Sampling Produces Long-Term Positive Effects

Discussion
Aug 13, 2009
George Anderson

By George Anderson

It’s been known for, well, forever that sampling programs induce consumer trial and short-term sales boosts for both new and established products. Now it appears as though the positive immediate effect of sampling may have longer-term benefits for brands, as well.

According to research conducted by Knowledge Networks-PDI for PromoWorks, consumers who sampled a product were 11 percent more likely to buy it again over a 20-week period following trial. Interestingly, not only did consumers buy  the product sampled, but they also bought other items within the same brand family. Brand franchise sales were up six percent over the same 20-week timeframe.

“It’s always been understood to a certain degree that there is a lift during the event. The big ‘a-ha’ is the long-term impact and the effect a sampling event has on the franchise overall,” Neal Heffernan, svp, gm at Knowledge Networks-PDI, told Brandweek.

The study is considered different than previous research on sampling because instead of using panel data or POS, shopper loyalty card data was tracked.

Bill Schober, managing director-content and editorial for the In-Store Marketing Institute, said in a press release, “Most important are the initial results that sampling is indeed measurable; that the long-term sales impact of a sampling event is far more significant than traditional ‘day-of sales-lift’ measures; and that sampling’s utility extends beyond new product introductions.”

Discussion Questions: Do you find added significance in the findings of the Knowledge Networks-PDI because it tracked the effectiveness of sampling programs using shopper loyalty card data? Are you surprised by the longer-term effects of sampling on not only the product being sampled but on brand families as well?

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16 Comments on "Sampling Produces Long-Term Positive Effects"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

It isn’t really all that surprising. One of the big barriers to purchase is trial. Once a consumer determines they like a product they are more likely to keep purchasing it. Brand theory tells us there ought to be a traceable “halo” effect on other items in the brand family.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 9 months ago

You accept a sample. Why? First, because it’s free. Second, it may suppress your hunger while shopping or you may really like it and thus induce you to buy the product sampled. Brand imagery follows if you continue to really like the sampled product when used in your home. Otherwise the sample helps curb your hunger while in the store — and it’s free. Everything else would seem to be research science.

Ben Sprecher
Guest
Ben Sprecher
11 years 9 months ago
Is it just me, or is the use of loyalty data for measuring the effectiveness of sampling (or any marketing program, for that matter) a complete no-brainer? Of course you want to use loyalty data. There’s enough shopper churn and marketing and promotional noise that any other way of measuring seems challenging at best. When you use shopper loyalty data, though, the results of a program really pop out. You can start by asking the simple question, “Who was not buying product/brand X before the program, but started to during the program?” Once you find those shoppers, you can follow their behavior over time and see whether they continued to buy, tapered off, or never bought again. In essence, you can measure the true level of conversion. And if you know which shoppers were touched by the program (in the case of sampling, perhaps you could scan cards at the sample station), you can even separate the direct effect of the program from the indirect effects (such as any coordinated displays or a Temporary Price… Read more »
Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
11 years 9 months ago

It is not surprising to find that 11% of the people who receive a sample tend to purchase the product again within the first 20 weeks. That is to be expected. But what is surprising to me is the positive effect it is having on the brand family. This indicates that there is a trust factor involved after a consumer has received a sample. Building brand trust seems to be a key factor.

Not to complicate the study, but it would be interesting to segment the data based on passive sampling (no sampler, just product) vs. active sampling (with a sampler). I believe that when there is a person sampling and explaining the product, sales of the product will increase, and trust in the brand will increase. That is, only if the sampler is good at what they do. A great sampler can do wonders for a mediocre product, but an unengaged sampler can cause significant harm to a great product.

Steven Johnson
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

Sampling is working wonders in the Grocerant niche!

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

Is there really any surprise in all this? The odds are good that if you try something that you normally wouldn’t have purchased without trying first, you will be more satisfied with the product. If the sample is good and the price is right, you’ll buy the item, and more often than not, have a propensity to stay with that product based upon its proven satisfaction level. Long-term, that generates loyalty. Amazing! The recommendation: Sample often!

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

For every new and re-launched product getting trial is what it is all about. CPG firms spend hundreds of millions to create awareness and flood the consumer with coupons. The result is high failure rate for new products. Most of this can be attributed to lack of trial.

In-store sampling is just one more tool to create trial. Yes, sampling does create short-term sales. I think this is as much due to guilt from getting something for free as anything else. Once the product is home and tried, it stands on its own. If it performs as anticipated, you get repeat purchase.

Fact is, few CPG firms put out bad products. The majority of products do perform equal to or exceed consumer expectations. This research speaks more to this point than just sampling.

Anne Howe
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

Sampling, especially in a contextual, relevant environment, can not only provide trial, but when done outside the store, can provide a memorable, emotional engagement with the brand. These serve as “markers” in human perception, and can create a much longer term brand and even brand family halo of positive effect on the business.

I agree with Joel about the impact of the sampler, however. In the grocery and mass class of trade, the impact of a seriously under-involved “blue hair” or uneducated “misfit” just passing things over a table can have serious damage.

The cost payout ratio done on a one-off basis store by store is a very outdated way to measure the real impact sampling has on brand perception and loyalty. A longer-term view is typically a much better indication. I like the idea of measuring the impact of a relevant environment in which to sample as well.

Warren Thayer
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

This also seems like a no-brainer to me, but there hasn’t been much data available on this before. As a result, many brands looked for immediate ROI on their sampling programs, and didn’t understand the long-term effect. Perhaps this will help. The downside, of course, is how many retailers make demos profit centers for themselves, and do them so sloppily that it hurts results.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
11 years 9 months ago

No surprise here. If you can get them to taste it, you’ve got a better than even chance they’ll buy it. Even with all these positive studies over the years, I’m always surprised that more stores don’t set up sampling stations at peak periods. Maybe everyone’s waiting for vendors to pick up the tab.

Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

I have a great Whole Foods story on this: a woman I know was shopping in her first Whole Foods when she asked an employee what the difference was between two types of pickles, both in jars. He said, “here, try them” and opened both jars up. She didn’t like either so, he let her try pickles until she found one she loved. Then, when she found the one she loved, he said, “here, this one’s on us” and GAVE her the jar of pickles. When she told me that story, she ended it by saying, “I’m a Whole Foods customer for life now.”–that 20 bucks they spent on sampling just gained them thousands and thousands of dollars of profit for years to come. So yeah, no surprise here.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

Isn’t this result what branding is supposed to accomplish? If consumers try a product and like it, repurchase it, and like it well enough to continue purchasing it, they are becoming loyal to the brand and are willing to experiment with other products of the same brand. Verifying that that result can result from in-store trial is not earthshaking but useful documentation.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
11 years 9 months ago

There’s been some really interesting research done on consumer choice. In particular, a book called “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz, talks about the fact that increasingly consumers are being paralyzed by the sheer number of products and services they have to choose from. Rather than aiding selection, product proliferation has in fact impeded it. Choice is a good thing–too much choice is a bad thing.

Sampling, among other things, provides consumers with a much-needed reference point on a category. It provides an experiential means of cutting through the clutter of choice.

It’s also understandable that it would have a residual effect on an entire brand the product sits under. It makes sense that consumers would carry a positive product reference with them when embarking on a brand decision.

Sampling and any other means that retailers can find to narrow the field of choice are more important than ever.

Marge Laney
Guest
11 years 9 months ago

Why is this big news? When you give someone a sample and they buy, that’s good. But isn’t the real purpose of sampling to build repeat business and brand loyalty? Customers need to get the product home and use it to make sure they weren’t just famished the first time they tasted–when almost anything would have tasted good. It’s when the product is repurchased within a reasonable period of time that a sampling can be deemed a success. I’m not surprised at all that sampling has positive long term effects. I am surprised that it’s surprising.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 9 months ago

I actually agree with Barry; I have been referencing “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz recently as well, usually in reference to social and emerging media. Yet it is relevant here as well.

Consumers in the past had the decision between two laundry soaps, not 502. The increased complexity of choice and the “remorse” that is can cause when a person feels he or she may have made a mistake is at issue.

Giving people a “free” trial (choice) is a way to ameliorate this, and therefore if the product/service meets the expectations of the individual, it will lead to an opportunity for increased usage, as well as increased good will for the product.

Aman Nanda
Guest
Aman Nanda
11 years 9 months ago

The entire mission behind sampling applies to one of two things. If you have a new-to-the-world product, you are looking to acquaint enough potential consumers with this new product so a certain profile within this superset will become sustained users. Sampling definitely helps drive long terms sales in this case. Consumers are far more likely to buy a totally new product if they have sampled it and liked it. Also, new product sampling is likely to lead to more word of mouth and buzz.

The second is for an incrementally new product. In that case you are looking to take share away from the current players and build your own product/brand simply by introducing consumers to something new and hope they stop consuming something else. In this case, unless the product attribute themselves are not distinctive, the marketers will need to support the product with a lot more traditional marketing levers to keep the interest going.

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