Product sampling is a key pillar of an effective product marketing strategy. Getting potential consumers up close and personal with a product is the second largest driver of full-size product purchases. That is why the beauty industry spent decades sticking samples inside fashion magazines and handing out testers at department stores. 

In 2021, however, magazine sales are through the floor and department stores are shutting down. Plus, the world is in the midst of a pandemic that has closed retail outlets for months and caused a dramatic reduction in experiential marketing opportunities. Not to mention, many of those samples brands stuck into magazines or handed out in shops went to people they really did not know anything about, beyond the fact they were willing to take a sample.

The solution to these challenges may seem obvious: Digital marketing can pay dividends for brands who previously relied on brick-and-mortar or print sampling. However, as anyone who has run a digital campaign will attest, it is not as simple as it seems. For starters, digital marketing in a crowded space can make product launches very expensive, and the entire industry wants to make its marketing buck work harder. 

Smart sampling boosts digital campaigns

Beauty is particularly tricky in the digital arena as brands need to instill in their audience the confidence to buy a new-to-market product online. This is an impersonal way of buying highly personal products, making product sampling an even more important tool. 

However, if done inefficiently, blind online sampling can lead to expensive and damaging amounts of product waste. It also runs the risk of a poor consumer experience, negatively impacting customer relationships with a brand. Plus, while it may generate some sales, there is little in the way of data and insights to allow detailed measurement of the true ROI and use of that information to inform subsequent product launches or campaigns. 

Conversely, smart sampling supporting a digital campaign can help maximize marketing spend and deliver real data.

Investing in beauty communities unlocks insights

Communities are the solution to issues of cost and waste for marketers, as they deliver benefits that make online product sampling a more efficient method of marketing. 

At its simplest, an online community is just like its real-world namesake: a group of people with shared interests who know and like each other, and generally trust the opinions of other members. 

The difference from online communities is that members number in the tens of thousands, and every one of them has created a detailed profile that allows marketing teams to know a lot of important information about them. They also enjoy sampling new products and telling people about it. 

Communities are often based around a trusted publisher or brand, such as the popular Dabble community in partnership with PopSugar. Dabble is the home of a highly engaged audience of beauty-obsessed millennial women, which makes it the perfect place to engage with a passionate, knowledgeable audience that is very keen to sample the latest beauty products.   

This level of insight increases the value of communities as part of a marketing strategy. They are ideal arenas to undertake activities such as testing the water with a new product, generating highly useful reviews or simply driving direct sales. This can all be achieved with a smart, efficient and effective sampling campaign.

The benefits of using communities

When consumers opt-in to a community, they create a detailed profile. For example, Dabble members share their name, email, postal address, age and gender. Personal characteristics and preferences are then captured including skin type, hair color, makeup and fragrance preferences, as well as more general categories about family and health. 

This wealth of freely given information is invaluable for marketers, allowing segmentation for precision-targeted campaigns that reach only the most relevant customers. In the very best systems, AI-driven filtering validates the audience to minimize waste — for example, cutting out freebie hunters who want to get as many products as possible without actually delivering feedback or purchasing products.

After receiving samples, community members are encouraged to give feedback and review them, sign up for further marketing communications and are directed to where they can purchase the product. 

Feedback levels are refreshingly high. A campaign for Image Skincare targeted 1,000 members of PopSugar’s Dabble community. Unsurprisingly, only 13% had heard of the brand, previously only sold through spas. However, 32% of the consumers left feedback, and the campaign generated 228 five-star reviews. Furthermore, 73% said they would swap to Image’s Vital C Anti-Aging Serum as their everyday serum, and 96% said they would recommend the product to a friend. Considering that people who receive a product recommendation from friends and family are 50-times more likely to make a purchase, the campaign results show potential for a lot of sales.

Lastly, all this data and more can be viewed in real-time. So, if there are significant geographical differences in orders, a campaign can be modified mid-flow. This adds an invaluable layer of flexibility, ensuring that marketing spend is put to the very best use. With an engaged, relevant audience — plus granular data, flexibility and the ability to generate word-of-mouth, reviews and sales — beauty communities are key in driving successful campaigns.