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First Impressions

Sara Mason

Cosmetics play a vital role in today’s society. Color can personify a mood or, most important, make a statement. It can hide a blemish, give new life to pale cheeks, or draw attention to sultry lips or puppy-dog eyes. Yet, for consumers to realize the potential of a product, they might just have to try it first. Many women have a tote full of barely used cosmetics that didn’t quite meet expectations once they were brought home. Cosmetic products can be expensive, and the average consumer is not willing to take another expensive risk without first knowing whether she’ll like it, especially considering the array of product to choose from.

The cosmetics market is far too competitive to expect consumers to make purchases without a brand experience on which to base their decisions. “Given the many shopping options available to today’s sophisticated consumer and the ever-increasing number of brands vying for attention, it’s more important than ever to set one’s brand apart in order to capture the consumer’s interest,” said Dale Beal, vice president, marketing, Orlandi, Inc.

Sampling allows consumers to try before they buy. It’s a powerful tool to motivate consumers and generate brand loyalty because what consumers experience tends to be far more memorable than what they see or hear. “Traditional media cannot convey the brand’s consistency, texture, color and effectiveness the way a product sample can,” explained Cindy Johnson, founder, Sampling Effectiveness Advisors. “If samples are not available in-store or have not been made available to her elsewhere, she likely will purchase what she has purchased in the past.” In response, spending by marketers on sampling programs increased more than 20% in 2004, according to Schaumburg, IL-based PromoWorks. From high-end department store brands to value-priced cosmetic brands at big-box retailers, especially in Europe, many samples are already being made available to consumers. However, not all such programs yield positive ROI for their brands. The key is using samples to convey the benefits, attributes and value of the brand experience using innovative packaging.

Package Purity

Product-on-paper, miniatures or trial sizes, and sachets or packettes are commonly used samples that have been successful in presenting the actual color and texture of the product. Yet, new innovations on basic technologies can revolutionize the way brands package their samples—allowing the accurate representation of the brand experience and increasing a product’s ability to sell.

Vendors agree that the sample should be as similar to the full-size product as possible to communicate everything the brand stands for, because sampling is an integral part of brand identity. “Brand isn’t just about what you say it is—it’s the totality of what the consumer experiences,” explained Don Hopta, sales and marketing manager, USA, The Klocke Group. “While sampling can be accomplished in many forms, those samples that provide the consumer the purest product identical to retail and duplicate the retail package are the most effective.”

To ensure equivalence, Klocke will fill only the product in its purest form—no additives, no cutting of the product. In addition, the company’s proprietary print process and inventory of available materials (to accommodate most liquid fills), “ensures product compatibility, stability and graphic presentation, again providing instant brand recognition making the sampler look identical to the retail package,” said Hopta.

Unit Pack also follows this philosophy in its Facsimile Pack innovation, which uses thermoform fill and seal to duplicate the product in a miniature bottle, tube or jar with logo and graphics on a blister pack. Presented as a low-cost alternative to sampling promotions, starter packages and amenity packaging, the blister with foil backing design works for liquids, creams, lotions and gels.

If consumers try a product sample and then want to buy a retail-size container of the product, the consumers’ vision of the product should complement what they find in the store or they may be less certain about making the purchase. If the container cannot be properly mimicked in sample form, the colors and graphics should reflect the full-size as much as possible.

Another option is to provide a photo of the retail product with the sample to avoid confusion. “The consumer must feel comfortable trying a product being marketed and trust the claims that are being made by the full-sized product,” said Dominick Montano, vice president sales/marketing, Sampling Dimensions. “Creative packaging of the sample is important to keep within the brand image.” Sampling Dimensions plans to launch a new lip gloss sampler this year at the New York HBA show in September. It will be a replica of some of the recent developments in airless and tubed packaging.

In addition to merely complementing the full-size product, the quality of the sample packaging must match that of the full-size product. For example, if a mascara brand wants to sample its new product but it’s really the design of the wand that makes for “lush lashes,” then there’s no point in sampling the product with an inferior applicator. “If your brand is a premium-priced, professional-type product, think twice about sampling a one-use economy packette or sachet,” said Johnson. If, for example, you are endorsed by a professional recommendation, extra emphasis should be put into designing an upscale sample; otherwise the dermatologist or other professional may be less likely to recommend the product.

Special Delivery

Many sampling programs do not exceed trial rates of 50%, meaning brands are wasting half their product samples. Failure to think beyond targeted delivery is probably the most common error affecting trial rates today. Sampling cannot start with the “who.”

Marketers must consider when and where to reach their targets. “If the sample never gets tried, then it doesn’t matter who the brand has targeted,” explained Johnson. “It’s far better to reach secondary targets when or where they are likely to try the sample than it is to reach primary targets at a time when they are not considering product choices or where they are not likely to try the sample.” She recommends presenting the sample as close to the point-of-trial as possible to overcome these barriers and striving for a trial rate of at least 70% among those who received the sample. Unique ideas for placing product trials at point-of-use are limited only by your imagination. In the past, most cosmetic sampling was done at a store or at a cosmetic counter within a store. “Today’s active lifestyles demand that sampling be possible at the customer’s convenience,” explained Anthony Gentile, director of art and marketing, Xela Pack Inc. For that reason, companies must find ways to get their product samples in the hands of potential consumers rather than expecting the customers to come to them.

Cooperative programs utilizing new means of delivery also enable manufacturers to share costs, and in-packs/on-packs and magazine/newspaper sampling methodologies reduce dollars spent on distribution. For example, sample packaging that suits broad magazine distribution, going directly into the hands of potential customers with little input by the companies themselves, minimizes the cost of sampling distribution to a large audience.

This year, Orlandi introduced the new patent-pending iApply multi-use applicator that can be used for both color cosmetics—including eye shadow, blush and lip color—and fragrance. As an eye shadow sampler, iApply is unique in that it transforms from its flat oval form into a 3D direct applicator. It can be inserted in a variety of media in compliance with U.S. Postal Service periodical rate requirements, yet it functions as a true applicator—conforming to the shape of the skin without exposure to paper edges and enabling a mess-free direct-to-skin application of the product.

Klocke America’s Ready Card, which debuted at HBA 2005, is a credit card-sized foil-backed insert with no secondary packaging, making it ideal for inserting lip color and foundation samples into magazines. Klocke also is getting ready to release Liquid Peel, another cost-effective way of promoting product through magazine distribution.

Magazine distribution also was a consideration in the development of Snap Pak sachets, which are hermetically sealed and designed specifically to snap open using two fingers to allow product of any viscosity to be squeezed out. “The simple, one-handed dispensing method has proven successful across many product categories as an effective tool in sampling and brand development,” said Peter Clayton, director, Snap Pak International. Snap Pak is looking to further innovate its product by changing the shape of the sachets, such as lip stick colors in lip stick-shape sachets, to allow them to take on more of the life of the product.

Because of the nature of the consumer-driven cosmetics market, which is changing constantly, new product launches initiated by frequent sampling ensures the brand maintains its innovative and progressive market presence. “The shear volume of products available from numerous suppliers can sometimes be mind-boggling for the customer, so it is imperative that samples get to as many potential buyers as quickly as possible,” explained Clayton. “Naturally, the bigger the brand and its distribution, the faster the development of sample packaging—and the more cost-effective it will be due to the large numbers involved.”

Another important aspect of sampling distribution methods is dosage, which directly affects the size of the sample. To allow consumers to properly sample a given product, they must be given enough of the product to do so. Products such as shampoos often need more than one trial, so a larger sample or multiple single-use packets will allow consumers to experience the full benefits of the product being sampled. However, you don’t want to provide so much product that the consumer has no reason to purchase the retail size.

“Understanding your product and its inherent benefits also means knowing how much of that product is needed for a consumer to realize such benefits,” explained Xela Pack’s Gentile. Xela Pack recently released a 5ml Stand Up sample, previously available only in larger sizes. It is unique because it is a minute sample designed for higher-end cosmetics that are used in very small doses. Because it stands freely, no additional display is needed, and it’s better suited to in-store distribution, putting it before consumers at a critical point in their decision-making process.


Marketers still perceive the launch of new products as the most important reason to use sampling. However, marketers agree that sampling is also an important tool for boosting sales and improving customer communication. Few brands sample around existing product; however, established sampling can work quite well if the right program is used—such as targeting ’tweens and teens with cosmetic brands that are “new” to them.

No matter your audience, constructing an effective sampling program is challenging. Work with your vendor partners and sampling firms to develop concepts, and execute a program that drives measurable benefits to your bottom line and leaves a lasting impression with your target consumers.

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