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A Thousand Year Old Marketing Tactic That Still Works Today

Imagine yourself strolling through the alleys of an ancient outdoor marketplace.  The aromas of roasting meats making your mouth water, the vibrant colors of exotic spices piled high onto their platters, and the call of vendors everywhere, trying to entice you to come over and try a sample of their goods. The enticement of a free sample is just as irresistible now as it was a thousand years ago. Why? Because it works.

Today’s sample offer looks a little bit different than the days of the old marketplace. But here are some things that the most successful brands in the dietary supplement industry are doing to win new customers with product sampling programs.    

Supplement Sampling & The Reciprocity Effect:

The reciprocity effect is basically the theory that says, in many social situations, we want to pay back what we received from others, such as a loan, or a favor. As an example, think of borrowing someone’s car. In most cases, the borrower will return the car with a full tank of gas as a gesture of appreciation.

Reciprocity works in many situations, from little everyday interactions with our neighbors to businesses trying to gain consumers. It has been shown that a free sample encourages people to buy the corresponding product because of this feeling of appreciation that comes from having been given something for free. This can be especially helpful in the case of dietary supplement sampling where someone may hold back on making a purchase without first trying the product even though they feel a connection to the brand.

Creating a Brand Fan(atic):

An effective sampling program today goes well beyond the “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” method. There are a multitude of product options in every category, and researching what to buy is as easy as spending 5 minutes on the internet.  So, creating an effective sampling program today follows most of the same principles as developing any other comprehensive marketing program. 

  • Know your consumer. Who is your target audience for this product and how could they use this sample in a way that will give them the best possible experience?
  • Be purposeful and strategic.  Sampling is not randomly passing out products to strangers.  It’s putting a product in the hands of a lifestyle enthusiast who will love it! Because, if they love it, they will want to share their discovery with their friends and online communities.
  • “Micro-influencers” help build markets. For clarity, a micro influencer is a lifestyle enthusiast who is so passionate that they have built a small online following (usually 1000-100,000 people) by sharing their experiences on social sites.  There are “apps” and online portals out there that can help you find and connect with these people. Even though “micro-influencers” may not be famous, they are knowledgeable and experienced on a specific subject. A micro-influencer who knows about dietary supplements is who you want to target your supplement sampling program to.  They tend to have a lot of trust built up with their followers, so when they try a product and publicly recommend it, their following will often purchase it without even having tried it themselves.   

Profitably Scaling Your Supplement Sampling Program:

Getting your supplement samples into the right hands can help you to create awareness for your brand, and generate word-of-mouth advocacy. So how do you do it? Follow the “Three P’s”:

ProductNot all products make sense for sampling. Powders have a taste and flavor profile, and people definitely want to “try before they buy” so that’s a great option.  On the other hand, shipping liquid samples or soft gels through the mail may not make sense. Identify the opportunities and limitations of your product samples.  Most important, think about your business strategy………which products have the highest market potential and which ones yield the greatest gross margin.  Those are the ones you want to focus on.

PackagingThere are a lot of options for the packaging of your samples, and a lot of logistics to consider. Are you providing a packet with a one-time use sample of a protein? Does your sample manufacturer offer on-demand digital printing so your packet can be printed in lower quantities?  Is the printing at the quality standard that you want to maintain for all of your packaging? Is a single-serving sample enough to provide an experience for the consumer? Because another option might be to offer a smaller container for your product, maybe a week’s supply rather than a full month.  There are a ton of creative solutions we can use to achieve a successful sample option for you.

Promotion  – How will you talk about your supplement sampling program? In the old days, it was common to walk through a tradeshow and see samples freely handed out to anyone who walks by, only to find those samples left behind at the end of the day on tables, in hotel rooms, or in the trash. What a waste of samples, and a wasted sampling opportunity. Now, it’s possible to reach huge audiences that are highly targeted based upon their interests and demographic profile.  You can utilize high-volume marketing channels, such as the influencers on social media, to drive qualified traffic to your website consisting of people who have actual interest in your product. Best of all, the ability to grab that audience’s contact information in exchange for a free sample is a great way of building your email list for ongoing marketing and promotions.

Creating and scaling an effective supplement sampling program is a great way to drive awareness and interest for new product launches.Especially in the first few critical months after a new product is launched. When you hit the ground running with authentic ratings and reviews, you give consumers the confidence they need to purchase your products on day one.

It you’re interested in the step-by-step of creating your own sampling program, please shoot us a note via email or comment on social and we’ll do a more detailed post on this topic in the future.


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