Costco on a Saturday is where happiness goes to die!
This was my feeling while making the monthly pilgrimage to the shrine of oversized household items. The only ray of joy in this fluorescent hellscape are the glorious free food samples. These delicious snacks served on tiny wooden tridents help fight off despair and nourish my soul. While munching on a bacon wrapped shrimp at the head of aisle twelve, I began to ponder product sample marketing; where it came from and where it is going.
With a quick Google search, I came across the true history of product sample marketing. Benjamin T. Babbitt (1809 – 1889), started the successful soap manufacturing company Babbitt's Best Soap. He is often cited as one of the earliest people to formally conduct product sample marketing.
Around this time, distribution of sampling coupons on the streets of Atlanta became one of the first marketing efforts made by the pharmacist who invented Coca-Cola, Dr. John S. Pemberton. For 20 crucial years, 1894-1913, free sampling played a central role in establishing the popularity of Coca-Cola with the public (The Coca-Cola Company). During that span, nearly 8.5 million coupons were redeemed by the Company, which means approximately one of every nine Americans had enjoyed a free Coca-cola drink!
While I may have been the only one to find this interesting, the origin of sampling still holds true today! Take a walk through your local square at lunch and you’re bound to be hit up by someone handing out beef jerky, red bull or a coupon for their product. How do companies still justify this expensive and un-trackable activity! With social media, Google AdWords and display advertising, wouldn’t they take their budget and throw it in to something that you can track?
Now now, before you start becoming offended by what I’m implying, here’s what product sample marketing does do well: drive sales. It’s been said that the freezer next to the dumpling sample station in Costco can drive sales up to 2000%! There’s no doubt about it, people love free food. But to actually purchase the product after they’ve had a sample is the ultimate use case!
Average Percentage Increase in Sales After Product Samples in the Past Year, by Product Type
Whether you call your campaign an "experiential activation", "street team" or "field marketing", it all has its roots in product sample marketing - and it works. While product brands can’t directly connect the dots between free samples and sales in most scenarios (aka randomly handing out beef jerky on a street corner), there’s definitely been proven instances that it works. It all comes back to 2 psychological habits of humans: the free sample instantly creates good will that associates the product with a positive experience. The 2nd factor being the rule of 7, which is that a consumer needs to engage with a brand’s message at least 7 times before they'll take action to buy that product.
SO, the burning question: how do I optimize my product sample marketing and perform better? While I’m not guru on the subject (I literally just Googled this topic whilst trailing my wife around Costco), there is one piece of advice I can give, check out the ‘Best Advice for Product Sample Marketing in 2018 Guide!’
Good luck, and be sure to try the shrimp!