Is Free Sampling a Digital Opportunity?

Nov 08, 2013

PINCHme and Sumpto are both digital platforms that deliver free samples, although one is looking for feedback and trial while the other is about influence.

PINCHme, which is set to launch in the U.S. on Nov. 12, is a free subscription service that allows consumers to sample a range of CPG brand products for free in exchange for their feedback, according to Retail TouchPoints.

Every other week, members receive up to four products that align with their membership profiles. In return, a six-question feedback survey must be completed within 30 days. Members also are invited to purchase the sampled products by clicking the "Buy Now" button, which redirects them to the brand’s e-commerce sites.

Partnering brands receive detailed reports that outline demographics, feedback, "Buy Now" sales conversion rates and other metrics.

"The PINCHme platform modernizes the age-old marketing tactic of product sampling by providing to brands the digital capabilities to create strategically targeted programs and measure ROI," Jeremy Reid, executive chairman of PINCHme, told Retail TouchPoints.

[Image: PINCHme]

In contrast, Sumpto identifies top social media influencers at colleges and sends them free gifts in hopes that they will brag online about the swag. Sumpto’s social influencer rankings not only measure an individual’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram engagement, but also take into account academic, athletic and additional social organizations in which college students are involved.

Sumpto has garnered 17,500 college influencers since it launched out of beta on September 2013, with over 1,800 students who have claimed Sumpto "rewards" consisting of products tailored for each user.

As an example, Sumpto partnered with Jabra and sought out 25 of the most influential college students in music. Providing each influencer with a free pair of Jabra REVO Wireless Headphones generated 487 likes and 276 comments on Facebook and resulted in a reach of over 7.5 million unique impressions for the brand.

Sumpto has also worked with Popchips, Greek Life Threads, Society43, EBoost, CollegeFest and other brands.

"After graduating college, I realized there was a huge disconnect between college students and brands," says Sumpto founder, Ben Kosinski in a press release announcing new funding. "I saw the potential to unite the two, and allow companies to filter through this demographic in order to target a very specific group of students, while also positioning these students as social influencers amongst their friends."

What do you think of the opportunity around online sampling platforms? Do you see digital sampling as more an opportunity to drive trial and feedback or as a way to reach influencers? How should they be set up to maximize digital sampling ROI?

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11 Comments on "Is Free Sampling a Digital Opportunity?"

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Cathy Hotka

These are great ideas that brands should pay attention to.

PINCHme will work especially well for busy working moms of small kids, who don’t have time to explore stores for new and interesting products. And Sumpto can expand by targeting key influencers at colleges. Both have an opportunity to build brand awareness in a way that’s both inexpensive and effective.

Adrian Weidmann

Sampling has been a foundational interactive marketing activity since the dawn of retailing and it remains viable because it works. Designing and implementing ways to utilize sampling with targeted, digitally-empowered consumers is a powerful combination.

The ROI for Jabra utilizing Sumpto to give away 25 wireless headphones and in return get 7.5 million unique brand impressions is obvious. The brand development formula to find your zealots and then amplify their voice is exponentially heightened in the digital communication era. It always comes down to ‘doing the math’.

Imagine the incredible value if you can design a sampling program that went viral?! Could Mentos or Coke have leveraged their brand even further with the fountain art? Great ideas come to my mind for brands like GoPro, Bose, Plantronics and Sharpie.

Ralph Jacobson

These platforms can drive several potential benefits. Mass distribution can leverage entire markets. There was a similar effort a few years ago in India by a multinational CPG company, to distribute sample sized, single use personal care products to markets that never used things like shaving cream or toothpaste. Additionally, targeted distribution to potential influencers can also drive growth.

We need to think far more globally for programs such as this. There are so many market place opportunities ripe for sampling programs.

Ken Lonyai

There have been free sampling sites for a while, but both companies described here have a more sophisticated approach than those of the past. There’s definitely an opportunity for brands to use these services, but I see it as limited in their ultimate benefit.

There’s an array of “samplers” out there from those willing to say anything to get free deodorant to those that appreciate the opportunity to influence peers and shades of people in between. Kind of the focus group scenario of the past. So my bet is on targeting influencers over survey feedback, but the trick is to not setting off the FCC and more so, to be able to really identify true influencers for each given product or brand.

Debbie Hauss

Free sampling definitely will appeal to most consumers. Marketers must consider the target audience, implementation costs and program frequency carefully before committing. There also should be a call-to-action to encourage/motivate future purchases.

Lee Kent

These are both great approaches, however, reaching the influencers is the key. If you are trying to market a product, it’s all about getting the impressions in the right places and to the right people. Having the ability to identify those people who have the most influence over their peers, etc.? Now, that’s spot on!

Jonathan Marek

These are interesting ideas, and I’m sure there is a place for them. But really, how big an opportunity is this? Seems like it will always be a limited scope.

Shep Hyken

Free sampling puts the product into the consumers hands (or mouths) and does three things:

1. It gets feedback.
2. Potentially more sales from “samplers” becoming purchasers.
3. Potential word-of-mouth marketing, which is far more effective than traditional advertising and marketing.

Done correctly and with the right product, it’s a triple win.

Jesse Karp
Jesse Karp
3 years 11 months ago

The potential for maximizing digital sampling ROI is huge, however, these sites need to ensure that they are supplying the right assortment and inventory necessary to keep consumers engaged. Currently, when signing up for PinchMe, there is only 1 product listed and it is “out of stock.” If customers (samplers) are not engaged, or the quality of the inventory declines, then this method may fall victim to the deal fatigue that plagues the daily deal market and the willingness to engage will decrease. Quality brands will not want to associate their product with other cheap, freebie type offers and savvy marketers will be careful before listing just anything on these sites.

Larry Burns
Larry Burns
3 years 11 months ago
Interesting question for me, having survived as a “digital pioneer” who helped start “digital” product sampling back in 1999. Can “digital sampling” drive conversion (trial), trip missions and offer extremely valuable feedback? Of course it can and has been since last century. For example, one major retailer site alone has delivered over 80 million samples to interested and engaged consumers who specifically requested the brand sample using a “digital” interface. These newer models are terrific new entrants into the sampling space as are plethora of “Discovery Commerce” subscription models (e.g. BirchBox, BarkBox etc.). New concepts are being born all the time, offering reach opportunities based on incredible insights derived from interactions and observations online behaviors. Product samples by their very nature are inherently social as people who try products that are new to them have (and always have) talked about them within their social networks … long before those networks were digitized, by the way! The targeting and feedback aspects within any self selected audience are of course terrific (StartSampling began as a destination site exceeding a million members back in 2002) and integrating forms of e-commerce, social tools, etc., are to be lauded. Today’s reality – with advanced behavioral… Read more »
Dan Frechtling

If you’ve committed to a sampling program for the right reasons, digital sampling has a place in your plan. Operational problems like venue negotiation, product delivery, staff training, and the like don’t trip you up in the digital channel.

Digital sampling is a great tactic when you want to launch a new product or target a particular demo like college students.

Digital sampling will disappoint if your goals are to drive a deep consumer connection or sell a lot of incremental volume.

Digital sampling works as a balanced part of an overall sampling program.


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