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There are very, few people who don’t like a free sample. Particularly for something like beauty products, which offer a plethora of options that can vary in color, consistency, feel, look, price, value, emotional connection and beyond, sampling is nearly a must for consumers—and therefore beauty brands—today. And as economic issues continue to weigh on consumers, and more and more beauty products flood the market, sampling programs grow ever more important.
“With the increase of choices and options, consumers are looking for filters to help them make smart choices,” says Katia Beauchamp, co-founder of beauty sampling and subscription company Birchbox. “Without those filters, sifting through the many options is overly time-consuming, and consumers are often left disappointed by their choices. Birchbox simplifies a consumer’s discovery of new beauty and lifestyle products, making the process both fun and highly efficient.”
New beauty products appear on both brick-and-mortar and virtual shelves every day, and with so many brands vying for attention, sampling is a distinct way to break through. “Trial is the number one reason that consumers change their behavior. In beauty, consumers expect to touch, smell and interact with the products before they purchase them,” explains Beauchamp. And Emmanuelle Hermandesse, category manager of samplers and mini-products with Albéa, says, “The true challenge to brand owners is to successfully launch a new product—and protect the appeal of consumer favorites—in a sea of hundreds of new product introductions each year, along with the sharp increase in line extensions and flankers. In this avalanche of new products, mini-product programs help the brand stay connected. Of course, every year the bar gets raised. The design, features and decorative elements of the sampler constantly improve.”
But what makes for a good sample and helps create good engagement points for sampling programs? How will consumers remember one beauty sample over another? And how do sampling companies such as Birchbox choose what products and samples to feature? One key way is through packaging. “Packaging is extremely important,” Beauchamp says. “We are currently working on learning more about what works online when it comes to packaging, but we are acutely aware that it holds a lot of power—especially being that the customer’s first interaction is with the sample’s packaging. A customer’s first look at a sample’s packaging is the first chance to create an impression. In fact, in an effort to expand our understanding of the impact of packaging, we ask subscribers about packaging to help us tap into their full perception of the product.”
The advantages of having a sampling program are clear, and quality sample packaging is key to a well-developed sampling program.
Tom Martin, vice president of sales and marketing, Klocke of America, Inc., sums it up in saying, “The consumer is more likely to buy a product after being able to try it in order to know that it fits them and it works for them. Innovative sampling leads directly to increased sales for the retail product.”
The key to a good sampling program is thoughtful development in its creation. What product would most benefit from sampling? Where should samples be available, and who should they be available to? And, perhaps most importantly, what makes the sample engaging?
“Brand owners seek novel mini-product programs that seduce and surprise the end-consumer and permit the consumer to enter the universe of the brand,” Hermandesse says. “For new retail launches, their goal is to attract new consumers and build brand awareness. For existing products, the brand owner seeks to maintain consumer loyalty and reinforce demand. Today’s savvy brand owners realize that the mini-product is a true ambassador of the brand image. The strategic mini-product program is a highly useful tool that delivers superior return-on-investment.”
Margery Woodin, vice president of marketing and sales with Identipak, also notes that return on investment is a must for good sample packaging, as well as quality and functionality. “Communicating the brand’s core value is crucial to the success of a product, and the sample package should achieve this as well, since after all, it is an extension of the retail product,” she says.
For beauty products, it is rare that a product won’t be a fit for sampling, and the vast majority of segments benefit from it. “Our market research tells us that 90% of consumers find that sampler usage is essential to fragrance purchase, and 92% really use the samplers they receive,” relays Hermandesse. “Today’s international, multi-SKU launches must succeed quickly. Therefore, the comprehensive mini-product program can impact outcomes by increasing the number of retail touches. Think of the mini-product as another product spokesperson that cuts through the clutter to tell your product and brand story.”
Additionally, Hermandesse notes, “In exciting emerging markets, mini-products permit the purchase of most-wanted beauty products by those who could not otherwise afford the full-sized product. This helps build incremental sales and wins future brand loyalists.”
And it is the packaging for beauty product samples that must build these connections from the outset. Thus, Martin explains, “I think the overall look and presentation of the package is most important, then followed by form and function. The customer must be emotionally engaged as soon as they have the sample in their hand, from a visual standpoint. From that point, they have to love the fact that the sample is easy to open and it dispenses the product simply and easily. It is all a reflection on the retail product being marketed.”
But what are the opportunities for sample packaging to engage through? Sample packaging can be as different, or as similar, as the products they contain, but there are points for key differentiation and decisions beauty brands need to hone in on before creating samples. According to Martin, engaging sample packaging needs to have “eye-catching, unique designs, and a direct visual connection with the retail product that the sample is promoting, i.e., mimicking the retail product look.”