Seed, then sample

Sampling is increasingly being integrated into the overall marketing mix for almost every consumer product launch. Getting the goods out on the street is a vital component to brand awareness pushes, product launches and trial. Targeted, focused and ROI-driven sampling campaigns are increasingly preferred over mass blow-outs.

Sampling is increasingly being integrated into the overall marketing mix for almost every consumer product launch. Getting the goods out on the street is a vital component to brand awareness pushes, product launches and trial. Targeted, focused and ROI-driven sampling campaigns are increasingly preferred over mass blow-outs.

Experiential sampling is the buzzword these days, a concept that emphasizes a consumer’s value-added experience to drive trial and sales. It’s hard to find sampling campaigns that rely on simply handing out product on the street corner. Sampling has become much more sophisticated than that.

For instance, a Dasani campaign for Coca-Cola gave consumers massages with their sample-size bottle of water. A Unilever campaign in the U.S. affixed three million samples of its new antibacterial wipes on popcorn bags at movie theatre concession stands. My firm conducted an in-mall sampling campaign for Rimmel London cosmetics by offering teenage girls and their mothers an on-site make-over, while a branded über-cool environment let their friends hang out and listen to a live DJ.

Experiential sampling introduces and keeps a brand or product on the consumer’s radar screen. And in the youth market’s cluttered brand landscape, a unique experience translates into a powerful purchasing incentive. Teens and young adults love freebies and tactical sampling is a highly effective way to reach them.

As youth marketers, we’ve found that when a sampling campaign is supported by a trend seeding campaign, response and pick-up rates jump to exciting levels. The notion and methodology of guerrilla ‘buzz’ marketing has certainly been getting ample attention as more and more marketers see the value of a targeted word-of-mouth viral program.

Seeding (i.e. feeding the product to) trend-setting youth – the so-called mavens and connectors of their generation – is a powerful tool when creating buzz. The inherent youthful mistrust of all things marketing is effectively eroded when a hip peer has been seen using or talking about a particular product. Since sampling programs are increasingly market-specific, it’s quite convenient to seed one market at a time, then sample with an experiential campaign people would not easily pass up nor forget.

Trend seeding relies on influencers who are obsessed with being ahead of the curve when it comes to new products and trends. Identifying and recruiting these influencers is the most arduous task. Trend seeders don’t want to be an instrument of marketing; they want to be appreciated and made important by their VIP access to new products and brands.

Once on-board, these trend seeders naturally and enthusiastically take over spreading word-of-mouth. Hollywood studios, record labels, liquor companies and even automotive giants consistently use trend seeding to drive interest and buzz.

Mass market campaigns are costly and prone to be lost in the media shuffle, but trend seeding can sometimes have much more impact on results. One only has to read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference to realize the potential of riding the trend wave. The potential of tipping a product into mass-appeal hysteria is nowhere greater than with the youth market, and a sampling campaign can only feed the fire once word starts getting around.

A trend-seeding campaign can also fuel your creative fire. Since youth sampling is heavily dependent on the experience, feedback from trend seeders can greatly improve your experiential sampling campaign. Do not, however, use trend seeders as a focus group. That’s not their purpose and their trend-setting egos will be badly bruised if they feel they are not the VIPs you purport them to be.

The danger with buzz marketing is its own popularity and the glut of undercover messaging that comes out of it.

Buzz or viral marketing is paradoxical in nature: the more marketers use it, the less effective it is. Yet a sample of a product or brand enjoying viral buzz legitimizes that word-of-mouth with actual product on the street. Sampling takes buzz to the next level, since getting and trying the product is a cool thing to do, while buzz assures marketers that the kids won’t ignore the sampling experience.

Max Lenderman is partner and CD at Gearwerx, a youth marketing company based in Montreal. He can be reached at mlenderman@gearwerx.com.