Eclectic Thought Samples From Larry Burns

The Road to Building an Industry Authority

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I’m one of several people involved in trying to muster support for an industry consortium on the world of Sampling, whose general mission will be to provide education about it and support its overall value.  My current plan is to offer up periodic posts to give you a sense of what it’s like to try to pull something like this together.

This all started back in February during discussions with several other people in the industry.  The idea’s been kicking around for quite some time.  My initial excitement is clearly reflected in an older post.  We’ve been talking about the need for our sampling industry to be able to educate folks who want to understand what sampling is all about, how to get started and how to do it right or shop for alternatives that appeal to their brand objectives.  In particular, we want to offer thoughtful comparisons to other forms of Promotion, Brand Activation, Shopper Marketing and “pick your ‘spend pool’” tactics, where brands often choose to spend their precious marketing budgets.

A classic “industry association” model was presented as one way to try it.  In this kind of model, typically there are fees to join the association, which is made up of practitioners, suppliers, brands, agencies, academics, etc. surrounding a particular topic.  In fact, hundreds of wonderful organizations very effectively use this model.

Yet as we thought about our product sampling topic, we realized that it’s unlikely we’re going to be able to generate substantial interest in this type of model.  Why?  Well, because although the total marketing spend on product sampling is well in excess of $2 billion, sampling as a specific strategy or tactic still does not represent typically a large percentage of most brand marketers’ budgets.  How do we offer value to the greater marketing conversations underway, and, as a participant, offer the unbiased source materials that are desired, while also supporting the members?  It is an interesting discussion that I wager will in fact continue, somewhat endlessly, over the entire life of the organization we create.

How do We Accomplish our Task Facing These Realities?

As you read this, we will have already met a few times and we will have begun in earnest the process of sorting all of this out.  We intend to create a “Sampling Works” website, which, as of this writing is simply a placeholder URL.  Once this site (or some other place) is released in its early form, our participating member companies will be in a position to populate it, drawing on their broad expertise in rolling out all manner of assistance to brands.  Items like a varied range of white papers, how-to’s, forums/topics of conversation, ethical standards, accepted processes – basically the kinds of things that we all have in our individual marketing arsenals as practitioners.  The overarching notion is simple and admittedly self serving – to ensure that when any brand does invest in a sampling program, it is well thought out, carefully planned and runs well.  It is in the best interest of the industry as a whole for sampling to be successful regardless of the company, tactic, or distribution method that a brand may happen to choose,  based on their objectives.

Traditionally, to date, our marketplace of suppliers has been in competition with one another and with other marketing spend options.  We’re all seeking dollars to support our particular approaches from the very same set of budget dollars, and our jobs have been made more challenging by the very fact that brands, by definition, have a limited number of samples.  After all, brands are NOT in the sampling business; the sole reason samples are produced is to provide an entree to the brand and product line, with the full expectation that once they’ve had that personal experience with the product, people will both BUY it and share their experience with others.

The Need for Cooperation

So far, we in the sampling industry have agreed that there is a need to create an umbrella organization to help all of us collectively.  We all recognize that Sampling simply works.  It just works to varying degrees, depending upon the product, the brand’s specific objective and the who, how, where and why of when each person sampled, giving them the opportunity to experience the brand.

I’m looking forward to our likely very spirited conversations about how we can produce materials that the industry as a whole can participate in and support.

The twenty-first century is upon us.  This is an era that encourages cooperation.  Information is no longer parsed and tightly controlled – rather the opposite occurs.  Information is rapidly shared.  We intend to have the Sampling Works site curate the best information about what’s going on in the world of sampling and disseminate it quickly for the overall benefit of marketing.

I’m hoping that we do come together as an industry and elevate the game, so that it’s easier for brands to participate in sampling.  Perhaps it will prove naive to rely on the old wisdom, “A rising tide raises all boats,” but I still trust in that adage.  People across the industry are reacting with excitement because they see that this effort can help to fill a perceived void in the marketplace.  So, as we progress, I’ll offer up periodic insights into our progress and the interesting dynamics of this new enterprise.

What do you think?   Feel free to comment here or at

Categorised as: Learning, Marketing, Sampling, Sampling Works!