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Something old is becoming one of the hottest strategies in selling branded goods.Sampling has been around ever since Eve tried to foist that apple on Adam. But lately, through technology and a collection of approaches loosely referred to as "value-added," brand managers are using it to cut through the advertising clutter and more directly reach their target audiences.The results have been impressive.

Something old is becoming one of the hottest strategies in selling branded goods.

Sampling has been around ever since Eve tried to foist that apple on Adam. But lately, through technology and a collection of approaches loosely referred to as "value-added," brand managers are using it to cut through the advertising clutter and more directly reach their target audiences.

The results have been impressive. In a recent study, 72% of consumers said they bought at least some of the brands of which they were given samples, and 69% said samples and demonstrations influence their product-purchase decisions more than television or radio ads. The research was conducted earlier this year through a partnership of the Product Sampling and Demonstration Council of the Promotion Marketing Association, New York; Brand Marketing, New York; and NFO World Group, Greenwich, Conn.

The study also found that 75% of those who received a sample said they usually or always look at the information that comes with it, and seven out of 10 consumers have completed a survey in the past year to get a product sample. The findings were based on nearly 3,400 surveys of heads of households, both male and female, 18 years old and older.

"Value-added sampling is really the way that we provide an entire brand experience, which for Stonyfield goes beyond what is in the cup," said Mary Jo Viederman, vice president, communications, Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H.

"Sampling plays an important role in the rollout of a product," said Chris Curran, spokesman, Mott's, Stamford, Conn.

At Reckitt-Benckiser, Wayne, N.J., sampling success is measured by the ability to generate trial among the best prospects. To do that, "we generally include a full-size coupon along with a sample to bridge the consumer to purchase the full size," said Barbara Yaros, director of food-marketing services. "Often we include recipe or tip suggestions, and brand sell or benefit communication as well. All this is meant to maximize the trial experience the target consumer has with our product."

Increasing attention is also being paid to the person doing the sampling or demonstrating. "We will also make sure the sampler is trained in the uses and benefits of the product," Yaros said.

For Mott's, value-added means going out to meet the target consumers where they are, Curran said. "For instance, we do some sampling in schools for a product called Fruit Blasters, which is a new product for us that is targeted at kids. Being in the schools is a great opportunity because we get right in front of the kids instead of trying to sample in a place where the children may not usually be," such as a supermarket where their parents are, he said.

For the future, he sees more sampling activities going out to nontraditional venues, such as schools and movie theaters. "You will find people looking for different places to conduct their sampling programs," he said.

Value-added sampling techniques highlighting the company's commitment to the environment are the cornerstone of Stonyfield Farm's marketing efforts, Viederman said. "We actually build a core field-marketing department that was designed specifically for that guerrilla approach to the consumer handshake," she said.

For example, in addition to a product sample, Stonyfield will give out informational materials about the company's organic mission, its Profits for the Planet program, as well as environmental games. Environmental messages are also on the yogurt packages' lids, she said.

"We created Moo-Mobiles, which are our company vehicles, and the Moo Crew, who are our own folks trained in the Stonyfield brand persona. So we've got Moo Crews with Moo Mobiles doing unique events that are not your typical consumer brand events," Viederman said.

Last year, the company did a tire-inflation event in four cities, teaching people about the importance to the environment of properly inflated tires and, of course, handing out samples. "It was an unusual way for people to learn about the Stonyfield Farm brand," Viederman said.

Advances in technology are enabling Reckitt-Benckiser to better target consumers for samples, Yaros said. "We learn who our best prospects are and what is needed to maximize trial. Technology allows for better targeting, which increases efficiency." The result is growth in sampling, she said.

Online sampling enables consumer packaged goods manufacturers to create demand for new products or brand extensions, said Christine Overby, an analyst with Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. "In the future, sampling is going to be a very effective tool for CPG marketers, both to build demand and to better understand their consumers," she said.

Recent research Overby conducted for Forrester showed that only 2% of online samplers throw away the item before trying it, 62% of online samplers have filled out a survey providing CPG manufacturers with their comments, and 67% of consumers who received a sample through online activity told their family and friends about the product. "Online sampling allows CPG marketers to target those consumers and create ongoing conversations, while providing them with a level of efficiency," she said.

The ultimate in value-added sampling comes as manufacturers combine approaches, said Larry Burns, co-chair of PMA's Product Sampling and Demonstration Council, and also president and chief executive officer of StartSampling, Carol Stream, Ill. This would involve an online component, retail activity, direct mail and co-op programs, he said.

"With the technologies that are coming to the fore, and with the hybrid approaches that are being developed, I think marketers will begin to gain greater and greater comfort that a well-executed, well-designed, well-controlled sampling program will become an even more integral part of new-product launches, line extensions, and even resuscitating an aging brand. Now we are finally able to understand when it makes sense and actually prove that it does work," Burns said.

"We are going from a simple execution called sampling into a multifaceted execution that brings components of consumer promotion and advertising into the in-store experience," said Bill Bishop, president, Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill. "That bridges to the retailer's power of using the store as a medium, as opposed to the traditional advertising."

Another technology being used to add value to sampling is a special debit card devised by Mass Connections, Cerritos, Calif. The card solves two old problems and provides other benefits, said Caroline Nakken, principal. In the past, neither the manufacturer or the store could be sure about the sampler showing up, but when the card is swiped in-store for a nominal purchase, like a 75-cent candy bar, Mass Connections knows within 12 seconds that the person is in the store, she said.

"If that person doesn't show up, the retailer doesn't know except for the fact that they've got product sitting in their back room," she said. A further value-add is that the sampler frequently brings the product out from the back room and merchandises it for the retailer, Nakken said.

Paying the retailer for the product is another headache cured by the card, which is loaded with the cost of the merchandise. "It's a time card, as well as a product-purchase card," she said.

The technology also allows Mass Connections to obtain data from the retailer's point-of-sale system and to report it back to the manufacturer, she said. "In many cases, we are actually getting scan data at no charge as part of the sampling program," Nakken said.

Referring to the Mass Connections systems, Bill Bishop said, "You are finding people re-engineering the experience at the same time that they are raising the quality of it. When you add those two things together, you begin to get value-added." As a result, sampling is being transformed into cost-effective in-store events, which in turn are becoming in-store ads, he said.

Another aspect of value-added sampling is matching the in-store representative with the target customer, and then giving them a proven script to follow, Bishop said. Such a script opens up conversation with the customer, gets the product benefits across and eventually closes the sale, he said. "Some of the more progressive folks have been working hard to take costs out and increase the effectiveness of the entire sampling-demo process.

"Successful retailers will find a way to dramatically increase the in-store event activity, and that means focusing on delivering real value to the consumer and to the supplier."