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Trial Or Error? How To Avoid 3 Major Product Sampling Mistakes

Product trial or product sampling is easy, right? People try your product, and if they like it, they buy it. Sadly, this view has led to trial becoming an afterthought in a brand’s marketing strategy. However, if carried out strategically, brand trial can be highly effective and drive a positive return on investment. If your product is good, and you’re sampling to the right audience, the chances are they will like it and put it on their shopping list. They’ll also tell their friends, and 92% of customers believe suggestions from friends and family more than they do advertising, according to Nielsen’s classic study. The 2018 Word of Mouth Report also found 41% of people trust a recommendation from someone they know more than one via social media.

Mass trial is most effective for low-investment CPG products. Sampling works best when there are memorable or “sticky” assets for people to associate with the product.

A recent report in The Grocer revealed that big global brands are fighting high growth challenger rivals by focusing on innovation rather than discounts and promotions. However, often little thought is put into sampling as part of an innovation launch, yet it can be the spark that brings a campaign to life.

There are three key mistakes to avoid when trialing:

Under-thinking the work. Often, trial isn’t thought through properly. For example, a recent campaign involved whole tubs of butter being given to London commuters, a strategy with several shortcomings: Sampling a whole product that lasts for weeks in the fridge isn’t going to incentivise anyone to buy it quickly, and people don’t purchase it often enough to merit getting the entire pack for free. Plus, by the time consumers have used up the sample, they’ll have forgotten about the new brand.

Spend time carefully thinking through a product sampling strategy upfront, and you’ll realize the benefits later.

Paying too much to drive trial. A dog treat brand may be tempted to run a sampling campaign targeting dog owners at a dog show. But the high fixed cost involved in sampling at such an event reduces the number of samples you can afford to give away.

The cost will be far less if you target high-traffic locations, while the exercise will be self-filtering, as only dog owners will take a sample, making wastage negligible. Cost per sample would be drastically reduced, while the number of treats getting into pooches’ mouths would be maximized.

Over-engineering the creative. With product sampling, put the product first. Any creative approach should let the product talk. You don’t need a 10-minute audience interaction to get the message across, so the creative need not be complex.

In fact, a three-second rule should apply, after which time even a dis-engaged audience should know the product name, when they should be using it and why.

The core focus of the recent launch of an energy drink was sampling. The product was literally everywhere and the message was easily received, communicating its benefits and personality, while keeping the product front of mind. The product wasn’t blurred by an overly clever creative. The key sticky assets included distinctive branding, which was consistent across all channels. The result? Well, those little blue cans popped up in hands across the U.K., getting everyone talking about the brand.

So if you’re thinking about your next new product launch, give brand trial the credit it deserves. Apply the same strategic thought process that you do to your other marketing activity and you’ll reap the rewards.

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Whether it be Festivals, Trade Shows, PR Stunts, Installations or Pop Ups to name a few, we believe brand experiences are one of the most powerful forms of marketing to impact consumer perception and attitude towards a brand. They can create real behaviour change when born out of a deep consumer insight allied to a compelling idea. And it’s these fundamentals we look to get right whatever the live, virtual or hybrid task in hand.


Sampling is all too often perceived as an unsophisticated, somewhat ‘blunt’ marketing tool. Over the last 16 years Sense has pioneered a set of strategic principles which underpin our unique approach to sampling and which are highly measurable from both an ROI and consumer behaviour change perspective. We will happily guide brands through the myriad of sampling channels and products available so whether it’s mass face to face sampling, in offices, digitally, at home or just a strategic framework that you are after, we can provide a blend of tactics to fulfil both brand and sales objectives.


With many clients now focused on activating in channels more closely associated with a sale, our heavyweight retail experience closes the loop on a typical shopper journey by encompassing the moment of truth in store. Be it prize promotions, shopper toolkits, key visual creation, path-to-purchase communications, category strategy, B2B campaigns or Amazon optimisation, our goal is to create forward-thinking retail experiences that deliver demonstrable brand value. We aim to make ‘retail fail’ a thing of the past for ambitious brands looking to thrive is an ever-competitive landscape and believe our streamlined team is perfectly placed to do this.


Knowing what will keep a brand bright, exciting, and vital means we need to keep one step ahead of the curve. Our thought leadership hub, The Futures Lab, helps us to understand the marketing trends of tomorrow. It’s also the origin of strategies and methodologies which have created over 65 award-winning campaigns. 


Creativity is nothing without results. And we know that commissioning bold concepts, capable of changing minds, requires reassurance that it’s the right thing to do. 

Data, insights, and research precedes every campaign we do, and our proprietary measurement tool, EMR, gives us a decade of campaign performance metrics. Which is why we’re proud to have been recognised as industry-leading by brands like The Economist, Coca-Cola, and Molson Coors. 


We believe brand experience is inherently more varied than other forms of marketing. No formula, no template, no cookie-cutter approach – and often no precedent. 

That’s why, Sense places trust at the heart of its business – grounded in teamwork between our people and yours. Our processes are efficient, our senior team stay involved and our partnership mentality had helped us sustain powerful client relationships, some lasting over 10 years.