USA Today – Really?

While decidedly tongue in cheek this piece in today’s USA Today raised my hackles a bit.    Yes, the science is real – reciprocity is a very real behavior and not overlooked by our industry as a positive.  However, to suggest that the act of taking a sample obligates one to feel they “ought to” buy is taking the science a bit beyond simple the reality of the marketplace.   (The tattoo example is interesting but fails to mention if in the “club” perhaps there were other factors (say alcohol consumption) that might have played in the willingness to get the tattoo – regard less of subjects reporting (or some 68% of them)  reporting later that theyu would not have gotten it if it were not free.)   I am discussing free product samples here (what a surprise given the title of these pages) and not commenting on the free shipping issue

Look, the reality is that today’s shoppers are very “hip to the tricks” of marketing.  People understand that stores are handing out free samples to get you to buy, they know that brands are providing samples to people because the brands believe that once someone tries their product or service they are more likely to buy it again.  There is no mystery, no hidden secret impulse brands are trying to leverage.   People by our very nature and genetic make up are curious animals – we (generally, as a species)  LIKE to try new thing, to explore, to discover.  When a brand engages in product sampling they are simply offering someone a choice to try or not.   Is a brand likely to receive some ‘halo’ of positive thought by participating in a sampling event, well yes, of course.   But, with “conversion” norms NEVER coming even close to 100% – if reciprocity was an absolute rule – wouldn’t everyone feel compelled to buy?

In the real world people make choices, they generally do know what they are ‘getting into’ with a sample and I seriously doubt that any CPG brand is relying on “guilting” someone into buying simply because they sampled.   Many people pass by free samples all the time and do not “take one” – why?  They self select or perhaps they do feel like they do not want to be obligated if they engage – whatever their reason is it’s theirs.

But, in truth if you are interested and want to try something for free go right ahead – with full knowledge that you MIGHT feel, if you liked it, it is worth buying – or not.    Humans have free will even though in far too many cases tricks of manipulation can get people to do things they do not want to do.   In the world of free product samples perhaps common sense ought prevail and we should not make an assumption that free samples inevitably lead to higher rings for the retailer.  Sure, they HOPE it does and that is part of the reason to invest in sampling but I think more highly of we shoppers  – don’t you?

From USA Today, August 14th 2017,   No, nothing comes for free. Not even free samples or free shipping

Posted by jlarryburns in Product Sampling, 0 comments

July Hodgepodge*

Several items that caught our eye this month:

July 12th From Event Magazine (UK).   Pepsi launching a Ginger flavored cola (something I would like!) via a “sampling program” at 10 UK Universities.  Photo booth mentioned … not sure if one must engage in sharing media in order to try the product  – hopefully not. 

July 6th.   I like this one only because I think EVERY liquor store opening ought to create such an option, appropriate to their own market of course.    “… store will devote a section to products sourced from New York wineries and distilleries and feature a dedicated tasting area for product sampling. “  This is about the opening of the Tin Woodman’s Flask 

July 6th  I find this very interesting – New CMO on June 12th and an announcement of this program in her third week!      Sampling is clearly not only for the new – witness Honey Baked Ham’s declaration that hence forth (over this summer at least)  Friday shall be Tryday!  An idea that I think can create some routine traffic (perhaps?) not every store will participate of course but “Customers can visit a local store from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.* to try a product sample for their next summer occasion.”

July 14th – From Canada – another example of the classic store opening approach.   “There will also be Giant Value product sampling for all to enjoy.”  An announcement of the next Giant Tiger store opening – this time in Charlottetown, PEI!

Friendly the Giant Tiger (CNW Group/Giant Tiger Stores Limited)

July 13th – Palm Coast Observer.    Love the headline “Shoppers rejoice for ALDI opening in Palm Coast”    “Just” another store opening notice – it seems they all do include “product sampling” in some manner in the copy but, interesting how in some cases it’s featured (if you will) and in others just kind of in there (as if it were expected/assumed)

July 11th – Australia based but participating countries involved include United States, Brazil, Poland, Italy and France.   As is ever more typical of solid campaigns this offers “a range of activities such as experiential and outdoor activations, product sampling, in-store point of sale, digital and print advertising, public relations and social media amplification.”    I am all for “an international marketing campaign celebrating intimacy.”  but  have these folks met the varied constituencies they might encounter here in the US?     I have to chuckle envisioning  the lawyers here trying to get the contest rules ironed out for “SKYN® Condoms is recruiting couples across the globe to enter a competition to win an all-expenses paid trip and critique the nation’s top intimacy locations.”    Oh, come on, if I don’t have fun with this one … no offense to anyone I just smiled when this one hit the data feeds I am collecting.

July 12th – Closer to home from Cleveland, our friends at Workplace Impact have a unique service that works to “serve the needs of restaurant owners looking to increase sales.”    These folks do a lot of interesting sampling programs and this recent article is included because of the 25th anniversary video (Feb, 2014) at the end of the article which really made me smile.


*noun   1.   a heterogeneous mixture; jumble.
Posted by jlarryburns in Press Releases & Coverage, Product Sampling, Product Sampling - EVENT, Product Sampling - LOCATION, 0 comments

Ummmm …. Remember that Australia “No Sugar Coke” program ….

Well, while I enjoyed talking about it as an example of a major sampling push (2 million samples for a county with a population of around 24.5 Million) .    Something tells me I might have jumped the gun and/or negotiations are taking place in the press.    To whit – it appears that Woolworths Limited* who control nearly 40% (2014) of grocery sales in Australia recently said this:

“We have taken the decision to not range this product at this time,” a spokesman said.     “Our customers looking for a no sugar or low sugar cola option have ample choice already. We continue to stock Coca-Cola Zero in our stores nationwide.”  For the full story click here.

Kind of flies in the face of the big new sampling program to launch No Sugar Coke as a replacement for Coke Zero.   While you all known my affinity for sampling, and I do really find the Coke sampling plans interesting, reality is that without distribution in stores representing more than a third of grocery sales let’s all agree now to NOT judge the impact of the sampling program on a pure financial basis unless this minor little hiccup gets addressed – deal?


* YES. Woolworths for you out of touch Americans.  Which btw had no relation (except for the name which had not been trademarked in Australia!) to the venerable, yet now extinct, F.W.Woolworth chain that many of us grew up with.   Did you know the Woolworths we knew (stock symbol ticker Z, to give you a sense of it’s importance at one point in history) ceased to be in 1997?  The company focus moved to athletic equipment eventually became known by a major store brand – Foot Locker(2001) and the ticker symbol changed in 2003 to FL which it is today

Posted by jlarryburns in Product Sampling, Product Sampling Ecosystem, 0 comments

BrandShare® talks about Triple Digit Growth in Sampling !

In a press release issued today the folks at BrandShare (with help from Marx Communications) are reporting some great things about sampling!

Huge sampling growth!   Expanded retail partnership!  Billions distributed!   I expect this release should generate some solid interest for Brandshare and their product set.

Yes, rapid e-commerce growth continues to drive the Product Sampling Ecosystem  Discovery segment to ever new heights.   I am obliged to point out that the “triple digit growth” described in the headline speaks to what BrandShare’s internal numbers are expected to be and in fact reflect growth from 2013 – 2017 .   A really strong and utterly believable growth rate over 4 years – however it will be interesting to see how social media and the trade press pick up on this release and if they simply trumpet triple digit growth or if they apply any sense of context.

Also that 2.2 billion samples distributed figure mentioned which remains a wildly impressive number represents the total distribution count since inception (in 1984!).

What really resonated with me was in talking about BrandShare’s  E-Commerce Network ,the Walmart e-commerce sampling program is described as having expanded to 4 million sample packages a month.  To me that is the most amazing number in the release … because at that scale Walmart alone is distributing well over 50MM samples a year via e-commerce with 50MM being a wildly conservative number.  We do know many  “sample packages” contain multiple samples. (e.g. Walmart Beauty box my household last received had 6 individual samples.  Plus a visit to this one site within the overall sampling program clearly shows this particular discovery commerce box features a large number of samples/box) .   Hence its quite safe to talk about this program alone as distributing well over 100MM samples annually.

Given today’s hectic, bumper sticker sound bite, news world that we inhabit I suspect this story will be mis-reported,  Sincere kudos to the team at Marx for being creative in how they took this solid data and created real excitement with it and the Infographic is terrific.    The press release is certainly well documented and I have no reason to dispute any of the claims in fact I’ll  add it to the list of “suggested articles with interesting data”,  I’ll just think of this as an interesting experiment in actually critically reading ‘statistics’ versus just passing cool numbers along.

My favorite line from Doug Guyer’s quote “As television advertising declines and more consumers block online ads, sampling has become the best route to buyers’ hearts.”  and with that statement I most heartily agree!   In this era of dwindling attention a sample carries far more multi-sensory impact than any other form of marketing- period.

P.S. the infographic shared with the release is quite a piece and well worth of a look:



Posted by jlarryburns in Press Releases & Coverage, Product Sampling, Product Sampling IN HOME, 0 comments

Brand Connections Launches DIGITRY™

Brand Connections, an independent agency whose slogan “Make Marketing Easier for Marketers™” really resonates with me, has announced a marketing strategy  for sampling that does my heart good.      As I read the release and consider the import one line really  jumps out at me “… we can authentically recommend the right options…”.      By increasing sample program options and integrating the full range of Brand Connections sampling assets a new cohesive whole is created.

As I have often bemoaned, our sampling industry has traditionally been saddled with constant intense competitive pressure to feature one form of sampling “over” another rather than looking at brand needs and seeking the optimal hybrid solution.   This step should be seen as a positive as a sampling company can truly bring multiple options to the table when a strategic plan for a brands’ trial program is being developed.    Far too often this crucial strategy step has been undertaken by resources that simply do not have a true appreciation of the sampling universe.    For the product sampling industry to continue to grow and thrive as a strategy, the companies that are truly experts in this complex arena need to be brought into the process far sooner than most situations allow today and this approach is one I sincerely welcome.

I continue to believe that a single company, no matter how extensive their scale, can never be perfect at every form of sampling in the ecosystem.  However, this step positions DIGITRY™ as a thought leader and not just because I have been advocating for this kind of position for years, rather because I firmly believe it is the right thing to do in order to meet brand needs and increase the recognized value of our industry.    So, sincere kudos to Brand Connections in taking this step and let’s watch and see how the marketing world reacts to this long overdue approach.

Another very important point the release speaks to is ratings and reviews with a service, in partnership with Bazaarvoice, known as DIGITRY Advocate.   This includes the website found at  which is an easy human interface to sign up with the intent of receiving samples and returning to “our website to rate and review the product”.         While this release talks about “each DIGITRY offering is powered by DIGITRY Advocate, providing brands with a seamless opportunity to generate ratings and reviews through our product sampling and review community website”  I do want to know more.     One of the stumbling blocks in the ratings/review arena is that the concept of a community, where one need ‘sign up’ as a method to generate and capture ratings/reviews, does continue to be challenged by some.        

The debate surrounding the broad topic of ratings/reviews and their authenticity requires me to spend focussed time on that topic in a post later this week as I still struggle with clarity of the best practice for capturing authentic ratings and reviews – in particular from reaction to sampling programs.

This is not a new topic for me, back in 2000 our original StartSampling website contained an “Our Samplers Say” section (right rail, mid page & thanks to the wayback machine yet again) that struck such fear into marketers hearts  that we were forced to take it down.   So, we have come a long way and the genuine opinions of product samplers are and continue to be a valuable data stream.   The “how to” best leverage these powerful reactions remains unsettled so stay tuned for some thoughts on that.

Posted by jlarryburns in Product Sampling, Product Sampling Ecosystem, Product Sampling IN HOME, 0 comments

From Australia – interesting campaign notes ….

We do attempt to provide a view beyond North American shores ... this piece from B&T magazine  details the integrated Australian campaign that Coca-Cola is running for their No Sugar Coca-Cola launch with the tag "Say yes to the taste you love".    So, in Australia, with a population of around 24.5  million people to execute  a sampling campaign to deliver 2 million samples you are talking about a remarkably large segment of the entire population!     Imagine executing a program in the US to deliver a number of samples equivalent to nearly reaching 10% of the population  - you would be in the 30 million sample neighborhood - so THIS  is a sizeable effort.  

What is also interesting is the range and depth of activities all hooked into the core sampling effort.   The efforts include mobile (as in a truck doing hand to hand; photo), influencer efforts with the first 3,000 cans, Stadium events including a take over of an AFL match, a TV campaign, a voice activated out door refrigerated panel in Sydney (photo) ,  Shazaam,  Facebook Live,  Celebrities, and the list continues.    Clearly the idea of taste is crucial to the brands launch and with absolutely no surprise sampling plays a key role.   Equally gratifying is the hybrid nature of the sampling program tactics - locations, events, a stand alone kiosk, influencer programs and while not mentioned in great detail  I am certain in store efforts are being folded in as well.    

Another example of a major Multi-National speaking with it's budget -  saying quite loudly - SamplingWorks.    This is a type of campaign, one that seeks to sample AND to do so across myriad options, we are seeing that speaks to the trend we notice globally.   Strategy first, then once you get to "how" to sample you make the distribution efforts fit into your brand needs.  Not executing a "sampling program" so much as initiating a successful launch and trial program featuring sampling.   This is where major brands should certainly be going in terms of best practices and it's wise learning for smaller brands as well.   

Posted by jlarryburns in Product Sampling, 0 comments

Local News Stories …..

In my data diet I see many of these kinds of articles and generally I do not post them in the “industry news” section since they would be a steady stream.   This particular example is speaking about local producers being featured via samples at one Hy-Vee location in Faribault, Minnesota and overall is a good example of a solid way to leverage local press that, even in this digital age, can provide extra value.

However, I did want to call out the fact that publicizing local in store events and activities beyond just a retailers  own circular or in store signage can only help.    We know that one attraction for retailers offering samples is as a traffic building opportunity.  Well,  then reaching out beyond current customers can only be wise.

If, as a brand, I were participating in any sizeable  in store event program I’d take the time to make it as easy as possible for retailers to take advantage of such a sampling chance.    The logistics of control (or lack thereof) make people think twice about attempting to get these kinds of articles into print and I get it.    Yet, perhaps something as low tech as an online “fill in the blank”  press release form (including insertion locations for local reporter emails) is all it might take to get something to happen – in particular among the smaller chains and independents with an escalating desire to differentiate.    As I said I do see these kinds of articles on a routine basis but, it is these small details that can so easily slip through the proverbial cracks.

I know, I know, easy for me to say … but I did so anyway.     The truth is no one says they do not like samples, so, if a few more people hear about it … all is good.

Posted by jlarryburns in Product Sampling, Product Sampling- IN STORE, 0 comments

Great post from across the pond “How Effective Is Product Sampling? Eye-opening Research”

I really enjoy coming upon such passion when someone writes about Product Sampling – it kind of reminds me I am not all that strange to feel so strongly about the power and value of this industry.     The blog was posted on Wednesday by eventeem, a UK based company that quite clearly knows of what they speak and apparently has a very solid grasp on how to execute well within their market.  We  would strongly recommend a read* because the narrative is so spot on.

It is rare when we come upon someone (or group of people) who has tried to pull together multiple sources and develop a narrative about the value of sampling.  We sincerely applaud the impressive effort, as we really appreciate how difficult the task can be.   Next time feel free to use the resources here as nearly every reference cited in your terrific work can be found in our industry news annual compilation section.

In truth, the struggle to arrive at ‘industry facts’ is a major driving force behind SamplingWorks! as an entity.   We are working to curate a succinct listing of industry facts (by year) that can be used to persuade brands about product samplings continuing value within the overall marketing marketplace.   Traditionally the challenge to such a listing has been, given the intensely competitive nature of our industry ecosystem, that facts often do carry a host of context  that need illumination to be fully understood.    The facts we could have are also often cloaked in “confidentiality” and frequently not shared with the industry or vendors for valid competitive reasons.   There is really no debate about the fact that humans love samples, we are curious animals and discovering the new appears to literally be in our genes.   The real data sought surrounds brand value and ‘proof’ of the ROMI of sampling budgets and here at SamplingWorks we are attempting to compile best practices to demonstrate the kind of ROMI the ever more powerful finance teams on brands require.

This blog post is  absolutely destined to be referenced by others; perhaps even cited as a source  for facts in future presentations as each new person assigned to “prove sampling works” does their diligent searches and arrives at it.    We strongly support the passion and the facts contained – with the caveat that this is really speaking most directly to the wonderful world of the event/location/in store sections of our product sampling ecosystemas well it should give the eventeem business.    This writer is not throwing shade upon the value – this is a strong piece, far better than most and yet, it (appropriately) ignores a wide range of alternative tactics.    Saying that,  we would even go so far as to say, if you are a brand considering a hand to hand / event based  program in the UK, the eventeem samping checklist is a remarkable document that gives a tremendous road map to brand success for this kind of sampling effort, in this country.   Every country has it’s own set of unique logistical requirements and using local on the ground experts is essential to insure success and those can be found in both single country as well as cross border firms with solid local roots.     Clearly, although we have not had the personal pleasure of working directly with this team, they are smart and committed folks.



*Note: For context only, the points made remain valid  Arbitron/Edison data is from 2008, the USPS study referenced was completed in 2010, and the Atlantic piece  addressing Costco (a classic as well)  hails from 2014.

Posted by jlarryburns in Product Sampling, Product Sampling - EVENT, Product Sampling - LOCATION

Interactions introduces Brands2Desk Experience.

On May 11th Interactions, part of  Daymon  a global enterprise who has grown from its 1970’s roots in private label expertise to include myriad services worldwide, announced  this new service via a press release last week.    This business extension, Brands2Desk, is part of Interactions Daymon the consumer experience marketing arm of Daymon which includes a wide range of  retail solutions and experiential marketing  options.

Brands2Desk is a new service for Interactions but certainly not a new idea nor service to the sampling industry.  Workplace Impact, Inc. has been in business, doing this kind of work (reaching employee’s at their place of work), in the US for over 28 years while Theworkperk offers an alternative sampling service in the UK.    This new service from  Interactions is a welcome entry as it will increase awareness of and interest in reaching people for sampling and trial efforts during their working days.

I have always thought the workplace does provide a unique and remarkably uncluttered marketing environment for employees to interact with brands. As long as one takes into account the needs of the employer (not interruptive, welcomed,  approved, culturally appropriate) then such programs are seen as providing a real value to the employee!   There is a very positive element that comes from integrating a brand into the already existing social networks and communication channels that exist in every workplace.    Social interactions about a brand  can be quite simply a very natural occurrence.  So,  once a sample becomes available during the workday, people are very likely to talk about as they do about the weather, the work they are doing, their bosses, politics, sports or any other conversation that is simply a normal part of many people’s work days.   Since every workplace is at least somewhat unique (and THEY all certainly think they are) creating a network of companies and relationships is a process so, for brands interested in reaching employees in their workplaces I would encourage questions about any vendors reach, as well as the depth and maintenance of relationships to insure your brand will be welcomed into the companies you seek to reach.

At SamplingWorks we always welcome new entries within our product sampling ecosystem and this new service expands the players  (and brand choice) within our Location category by being a new player in the Workplace segment.

Our belief that product sampling remains an industry on the upswing is again borne out by the introduction of yet another new service from a major company with many strong retailer and brand relationships.


Posted by jlarryburns in Product Sampling, Product Sampling - LOCATION