For centuries people have been using marketplaces as a fundamental base to trade products. Samples of products have been given out to encourage consumers to try without obligations to buy, and to become a top of mind product in a possible purchase decision (Heiman, A. et al., 2001; Ailloni-Charas, 1984).
Product samples are a sales promotion technique that marketers use to persuade consumers to engage with the product as a part of a larger promotion strategy (McGuinnes et al., 1995). They can be categorized into; free samples, often a miniature of the real product; trial sizes, also called sachets – French for small packages, a one-time tester of a product; and demonstrations, a full-size product tested in store (Davies, 1992). The variety of product sample types makes you speculate; do these require different strategies? Do they generate different outcomes?
In a larger context product samples are a part of a promotion strategy, usually a mix consisting of advertising, public relations, sales promotions, direct marketing and personal selling. All parts need to be taken into consideration by the marketing manager. Hence, the product sample promotion strategy is merely one ingredient in the recipe to successfully fulfill the marketing purpose. Nevertheless, all sub-parts in the promotion mix need a comprehensive strategy to leverage on one another. (McCarty, 1960; Davies, 1992).
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Today, companies are starting to see potential in online distribution of product samples to encourage interaction with consumers, e.g. via social media and other more targeted strategies. During the past couple of years, the distribution of product samples has increased, often without support from a long-term strategy (Davies, 1992).
This thoughtless random distribution1 of product samples leads to a growing cost of goods and a low return on investment (ROI). Consequently, investors will dismiss a strategy with low ROI and marketers will employ other promotion tools to acquire higher ROI (Adler, 1999:82). Additionally, almost no effects of increased brand value can be observed from product sample promotion (Heiman et al., 2001; Marketing Week, 2011).