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Sampling: Part of well-crafted brand activation strategy


Brand activations are essential in giving life to a brand. While many brands are competing to be seen and heard on the digital field, only brand activations have the special ability to increase engagement between consumers and their brands. Done right, an activation can enhance a brand’s personality, completely transform the way consumers interact with it and even revive a brand after it’s been on a marketing hiatus.

The purpose of a brand activation is for consumers to remember your product and brand. It is in every brand’s interest to make their activation memorable. This is why sampling has become an integral part of activations as it helps to establish a very personal and tangible environment for the public to engage naturally with a brand.

Sampling should form a part of any brand marketing mix but may not be as simple as anticipated.

Many businesses are handing out samples as a pretext to distributing their products to a much wider audience. Truth is, if you’re handing out samples, chances are the consumers will come to you, especially if you’re handing out free food or cosmetic products. But the question remains, will your sampling strategy increase brand awareness or build relationships between the consumer and the brand, or fade into the distant memory?

After being in the experiential marketing industry for over 15 years and creating successful activations for high profile brands, I have learned that sampling is a crucial component of a brand activation. The process and strategies involved, on the other hand, might not be what you expect them to be.

Here are a few reasons why sampling has been turned on its head.

“Out with the old, in with the new”

There will be an issue with your sampling techniques if you’re simply distributing your products and not working in line with a strong strategy. The act of simply distributing your product is called traditional sampling and might not have its place in today’s competitive market. A modern strategy would be to incorporate your sampling in a broader marketing strategy where consumers will be reached via many different channels.

Sampling as part of brand activation can work if it manages to represent a brand’s personality and of course, ensures that the brand is seen, heard and most importantly remembered. For example, many brands are using social media as a means to promote their brand activations and collaborating with bloggers, influencers and even celebrities to be part of their product sampling scheme.

“Sampling Increases Consumer Interaction”

Increasing consumer engagement should always be the primary objective behind product sampling, while sampling itself should only be the means to achieving that goal. A successful sampling strategy would then mean that consumers are given an incentive and a motive to engage with the product well-before they are to receive a free sample.

Successful brands have managed to introduce and heighten the interaction process during a sampling event. For example, asking the audience to do something creates the opportunity for an active interaction to naturally happen. Whether it is to dance, answer a question or participate during the sampling process, the important thing is that your audience is interacting with the product. If you’re only distributing samples you may be creating passive interactions, an ideal scenario for an audience to simply choose to by-pass your product.

“Sampling as Part of Your Brand’s Story”

Sampling is an important part of your brand activation as it ensures your brand’s story is being delivered and well-communicated to the consumer. When it comes to standing out amongst the crowd, especially in a competitive market, it is best to deliver your story. And what better way to tell your brand’s story than face-to-face – not only does it allow for consumers to try your products first-hand but enables the brand to deliver its story simultaneously. This can tap into the sensory response of the consumer as they not only get to experience the product’s taste or smell but also has the opportunity to engage with it and be part of that story. 

“Sampling Creates an Emotional Bond”

The single act of handing out your product can only have one positive outcome. It will lighten your product sample load and give you the impression that the product sampling process has been a successful one with the data showing numbers distributed, while in fact it may have done the opposite. The question most brands should be asking is “has the sampling strategy been able to deliver and communicate a particular emotion to the consumer?

What successful brands master is the ability to create an emotional bond between their consumers and their product. Consumers are more likely to remember, hold on to and attribute value to a brand if the product generated an emotion or feeling.

“The Tracking of Sampling”

It should be noted, that some products are just more attractive when it comes to sampling. Not all brands should incorporate product sampling in their marketing mix, especially luxury brands that have high production costs.

In saying this, sampling can be an expensive process. This is why brands and businesses want to ensure they’re tracking the product sampling process from A to Z. Most businesses will associate successful sampling to the amount of sales that it has generated but measuring sales can be challenging and take place over a significant timeframe. Handing out samples can be a waste of money if there is no revenue that will become of the whole process. This is why the ultimate goal of product sampling is to increase brand awareness and not necessarily to increase overall sales.

“Brands can’t “just” rely on product sampling”

Through the years, I’ve witnessed numerous product sampling situations that have gone wrong at sporting events, busy intersections, shopping centres, train stations – the lot. The problem with handing out samples is that most brands are “just” handing out their samples and nothing more.

About TJ Carroll

TJ Carroll is an experiential marketing specialist and the Director of ENGAGE at Disegno. She has been creating lasting engagement and memorable experiences through brand activations, corporate events and end-of-year functions. TJ has designed campaigns for global and high-profile brands such as such as Darrell Lea, L’Oréal, Luv-a-Duck, The City of Melbourne and The 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

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