Try It, You'll Like It
By Alicia Orr Suman
As the mother of a 5-week-old infant, I am a prime prospect for all kinds of offers—-from car seats and crib bedding (Pottery Barn Kids loves me) … to diapers and formula. With a newborn in the household, I've had no choice but to purchase many of these things. The question isn't will I buy, but what brands will I buy?
With this scenario in mind, maybe it's time for another look at sampling. Stan Rapp and Thomas Collins wrote in "The New MaxiMarketing":
"That old marketing standby, sampling, when done properly, can still be very effective. It's surprising companies don't use it more often."
To make the best use of sampling, Rapp and Collins continue, "you should either have a product advantage that can be demonstrated or be introducing a new product."
I'll add one more reason for using sampling: being first. And in this case, being first means something entirely different from encouraging trial of a new product on the market.
The Formula for Formula
A can of brand-name infant formula costs between $22 and $23. My little one goes through that can of powder in about a week. Translation: I'll have spent more than $1,100 on formula by the time my daughter reaches her first birthday.
So how did I decide which brand to use? Samples. The formula makers hit me with a sampling one-two-three punch. First, I had cans of the stuff sent to me via an elaborate direct mail program that also included high-value coupons (some as high as $8!). Second, free samples were offered at the obstetrician's and pediatrician's offices. Third, after delivery, the nurses in the hospital asked me, "Which do you plan to feed your baby, Similac or Enfamil?" They then provided me with bottles of the formula I selected, and that's what I fed my baby in the hospital.
The kicker is that all the literature and conventional wisdom (from other moms and even doctors) dictates that once your baby is on a particular formula, it's unwise to switch brands; you're hooked on that brand for the next 12 months. The first company that gets you to try its product wins.
Sampling Can be Cost Effective
Sending a sample along with a coupon in a direct mail package is nothing new. The practice has been shown to result in a respectable 2.45-percent redemption rate, according to CMS "Trends 2002: A Promotional Planning Guide." But taken to the prenatal market, the response jumps to a 4.19-percent redemption rate.
For a higher-value consumer product such as baby formula, sampling seems to be the perfect strategy. The high cost of sending samples is offset by the immense lifetime value … in this case, reaped in just one year!
Marketers of baby products wisely take advantage of every chance to gather information about their prospects: due date, plans to breast-feed or bottle-feed, presence of other children, former brand usage (if any). With all of this database information available about this demographic group, sampling can be done precisely and cost-effectively.
Looking back to what Rapp and Collins wrote about sampling—that it's surprising companies don't use it more often—I'm surprised, too. Are other product marketers missing out on an opportunity to use sampling as part of their marketing efforts?
Alicia Orr Suman is executive editor of Target Marketing. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.