Eclectic Thought Samples From Larry Burns

Sampling Works!

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As the CEO of a marketing firm specializing in product sampling, I sometimes chat with others in my industry.  Recently we have all noticed a frustrating lack of attention from our customer base.  The idea to get moving and put together an industry advocacy group seems to be getting people excited.   Most of us, as practitioners, agree that this simply makes sense. While there are many new “bright and shiny” ways for brands to market their products, product sampling still remains a proven method.  The concept is quite straightforward: we have already created the logo that adorns the top of this page, and our simple goal will be to collectively share learning, best practices, facts, and other relevant topics under the umbrella of Sampling Works!   On the Sampling Works site, one will be able to find information about the various companies supporting our industry as well as clear, concise, materials to remind marketers of the inherent value and power of product sampling in the 21st century.

Sampling is without question one of the fastest paths to give a human the opportunity to choose a brand.  Today’s best marketing science thinking, with little debate, says that personally experiencing a brand is the best way for someone to make a brand choice in the future.

The ways and methods that a product sample can be “delivered” to a person are virtually unlimited.  In fact it is generally true that if you, as a brand manager, can imagine your idea of the “ideal sampling experience” for your brand, someone in the industry has already developed a legitimate, controlled and rational way to help you accomplish your marketing objective.

Now there are ways to do it well and ways to execute it poorly.  Unfortunately, there are also ways that can lead even sampling to become just another part of the overwhelming 2012 marketing wallpaper that surrounds us.

Many of us in the industry all have our own and unique ways to describe the power of sampling.  Part of the traditional problem is that this has always been exactly the case.  In fact, we all DO have our own way of talking about product sampling.  We, as a highly competitive  industry, have tended to entice brands with a “mine is better than theirs” approach for lack of a better way to describe it.   We argue about who has the better venue, best distribution channel, biggest ‘halo’ effect, deepest engagement, and ultimately the greatest conversion from trying to buying.  From our customers’ perspective, the brand owners, it all becomes in some ways just so much noise, which limits the appreciation of the core reasons to sample.

In reality, what has been missing is a simple, unified, unambiguous message that says:

“Look brand owners, you need to sample.  Sampling should command a larger percentage within your brand’s marketing budget in the 21st century in order to achieve the results you need.  How you do it is a choice among many viable options, but the overall portion of the budget allocated to sampling should increase because Sampling Works!

This is the message we need to communicate collectively across all our shared brand, promotional and agency customers.  Within our sampling industry we’ve all heard many reasons not to sample because “it is too hard to do” or “it costs too much.”  I also hear things like, “I know it works but, we don’t have the money for it.” or “ My company doesn’t have a good way to make samples” or “I tried it before, and it didn’t pan out.”

There are all kinds of obstacles that we fight to overcome.  What we should do, as an industry, with Sampling Works! is to create a higher corporate level of comprehension for the power of product sampling.  We want CMOs, VPs of marketing, group product managers, brand managers, as well as Presidents, CEOs  and CFOs to understand, recognize, and believe that product sampling, done professionally by a respected member of our industry, should be seen as nothing less than a crucial part of any brands 21st century strategy.  This particularly applies to the consumer packaged goods industry, but is also important in other industries as well – if personal experience were not crucial in a buying process, then why would you need to test drive a car at the dealership?

Experiencing a product can stimulate your senses, delight, surprise, and captivate you.  When it does, emotion is present.  Humans, genetically speaking, are social creatures, and that should be the second part of our core Sampling Works! message.  When somebody has a personal experience that is positive, gets them engaged and excited, solves a problem in a new way, or just plain tastes good, then guess what?  They are very apt to talk about that with others.

1. Sampling Works! – You need to understand that in many, many cases sampling makes total marketing sense, and therefore you need bigger budgets for sampling.

2. Samples are Social – by their very nature.  If you have the chance to give a personal experience to a perspective customer you will win, not only with them, but also with others they come into contact with.  Samples can and do act as conversation triggers: in fact recent research has shown at least a 5X response from a sampling program, meaning at a minimum for each sample effectively delivered in a meaningful way to a person,  at least five others on average become aware of it too!

Categorised as: Sampling, Sampling Works!

  • LLMcIsaac123

    Sampling works! even with my profile that is hard to sell to.  The box in the mail gets my attention.  The tasty treats at Sam’s does too.  It is upfront and personal.  Can’t smell bread or tast it over the internet.  Oh, those tasty new dark chocolate fruit covered berries last week were great–I bought some.

    • jlarryburns

       @LLMcIsaac123 You make my point!   Regardless of the way you respond to stimuli and how you perceive the world – most people generally really like to try something new as humans are by our very nature curious animals.
      I have yet to meet too many people who respond with anything less than a  very positive way towards samples they get exposed to.   Today, theses sample opportunities can be presented in many places in many ways and they do WORK! it’s just how we define “Work”! across varying degrees of return and marketing objectives.    Venue, characteristics of the product, the desired experience one seeks to offer, how  the sample is delivered/presented/offered or served and many, many other factors are all critical considerations when designing a  program.      There are so many ways to effectively reach people and offer them a chance to sample  – and with samples being the conversation starters they are today – what better way to tap so much of the social activity marketers crave …..    Thanks for the comment!
      BTW – Notice how interesting things in today’s mail actually can dramatically stand out   – now that overall mail volume is down (except maybe during holiday catalog time) .  

  • Larry- Bravo- I applaud your efforts to keep Product Sampling top of mind to the CPG industry. As the co-author of the first book on product sampling- “All About Sampling” and co-founder of the Product Sampling Council- I am a great believer in the powerful results of product sampling.

    • jlarryburns

       @ArtAverbook ART!    How are you sir?    Glad to get your vocal support – at this stage maybe we could consider portions of the classic “All About Sampling” as ‘public domain’ and add some of those those pieces of wisdom to the Sampling Works! site as it is constructed.       Think about it – PDF’s of portions / chapters and or at least ability to download the full volume to a Kindle :-)> .    
      Meantime we will be shortly actively seeking commentary and case studies for publication as well  – dusting off some of those PMA driven “Trial and Conversion” inserts is also not a bad idea.  
      Feel more than free to reach out here or offline( – and the StartSampling email address of course works too)  and offer ideas, insights, suggestions – wide open to all contributions!

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