Sampling has come up a lot in my professional life recently, with grocery brands seemingly increasing both their spend and their creative focus in this area. With the Groceries Code Adjudicator keeping a careful eye on retailers who might be milking their supplier brand’s marketing budgets for their own purposes, the days of the big 4 grocers ‘strongly suggesting’ that brand’s marketing budgets were spent on their own loyalty card, customer magazine and so on are thankfully on the wane.
But this seems to have resulted in grocery brands focusing more on getting their product literally straight into customer’s hands through sampling activity. There are now a lot more options than bored students in branded t-shirts handing out samples in a supermarket car park – among others there’s ‘free sample with your grocery delivery’, ‘free sample with your fashion/baby/outdoors order delivery, ‘free sample when you visit your gym today’, ‘free sample as you get off the train’ and the tried-and-tested ‘free sample stuck to your magazine’ and ‘free sample with your newspaper’.
There’s also now lots of paid–for-samples subscription boxes in beauty and also in lifestyle areas like vegan eating and ethical living, which is really interesting from a marketing point of view as you are sampling to an audience who have not only self-selected as interested in your category, but are prepared to pay for the privilege of trying new products every month.
So getting product into customer’s hands is easy enough if you have the budget (the actual samples still have to be accounted for on a budget sheet somewhere!), but I worry that the focus on the customer’s path to purchase has been lost along the way. Even if they try your product and like it enough to want to part with real, live money for it next time, it’s no longer as easy as chucking it in the trolley as you go round the supermarket, just 20 minutes after you tried it in the car park. I’ve written before about the potential problems with experiential activity being too far away from any opportunity to actually buy the product and that still holds true, especially when there are now so many routes to purchase, both online and off and shoppers no longer shop in very predictable patterns.
There’s still a role for ‘Mabel with a table’ in store and equally FSDUs, shelf talkers, branded shippers and shelf ready packaging all have their part to play in influencing the path to purchase, however old-school they might be. And finally let’s not forget that if it isn’t stocked, your target audience can’t buy it. Although online grocery is in rapid growth, it currently accounts for less than 10% of total UK grocery spend so decent physical listings are still vital and some of that budget should be going on B2B comms. Full page ad in The Grocer, anyone?