Sampling strategy: getting brands into hands in a post-pandemic world

Relish and its partner Missguided tell Campaign Connect how sampling helps brands can literally touch prospective customers… while socially distancing

Sampling strategy: getting brands into hands in a post-pandemic world

The chaos of 2020 hit retail marketing hard. With fewer people on the high street, with stations at 30% capacity, with consumers conscientious about social-distancing and working from home, high-street shops and traditional forms of brand-to-hand sampling have suffered.

These are factors that don’t bode well for marketers. But Natalie Betts, director of marketing agency Relish, Laura Taylor, its head of brand partnerships, and Samantha Spencer, head of strategic partnerships at online fashion retailer Missguided, explained how they thrived in the face of adversity. 

Addressing an online audience at Campaign Connect, sponsored by Relish, the trio shared some of the challenges and opportunities that arose from a world thrown into turmoil.

“Consumers are spending more time than ever at home, making them difficult to target and making it even more difficult to target the right consumer,” Taylor said (pictured). “Train stations are unlikely to be back to where they were for at least another six months, so we’re here to help you with compliant ways to reach your consumers.”

It’s little surprise that consumers forced to stay at home have flocked to online shopping. “COVID has propelled that process,” Taylor added. “Because online shopping has become habitual, these changes we’re seeing have become irreversible.” Meanwhile, research has shown that only one shopper now controls what groceries a household buys. 

“So we’re looking to change the habits of your consumer and how they discover new brands. And consumers are more likely to buy a product if they can try it first.”

This is the beauty of Relish – the physical manifestation of a piece of marketing in a largely digital world. While there are many forms of sampling – the most traditional seeing products handed out to passersby on the street – Betts explained that what was being discussed during the session was “very much third-party sampling in an online customer order, which might be online sampling, retailer sampling”.

Betts (pictured) explained: “We start with the sampling brand or advertiser and we establish those key audience characteristics. We match those against our portfolio of retailers – we work with about 30 different brands but Missguided is definitely one of our top retailers – and once there’s a match we let both parties know.

“The end result is that a customer receives a sample in their online order. There are loads of benefits and it’s genuinely a triple-win. The advertiser is reaching a known audience, it’s being endorsed by Missguided, there’s an existing supply chain so we don’t have to worry about staffing and individual deliveries, and the consumer receives a wonderful gift-with-purchase, so it’s really good added value; Missguided is able to enhance their online journey.”

During the pandemic, Missguided’s journey has been largely positive, although Spencer (pictured below) is quick to point out that “when we first went into lockdown we were a little bit unsure as to how things were going to play out”.

She continued: “Although our core audience are used to shopping online, the retail space underwent a complete shift that we needed to adapt to very quickly. This meant being very agile with our stock and adapting to shopping needs to continue trading well over the period.”

Missguided more than weathered the storm, riding it out and growing UK revenues by 1%, customer numbers by 16%, with global growth up 100% year on year, and a massive 200% revenue boost in the US. Overall as a business, Missguided is up 40%, mainly fuelled by international expansion and growth.

Much of Missguided’s marketing – particularly on social media – has focussed on “championing messages of body positivity and diversity”, “living and breathing this across social” and retaining the “hearts and loyalty” of its customers. 

“Sampling links in to this nicely as rewarding our customers is an important part of driving that loyalty,” Betts added. “The products in the parcels make our customer feel like she’s getting something special for shopping with us.

“It’s also imperative that we align with other big brands and help other businesses to thrive alongside us. This is why working with Relish is great, because they share the exact same values as us, and we’re loving the partnership we’ve got going with them.”

Three fundamentals
For Betts, that very much means focusing on three basics: cut-through, added value and relevance. 

“We need to ensure that we are driving good, clear cut-through because the marketplace is so competitive,” she said. “Added value might sound like an obvious one but you just can’t stop thinking about it. And to do them all efficiently and effectively we have to make sure that they’re staying relevant.”

Taylor went on to demonstrate these very tenets by presenting a case study of its work for Special K, with which it collaborated with Missguided and ASOS.

The cereal brand’s launch of Nourish meant the company wanted to break away from its iconic red swimsuit and an association with being a weight-loss product. Instead it sought to focus on being a cereal that is part of a well-balanced diet.

“They wanted to target a diverse audience of all body types, with a focus on young women,” Taylor said. “This came at perfect time for our Missguided partnership – they’d just launched their “Keep on being you” campaign, which was all about empowerment and being comfortable in your own skin.”

Activity involved a high volume of samples included with Missguided and ASOS deliveries, a drive which “reached 865,000 people through social responses and tweets”. One of these read: “I can’t believe Missguided sent me a box of cereal with my order, I know where I’m shopping again.”

It was just one of many “organic, unprompted tweets, so you can see how it works for both the brand and the retailer.

“Around 79% of people continue to use a product beyond a free sample,” Taylor said. “We’re not telling you you should take all your spend out of other forms of marketing and put it into sampling. What we are saying is a chocolate bar on a screen compared with one you can put into your mouth – is less impactful.

“But supporting your wider media with a free sample, you’re adding life, you’re adding engagement, you’re bringing something physical to the table for the consumer.”

Find out more how Relish can help with Covid-safe sampling here.


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