Sample Story: CPG Brands Ride Subscription Trend with Customized Samples


With subscription services on the rise, it’s no wonder that more traditional CPG brands are looking for ways to cash in on the sample trend. 

With the help of Exact Media, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Beyond the Rack and are all trying out a smart sampling network that targets their products to in-need consumers. 

Exact Media’s strategy differs from other sampling methods as it tracks a broad range of data including products being purchased, shopping basket size, gender and clothing size, and since consumers like retailer’s gifts, participating brands realize a 100 percent open rate on their samples.

“We’re seeing marketers in every discipline move away from generic campaigns more toward targeted, measurable activities such as adwords,” said founder Ray Cao, “and no one was doing that for sampling.” 

Unilever is trialing the smart sampling service for its Tresemmé, Nexus, Dove Hair, Clear Dove’s Men and Dove’s Men hair care brands, placing samples in shipments going to customers of Beyond the Rack and, among others.[more]

“At Unilever, targeting and measurement, as well as eliminating waste, are extremely important to us when it comes to our sample campaigns,” Pinky Tang, Assistant Brand Manager, told MarketWatch. “With Exact Media and its customized targeting approach, we are able to reach our consumers at the right time, with the perfect product for them, and we can easily measure the ROI on campaigns. This innovative model for sample distribution is a win for the consumer, the brand and the retailers.”

The Exact Media system invites e-commerce customers to request specific brand samples at checkout, providing additional data for a retailer.

“We feel the possibilities are endless in terms of being able to target people that we want,” Tang told Adweek. “That’s why it’s such a clever idea. It costs us a lot of money to produce these samples, so we want to avoid waste whenever possible.”

Why aren’t the Amazons and eBays jumping on smart e-commerce sampling? In large part because it is disruptive to the fulfillment eco-system.

“If you are trying to put one sample in this box and another sample in another kind of order [based on purchases], no one wants to complicate their fulfillment process like that,” Cindy Johnson, principal of Sampling Effectiveness Advisors, told Adweek. “Most brands are looking for specific targeting where you can easily, for instance, hit every affluent female customer for a cataloger such as Boston Proper.”

But Cao is bullish on the adoption of smarter sampling. “When brands blindly give samples away to anyone and everyone, most of them end up in the trash,” he told MarketWatch. “Our smart sampling network reduces all that waste, and provides better targeting and measurable results for brands. It’s the nail in the coffin for traditional product sample distribution.”

The digital front presents an even more complicated scenario for brands as they barter with consumers for their attention. Social media firms like LiveWorld have mastered a technique called “Twitter conquesting” in which they tweet a consumer a coupon when they tweet about a competing brand. And while putting the product directly into the hands of consumers like Exact Media does works well for brand awareness, sometimes working outside direct product relations creates a longer lasting impression for consumers.

While retailers thrive in the digital app world, CPG brands continue to struggle to develop a strong following of consumers. One brand, Charmin, has figured out what seems to be the key to success, though. Charmin’s SitorSquat app allows users to find public toilets—a much-needed service, but not one that necessarily pushes the actual product. 

“Ultimately, it’s all about providing utility,” said Joe McCambley, co-founder of digital design firm WonderFactory. For CPG brands, offering coupons, shopping tips and recipes isn’t necessarily the key, as it doesn’t differentiate the app from anything that a consumer could find through a web search. However, providing a service is something that could put the brand front and center in consumers’ eyes.