With endless choices available in marketing today, product sampling programs have consistently stood the test of time in securing new customer acquisition, brand loyalty, and overall market share. And while the actual sampling process is still relatively straightforward, the channels to deliver a product experience have significantly increased.
From virtual demos to ecommerce sampling to social sampling, brands have countless avenues to drive trial and influence purchase. Today we’re going to talk about one of those channels: a product sampling community.
What is a product sampling community?
A product sampling community is a dedicated online environment for brands to deliver targeted samples to new and existing consumers.
In a product sampling community, consumers can try products and share their experiences with like-minded consumers, whether with fellow community members or with their outside circle of friends and followers.
What are some examples of product sampling communities?
Brand-owned product sampling community
A brand-owned product sampling community is built and managed by a brand. This could be one brand or a portfolio of brands under one corporate entity.
An example of a singular brand-owned community is the fast-growing skincare brand Hero Cosmetics, which created the Hero Skin Squad as a dedicated home for targeted product trial and brand interaction.
As a brand-owned asset, the Hero Skin Squad Community serves as a home base for consumers to connect and participate in interactive brand experiences, including trying product samples, accessing promotional offers, taking surveys and polls, and engaging in community discussions.
Many brands are a part of a more extensive company portfolio, and sometimes the corporate entity behind various brands will start a product sampling community.
DSE Healthcare Solutions runs a portfolio of specialty health brands. To stay on top of trends and create brand engagement, they created The Upside Community, an online destination for consumers to connect on healthy living while also getting the opportunity to sample a variety of different products.
Retailer-owned product sampling community
Some retailers also develop their own product sampling community as a means to engage both shoppers and manufacturing partners.
Although it is currently invite-only, Target’s Hey Bullseye program and Walmart’s Customer Spark community serve as a place for shoppers to connect with the retailer, try products for free, and give their opinions and reviews.
Third party or publisher-owned product sampling community
Many organizations have spent years cultivating large online audiences of consumers who are socially connected and eager to share their opinions.
Brand marketers can work directly with a third party community to access their audience to deliver samples.
Vesta’s Smiley360 peer influencer community was created for just that purpose. Smiley360 is a community of more than a million people who enjoy trying products and sharing their authentic thoughts, feedback, and reviews with others.
When brands partner with Smiley360, they can identify people who meet their ideal target, deliver a product sample, and prompt them to share their experience with their circles of friends and followers. These brands achieve tremendous scale as Vesta’s platform syndicates reviews across today’s most popular social networking sites and retailer websites.
With thousands of tea products in the market, TAZO needed a way to boost awareness of a new product launch and drive trial in key retail stores. They partnered with Smiley360 to activate 4,100 tea lovers in the Smiley360 community. Participants received complimentary TAZO Chai Tea product samples and were prompted to share their #SweetMeetsSpicy content. They also received a special coupon for friends and followers to try the product.
What are the advantages of a product sampling community?
A product sampling community can offer numerous brand building benefits. In 2020, Harvard Business Review proclaimed in their article “When Community Becomes Your Competitive Advantage” that “communities are going to change the nature of how we interact with brands, products and other people.”
They are an engine for word-of-mouth, especially with new product launches
Nielsen innovation data shows a new product is launched to the U.S. marketplace every two minutes, translating to more than 30,000 new products yearly. To stand out, you must invest heavily in driving awareness, yet most consumers are numb to advertising.
This is one of the key reasons consumers rely so heavily on recommendations from people they know or other consumers like them. According to a study from HubSpot, 71% of people trust consumer reviews online.
A product sampling community is primed with people willing to spread the word to the market. 88% of shoppers like the idea of free samples, with more than half willing to write a review of the product and a third willing to post about it on social media. Make no mistake; consumers are eager to talk about the brands they’ve tried.
Generate loyalty through personalized brand engagement
Data has been the biggest driver by far of digital product sampling. It empowers your brand to leverage information a consumer shares to deliver a relevant future product experience that drives brand affinity, while also offering significant transparency in tracking the conversion results and user-generated content created.
The past decade will likely be remembered as the wild wild west era for data collection, but new regulations and scrutiny on privacy will change how you can use data in your product sampling.
With third party cookies on their way out, investing in cultivating owned data – namely first and zero party data – is imperative. This kind of data allows you to build a valuable relationship with consumers while future-proofing your brand from sweeping industry changes.
A product sampling community is an excellent place to foster loyalty through data-driven personalized engagement. When a consumer opts in to receive a free sample, you can capture highly prized information about shopping behaviors, lifestyle habits, and even personal values. As brand loyalty becomes more about value alignment, consumers expect digital environments to bring that to life.
A place to gather insights and feedback for product development
Product sampling marketing is a natural opportunity to collect user opinions, and consumers appreciate it when brands consider their sentiments. In fact, 77% of consumers say they favor brands that ask for and accept customer feedback.
With a product sampling community, brands get direct access to consumers to gather critical information that helps to map consumer journeys, create accurate and detailed personas, gain validation for investments, and stay ahead of trends.
Getting Started Building a Product Sampling Community
With the right community platform software, mobilizing a product sampling community is more efficient today than ever.
It’s important to remember that community-building should be considered akin to gardening, not carpentry. The goal is to cultivate consumer relationships that grow, not just a place to hammer your own brand with product samples.
Cultivate an online destination as your “home” for product sampling off your brand website
Every brand has an audience of consumers. A product sampling community is simply a way to mobilize those consumers in one place and bring forth their existing values and energy. With Vesta’s customizable online community platform, you can create a product sampling community that seamlessly matches your other digital assets.
Invite existing consumers to join your product sampling community
Perhaps you have a Facebook fan page that has been hard to activate, an email database that needs more engagement, or a CRM or loyalty program that could be so much more. You can invite those consumers to seed your online community while driving more signups from social sharing and community activity.
Collect information on your community members
Amassing zero party data should be a delicate dance of asking and receiving, and it only works when the consumers believe they are receiving something valuable. A free product trial is highly valuable to consumers. Unlike other marketing initiatives that are considered intrusive and annoying, consumers love samples and they will happily give up their information.
Send targeted invitations for product samples
This is when your data rubber meets the road. For example, suppose you delivered a survey or lifestyle quiz asking consumers to share their hobbies, and a consumer identified they had an interest in entertaining or hosting parties. In that case, a product sample to be used in an appetizer or for party planning would be ideal and significantly increase the likelihood of this consumer converting to a full-size product.
Prompt consumers to share their experiences
A product sampling community must always come equipped with social sharing tools, or you’ll greatly miss out on the benefits of scalable brand advocacy. Brands that use the Vesta platform have a dedicated discussion forum for consumers to exchange opinions and has dedicated sharing tools connected to the most popular social networking sites and retailer websites via our Single-Click Sharing™ technology.
Drive friends and followers to your brand for purchase
A huge missed opportunity is not offering a distinct call-to-action for social circles. This can be as simple as a dedicated digital coupon, promo code, sweepstakes, or even a free sample opt-in. When Snapple launched its Straight Up Tea product at Target using a product sampling community, it achieved a digital couple redemption rate almost double that of other marketing initiatives.
How Vesta Can Help You Launch a Product Sampling Community
At Vesta, we’re on a mission to create technology that empowers marketers to elevate their digital presence, make better decisions with predictive insights, and transform audiences into lasting brand advocates.
We believe that new-age product sampling in 2022 and beyond must be interwoven with an inviting consumer experience that is personalized, purpose-driven, and emotionally engaging, ultimately delivering a consumer relationship. Vesta’s platform empowers consumers to share word-of-mouth advocacy, user-generated content and product ratings & reviews and then amplifies and syndicates social proof.
Our online community platform is designed to connect brands with their consumers are deliver meaningful brand experiences. In as little as four weeks, you can create a customized community pre-loaded with product sampling activation.
Questions about product sampling community?
The Vesta platform is all about providing brands with the tools they need to run effective product sampling campaigns. Reach out to us with your questions—we would love to help.
Interested in more?
Discover some of our best practices and tips in product sampling with our Short Guide to Digital Product Sampling