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Sampling in a time-starved world

In-store sampling is a passe as marketers target bloggers, trend-setters and captive audiences on flights and in cabs to place their products

Ankita Rai 

Sampling in a time-starved world

Product sampling is hardly a new concept in but the process still strains many companies that attempt it. Food products and cosmetics brands have long been icons of sampling but in a time-starved world they are striving hard to find new ways to execute their plans. While the more traditional in-store customer and indirect distributor sampling still prevail, creativity has entered the mix, allowing companies to focus on fresh outlets to run their initiatives. Companies are directly targeting bloggers, trend-setters and looking at even airplanes and cabs to place their products.

Consider Indigo Airlines' sampling campaign for 3M bandages or the one for GlaxoSmithKline's Sensodyne toothpaste. Or an in-flight product sampling campaign for NutriChoice crackers conducted in Jet Airways. Also, when ITC launched Dark Fantasy, it did a sampling exercise with some domestic airlines. Aliasgar Merchant, head, airline business, Global Onboard Partners, an out-of-home, in-flight advertising specialist, says, "In-flight product sampling is popular with FMCG companies as it gives direct access to a captive audience that needs to be engaged. This works really well in low cost carriers (LCC) as they don't serve meals."

What makes in-plane sampling exercise different is the direct access to SEC A-A+ audience (a prime target group for a bevy of advertisers), guaranteed viewership, clutter free environment and direct product interaction. "Unlike sampling in a mall or a retail store, the passenger in the airplane is sitting idle and, thus, it is easier to grab her attention. It is like free samples of juices and energy drinks given to people when they are running," says Mukesh Agrawal, co-founder & head, servicing, The Media Ant, a marketplace for offline media.

Another advantage is it also enables geo targeting on particular routes. For example, a leading budget carrier uses tactical promotions on particular routes to promote local restaurants or famous food joints in the destination city. While many Indian Airlines are experimenting with these kind of geo-location based exercises, only a few have been able to monetise it and mostly do it on a pro bono basis. But experts say this trend is going to change.

Those that put a price to it, calculate it on the basis of the volume of samples. On an average, for five lakh samples for a particular route or a day, the price per sample varies from Rs 3 to Rs 4 per sample. A one-month campaign on a leading low cost carrier could cost up to Rs 7.5 million, and can reach 1.6 million passengers.

But why?

Merchant points to studies that show 86 per cent of in-flight customers are in a positive frame of mind, hence they are more receptive to advertising messages. Brand recall is higher in case of business class and frequent fliers. He says to make in-flight sampling more effective, it should be accompanied by inflight announcements and enforced by tray table branding to capture attention. "Tray table branding is perceived as an uncluttered way of advertising as it is visible only when the passenger opens the tray. In fact, studies show at least 70 per cent of LCC passengers open their tray tables during the flight," says Merchant.

These days the Meru Breakfast Cabs on Delhi and Mumbai roads are difficult to miss. If you are on one such cab you will get a pack of Kellogg's Muesli, a pack of milk, a spoon and a bowl to eat it. Kellogg's says that campaign has been very effective as 69 per cent of the travellers consumed the breakfast in the cab itself while the balance 31 per cent took the pack with them to their destination, which was usually the workplace or the airport.

"It is a very innovative way of sampling and we have been doing this for the last few years. We have unearthed an insight that people have a tendency to skip breakfast when travelling early as they are crunched for time and, hence, we decided to engage them with the Kellogg's breakfast pack inside the cab," says Harpreet Singh Tibb, director, Kellogg's India.

If FMCG have set down the ground rules for sampling, brands from other markets are tweaking the rules of the game.

OyO rooms, for instance, has very interesting take on sampling. "While we have been doing sampling through coupons, we have found community-based sampling very effective. OyO Rooms has tied up with UrbanClap to host events like Zumba dance classes at its properties in Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore and Gurgaon. This creates awareness as people experience the property first hand. Sampling for us is about creating awareness about our property," says Kavikrut, chief growth officer, OyO Rooms.

Here's how
According to the Promotion Association's Sampling and Demonstration Council, 83 per cent of consumers agree that experiencing a product or seeing it demonstrated live increases their comfort level when purchasing. "Sampling can be an effective tool in brand marketing when executed with a well-designed and measured programme focused on the brand's objectives," says Anil Kaul, co-founder & CEO, Absolutdata Analytics. "Each brand must decide which product or system within a line would be best served by sampling and then focus on that product's target audience. Sampling is most effective when combined with an ad-driven campaign or another product."

However, before embarking on a sampling exercise one must measure the return on the investment made in the campaign. "We recommend a market research effort aimed at measuring the RoI of a sampling programme. It should include information such as if the sample was tried, the number of samples received and if a full-size product was purchased. It completely changes the RoI of a programme if you find out that each consumer received two samples on an average, instead of one sample, on an average. Most brands are not measuring this aspect of their programme in any way. Additionally, when sampling a premium brand, the RoI should also measure the incremental profit realised by moving current users of the base brand to the premium-priced brand," says Kaul.

That's said, targeting the right audience is critical for a sampling initiative to succeed. For example, US-based POM Wonderful, the company that markets packaged pomegranate juices, targets its extensive sampling efforts at events related to entertainment, philanthropy, health and beauty. That's where it finds the bulk of its consumers. For example, POM samples are freely distributed at marathons and epicurean events, such as SF Chefs.

Since it is hard to target an audience comprising mostly of kids, miYim has taken a different approach. It sends regular samples to mommy bloggers with a big following. Their reviews have proved to be a powerful PR tool for the brand.

Some of the biggest sampling budgets are in support of new products, says Kaul. Those levels of support are not likely to be repeated beyond year one, and since launches are often evaluated on an overall hit-or-miss basis, few marketers bother to measure the sampling as a standalone element. If the launch fails, who cares that consumers who got a sample were 50 times more likely to buy the product? The brand manager might not, as he prepares for his next assignment, but the marketing director or general manager certainly should, so that they can establish benchmarks and apply them to the next, hopefully successful, new-product launch.

Get sample marketing right: Vibhava Srivastava
Vibhava Srivastava
Many companies go wrong in strategising and executing sample marketing and it costs them a fortune as the expected RoI might not be there. Here are a few things brands ought to remember while opting for sample marketing:

It's not for everybody
Marketers tend to believe that sample marketing is easier than any other forms of sale promotion. This practice is more effective if it deals with low involvement product categories such as personal care, food and beverages etc. wherein even incremental sales are desirable

Don't follow the herd
Companies should know if their product lends itself to sampling. Different products/variants within a product line may have different brand identities, and hence, varied loyalty. Therefore following the same strategy across product lines can cost you more particularly when there is a hint of cannibalisation

Sampling is not only for festive season or for malls
The return on investment can be improved if marketers think beyond the festive season and the captive shopping environment, thus, controlling the cost. Certain approaches - such as sending products via magazine inserts or letter drops to the target customers - require less cost vis-à-vis sampling in-store or during festivals. Imagine a kiosk for a new baby diaper in a mall. How much trial and conversion do you see? Sending diapers directly to a mother (target) is a better idea. Thus the choice of 'place' for product sampling is important

Don't go wrong with packaging
It is advisable to keep the message of the product in mind while packaging. Do not rush into creative packaging which has no relation with what your product does. For example, the message of repair and protection on packaging clearly grabs the attention of toothpaste users suffering from sensitivity; hence the resultant trial and adoption.

Vibhava Srivastava
Associate professor, marketing, MDI Gurgaon

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First Published: Mon, September 14 2015. 00:10 IST