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Marketing Lowdown: Sample Success

When your clients and consumers get soemthing for nothing, it's a win-win situation.

Everybody likes to get something for nothing. But interestingly, most of us feel guilty about it. Subliminally, consumers feel an obligation to buy if they've been given something for free. We receive a free sample and we are compelled to buy the product so as to reciprocate.

Think about the last time you were at the grocery store and received a free sample of some food item. It tasted good; the lady who gave it to you was nice; so you bought the product. You may not have wanted it, or it may not have been your regular brand. But you received a free sample, so it was really the polite thing to do.

Marketers know that if we bestow a free sample of our product upon our target customers, they are far more likely to purchase the product than if we simply advertise it or even send them a coupon. And why not? A sample is instant gratification. And it's a no-risk way to decide if we like a new product or service. Plus, research shows that consumers consider sampling the best way to evaluate a new product, better than word-of-mouth, coupons, advertising, games or contests. And seven out of 10 people will switch brands if they like a sample.

Samples create tremendous credibility for a product. Customers realize that a company would not give it away if they were not 100% behind the product. Sampling says: "We have a product; it's darned good; we want you to try it and see how good it is, too."

Many companies use samples to introduce a new product. Procter & Gamble won't launch a new product without first sampling it in test markets. But new products are not the only time to use samples. Here are five other times you should consider sampling:

1. Sample when you need to reach a new audience.
For years, high energy snack bars were a food staple among backpackers and athletes. But when companies began aggressively sampling, snack bars found their way from health food stores to the supermarket shelves.

2. Sample when you need to change customer perceptions.
At McDonald's several years ago, we wanted our customers to see how good our 100% pure beef hamburgers really were. So we cooked up a batch of burgers, chopped them into bite-size pieces, put some toothpicks in them, and offered them free to our customers. Later, our research showed a dramatic jump in quality perceptions and consumer satisfaction levels. While Wendy's was asking, "Where's the beef?" McDonald's was delivering it.

3. Sample to generate traffic into your store.
Often, the best way to sample a product is when the customer is already in a buying mood. Your suppliers may be willing to provide sample products for distribution in your store because they know they are more likely to turn the customers' sense of reciprocation into sales. Contact some of your suppliers and ask about sample products. It's a low-cost way to increase your store traffic without discounting your regular merchandise.

4. Sample to showcase a new use for your product.
When Mrs. Dash, a salt substitute, wanted to encourage the product's use as a pizza topping, it offered it free with Boboli pizza crust purchases. Consumers had an opportunity to try the product on their pizzas; both product awareness and sales soared.

5. Use samples to encourage trading up.
"Now that you have your free starter set, would you like to purchase this deluxe set, or maybe this handy carrying case?" The Lego Toy Company often gives away simple starter sets of its connectable toys. They hope that, after you use a basic set for awhile, you will want to trade up to one of their more elaborate assembly toys (at an elaborate price, of course).

Sample "Sale"

If you sample to draw new customers, be sure to advertise "FREE Samples" in your local newspaper and on radio. No sense giving stuff just to the folks who were already going to shop you anyway. While it's nice to reward regular customers, the objective is draw new customers.

Sampling puts product directly in the hands of the people you most want to reach. It's a powerful way to create awareness for your product. And it's an ideal way of demonstrating all its benefits to the user.

Samples generate excitement. After all, nothing works better than "FREE!"

Robert Grede, author, teacher, and business consultant, offers marketing advice at his Web site, including a self-guided workbook on how to develop a marketing plan, how to be your own ad agency and others. www.TheGredeCompany.com.