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Why Sampling is a Powerful Brand Switching Strategy

When stocks are low and shelves are empty, brands become commodities. Like at the early stages of COVID-19 when every toilet paper became any toilet paper, irrespective of brand.

Three-ply, soft touch, cute puppies or not, no one cared, because stock shortages across many of our much loved brands meant our choices were limited. So we shopped by category not brand, forcing us to sample new brands.

One of my own examples of this type of brand switching isn’t toilet paper, but rather paper towel. While I went back to my original toilet paper when I had the choice, I stuck to my pandemic paper towel for one simple reason — it worked better than the paper towel I’d been using for years. So it was because of unintentional sampling that I switched brands.

And this is the power of sampling.


But brands shouldn’t wait for a pandemic for customers to trial their product, brands should rather design their marketing mix to include product sampling. From a marketer’s point of view sampling is an opportunity to educate new or current customers about untried products, ideally resulting in brand switching from competitors, or increasing consumption, if promoting a line extension.

Whether a tangible product like chocolates or a service business like a gym, a free sample or a free trial immersing your potential customer into your product or service can change behaviour. Even at a 10x conversion rate! Which was the case when online shoppers received their free organic makeup sample from online luxury beauty company Kjaer Weis.

And with global online sales estimated to grow up to $4.8 trillion by 2021, and factoring in that 58% of online shoppers don’t buy if they’re unable to try the product, there’s a lot of money marketers are leaving on the table. And for in-store sampling, there’s also great scope for growth. Research reveals that one-third of shoppers would buy the sampled product in the same shopping trip if they got to try it.

So if you’re able to offer your potential customer a small sample before you ask them to buy, consider sampling as part of your marketing mix.


Sampling should ideally be free to customers because ‘free’ eliminates risk so there’s almost no reason for your customer to not give it a try.

In the case of supermarkets, Costco’s free sampling culture not only increases individual product sales but also builds brand loyalty. But for higher-end luxury goods, sampling may be trickier. While we all love free stuff, premium brands may fear eroding brand stature by giving things away. So it may be a balance of small indulgences where smaller sized items can be bought by potential brand loyalists to at least get their foot in the door. This could either be a gift-with-a-purchase (GWP) or stand-alone sample sized lower-priced individual items.

Beauty houses do this well. While Clinique’s travel range is possibly designed for on-the-go glamour, it also offer customers the opportunity to trial a product without committing bigger bucks to a product that may clash with their skin. Clinique also frequently run GWP promotions which allow customers to try different items they may not ordinarily buy.


In sampling, the customer mostly wants close to zero risk. Because if you’re asking your customer to change habits, they’re expecting you to do all the heavy lifting. For lower priced products, brands could give samples away for free (like chocolate). For premium priced products, offering something smaller – even an experience if you’re in the service business – at a reduced price point can work.

But for all sampling, the cost for the customer to switch in the short-term must be carried by the brand. And depending on the low to high involvement of decision-making in deciding to buy, sampling can take on different forms.

And sampling should not be limited to only attracting new customers. Think about your current customer base. Because most of us love free stuff. Sampling can be used to entrench brand loyalty among current customers by rewarding them with an item they’ve never tried. As in the case of Sephora, online customers could even choose their own free samples to trial.

So don’t underestimate gifting current customers with things they already use to entrench brand loyalty, or even extending your customers’ product repertoire into other options your brand may offer – to further increase spending.


But whatever your product sampling strategy, if you’re offering current or new customers freebies, your product must deliver. Long-term brand loyalty rests heavily on this.


While sampling is traditionally considered a more costly part of the marketing mix, depending on your brand objectives, if you believe immersing your customer in your product or service can potentially change a mind, you should consider sampling as part of your brand strategy. At its core, sampling taps into the element of surprise and there’s a lot of fun you can have in the delivery, packaging, messaging, and follow up.

Creative Mix helps clients build brands through a blend of modern marketing solutions. To chat more about sampling, branding or anything marketing, make contact today.