know how you can maximise your chances of a positive return – and here are some pointers:

1 – Firstly, it goes without saying that if you reduce the cost per contact, you also reduce the conversion you need to achieve.  A campaign where the cost per contact is 30p can get away with a far more realistic conversion rate than one where its £3: therefore the first, very basic, question to ask is whether the campaign is more expensive than it needs to be.  Naturally higher CPC can lead to improved conversion rates, but the relationship is not linear.  Doubling your CPC does not generally mean doubling your conversion rates – it might only mean nudging them up by 2 or 3%, meaning that you would have been better of at the cheaper end of the scale.  As a rule of thumb, it’s almost never necessary to go beyond £1 CPC for a hard working trial campaign, so if it does, make sure there’s a great reason.

2 – Secondly, make sure your brand is remembered.  This may sound like an obvious thing to say, but actually one of the difficulties with product sampling campaigns, particularly when it comes to food and drink, is that people often remember the “type” of product more than the specific brand.  This means you may end up doing a better job of promoting “chocolate” or “peanuts” or “jerky” generally than yourself.  The best way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to make sure you put your memorable brand assets (the ones you regularly use in other marketing activity, and on pack) front and centre.  Repetition is the key to memory, so don’t get to clever here – sweat what you’ve got over making something new.  Full pack sampling is also key for this – it’s just as important that people take away the packaging as the product within it.

3 – Finally, you have to ensure you reach new people.  When it comes to NPD, this is easy, because naturally most people you reach won’t have experienced the product yet.  However if you are working with a more established product, then you may run the risk of sampling a high proportion of people who already know the product, and are happy to received for free something which they already like.  Needless to say, the upside with these people is a lot lower, because they already know what they’re getting, and may have already reached a conclusion on their relationship with the brand (be that buyer or non-buyer).  Ideally you would not want to sample more than 30% of people who are already familiar with the product if you want strong payback.  Sadly there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this puzzle, you must simply be aware of whether it’s a risk, and if you determine it is then plan accordingly.

In summary product sampling can indeed achieve great ROI – but if it’s handled incorrectly it is also capable of achieving the opposite as well.  Keep the above three points in mind to ensure you land on the right side of that divide.

Diana Petre-Mag, Account Director, Sense London


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If you have any questions with regards to sampling, measurement or any other experiential marketing needs please get in touch.