Product Sampling | A Little Bird

Product Sampling: A Marketing Must Or Overrated?

Product sampling isn’t anything new to consumers. In fact, it is thought to be one of the earliest types of marketing performed with consumer goods and services. Starting in the 1850s, soap manufacturer Benjamin T. Babbitt realized he saw his business grow after handing out free samples to his consumer base. 

Ever since then, product sampling has blossomed into a marketing strategy used by thousands of businesses all over the globe. There are numerous types of sampling strategies and ways to get your product into the hands of consumers. 

But now it’s 2024. The marketing landscape is constantly evolving and continues to produce  creative ways to market products to consumers. However, product sampling remains a key strategy, year over year, despite new technologies, platforms, and innovations. 

So is product sampling worth the investment - or is it overrated? Was that soap guy onto something that stands the test of time? Today, we take a look at the different components of product sampling: what it is, different types, benefits, and drawbacks, to answer these very questions. 

Product Sampling: What It Is

Product sampling is a specific type of experiential marketing where businesses give consumers free samples of a product. 

Product sampling is typically designed to increase brand awareness, boost sales, drive positive reviews, and achieve KPIs related to business growth. It not only benefits the business, but gives consumers a way to try a product before fully committing to it or making a purchase.. 

Although it may seem simple, product sampling campaigns are not easy to execute. There are different types of sampling strategies and ways to deliver products to consumers. Companies also have to account for the setting, consumer base, and any regulations or laws associated with distributing a product. 

So without further ado, let’s dive into the details and the quirks around product sampling.

The Key to Product Sampling Campaigns

Free, free, free. Did we mention free? The reason why so many people are attracted to product samples is because typically, they're free product samples. People love free. 

Businesses That Should Use Product Sampling

You may be wondering, “Is product sampling right for me?”. We hear you. Most likely, if you are asking the question, the answer is yes. Below are just a few examples of businesses that could benefit from product sampling campaigns.

Food & Drink Businesses

Even if you’re not in the food and drink industry, you can imagine how difficult it is to be successful. It’s one of the more difficult industries to enter, for a variety of reasons. 

However, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to be a new brand in this industry! One of the most genius forms of marketing that suits food and drink businesses is product sampling. 

To be clear, we’re not saying you have to give away millions of samples to entice consumers into buying your product. What we are saying is that you should consider adding sampling campaigns to your overall marketing strategy. The more people know about your brand and get to experience it before making a purchase, the easier it will be for you to grow your market share.

At A Little Bird, we’ve helped a multitude of food and beverage companies execute product sampling campaigns and put themselves on the map. We can help you too! Talk to us today to get started.

Cosmetics and Beauty

Product sampling is hugely popular in the cosmetics industry. You’ve likely seen cosmetics sampling more times than you think. If you’ve ever gone to a large retail store’s cosmetics section and seen rows of bright lights shining down on eyeshadow palettes, lipsticks, or even blushes, for example, you’ve seen product sampling in action.

While this is a more hands-off approach to sampling, the retailer works out an agreement with the brand and displays a few select products as testers so people can test out the product before purchasing it. This is only one way to implement sampling in your cosmetics brand’s marketing. You can do it in so many other ways, too. 

Skincare Businesses

Similar to the cosmetics industry, skincare businesses also benefit massively from product sampling marketing strategies. It works similarly to cosmetics and beauty sampling, but has its nuances too. Because skincare businesses may be held to higher legal and testing standards than cosmetics or other related businesses, you must have all your ducks in a row before you begin marketing. 

If you ever have questions about whether or not your skincare business benefits from sampling, you’re in the right place! We’d love to have a discussion with you on all the different ways we can help your brand with a product sampling strategy. This includes getting all the different testing and other issues sorted out beforehand.

Other Businesses Selling FMCGs

FMCGs, or fast-moving consumer goods, are types of products that are sold quickly at lower costs. They may have a higher demand than other types of products and are relatively easier to manufacture and distribute. You might also know FMCGs as consumer packaged goods, or CPGs for short.

FMCGs and product sampling go hand in hand with one another. The more people that find out about your products and test them out, the greater brand awareness and loyalty you’ll get. 

Types of Product Sampling

There are numerous types of product sampling, each of which provides different benefits to businesses that use them. Let’s take a look.

Digital Sampling

Ever since the pandemic there has been a new influx of online shoppers, making digital sampling more popular than ever. This type of product sampling allows you to offer samples or trials of a product to consumers over any digital channel you can think of. There are other types of digital sampling, although this is the most widely used type. But more on that later. 

Websites, social media, mobile apps, and even email are all different spaces where individuals can sign up and have free, travel-sized products mailed to them (or codes sent if it is a digital service that’s being sold). 

Many people suggest that digital sampling is the future of sampling, being how easy it is to reach people online. What do you think?

Influencer Sampling

Another type of product sampling (that just so happens to fall under digital sampling) is influencer sampling. In this type of sampling, the brand provides its product to an array of influencers, typically those in its niche, in exchange for customized content (also known as user generated content) about the product. This content is published to the influencers’ social channels, where their thousands or millions of viewers get to look at the product, see how it is used, and be amazed by its results. 

While relatively straightforward, this strategy can be nuanced depending on each influencer’s specific terms and conditions for accepting products. You also have to decide what type of influencer you want to invest in. You might want to engage with a micro influencer who can reach your niche audience in an intimate way. Or you may invest in a mainstream influencer who can help your brand catch fire. Like every marketing method, a lot depends on your goals, your audience, and what you are willing to spend. 

Event Sampling

Here’s another biggie. The wonderful world of event sampling. You’ve experienced it yourself, no doubt. You show up at large events and see vendors handing out free samples of products, or walking around and talking to event-goers. 

Event sampling presents a seamless way for brands to reach more members of their brand community and get immediate feedback about their products. Though seamless, there is a lot that goes into event sampling - anyone who has designed, developed, organized and executed an event sampling campaign will attest that it is no small feat. 

There are immense benefits for those who take advantage of events. If you want to explore more of the benefits of sampling, jump on down to the “benefits of product sampling” section below. 

Indirect Sampling

Indirect sampling is exactly how it sounds. This type of sampling doesn’t require brands to interact with consumers face-to-face. Instead, samples or trials are distributed indirectly, through a third party. This can be through media channels, influencers, magazines, or retail stores. 

This type of sampling allows you to reach a wider audience, and it’s convenient. It can also be convenient for the consumers, too.

In-Store Sampling

Last but certainly not least, we have in-store sampling. This type of sampling features small pop-ups at grocery stores, bix box stores, or other common shopping destinations. Consumers visit your brand while they’re going about their business, try a sample of a product, and (hopefully) add the product to their cart. 

This gives you, the brand, an opportunity to reach people directly, interact with them face-to-face, and give them in-depth information about what you offer. It also gives consumers opportunities to give you feedback - which can be worth its weight in future sales. 

Benefits of Product Sampling

There are numerous benefits of product sampling. After all, it wouldn’t be around after so many years if it wasn’t effective. Let’s dive into some of the top benefits of product sampling for businesses.

Potential For Immediate Feedback

Depending on the type of product sampling you use, you have  the potential to receive immediate feedback from consumers. You get this direct, authentic (and often actionable) feedback most commonly from in-store sampling, event sampling, or any other type of sampling that involves face-to-face interaction with consumers. 

In the business world, feedback is everything! It gives you an outside perspective on how you and your products can improve. 

Furthermore, when consumers see you make those improvements, they’ll feel heard, more connected to your brand, and be more likely to make a purchase. Win-wins all around.

More Brand Awareness

Brand awareness increases when you implement a successful product sampling strategy. Hundreds or even thousands of people see your product and enjoy its benefits or applications. Outside of directly experiencing a sample, consumers will see the packaging and logos, all IRL, improving the likelihood that they will remember your brand. 

With sampling campaigns (and most marketing campaigns broadly), driving brand awareness is everything. Taking advantage of this tactic can supercharge your brand’s visibility. 

Increased Brand Loyalty

Alongside more brand awareness, you’ll also experience increased brand loyalty through sampling campaigns. Think about it - people see your brand, interact with the products, and become familiar with your logo. They like the product and the experience, and now feel affinity toward your company. And that is where brand loyalty follows, as people recognize your brand as a trustworthy, valuable, mainstream entity. 

Next, word of mouth marketing (WOM) follows. People will spread the word about your brand from their positive sampling experiences. They’ll post on social media, tell their family and friends, and maybe even give strangers recommendations for your products. According to Medium, WOM “can be up to 7-times more effective than print media, 4-times more effective than personal selling, and twice as effective as radio advertisement.” 

Increased Sales & Conversion Rates

At the end of the day, one of the most common goals of product sampling is to boost sales and increase conversion rates. 

Whether you’re investing in in-person sampling (where individuals have the opportunity to purchase the product right away) or if you’re going the indirect sampling route where people purchase at a later date, you’re likely to see increased sales and more conversions.

Greater Brand Engagement

This is one of the first things we tell our product sampling clients when they work with us. You’re going to get greater brand engagement! No matter your specific sampling marketing campaign, there is value in allowing your target audience to interact with your brand in a personal, intimate way.

Take this example. You’re executing an in-store sampling campaign at a grocery store. You’ve got a small pop-up booth near the section of the product you’re selling. You’ve got an array of samples ready, as well as coupons for those that decide to purchase your product that day. There are so many engagement opportunities available in that one footprint alone - it is up to the brand to take advantage of each one.

Product Sampling: Challenges & Drawbacks

Unfortunately, product sampling isn’t without its challenges or drawbacks. Here are some of the sticking points you may encounter when creating a product sampling campaign.

Limited Reach

Depending on the type of sampling campaign you run, you could have a limited reach. If you’re distributing your samples in a small, local area, you might not be able to reach as many potential customers if you distributed your samples online or in a larger city.

This is typically one of the deciding factors of any sampling campaign. If your goal is to reach as many people as possible, then you may not want to stop by your local mom-and-pop shop to give out samples. However, if you’re looking for increased engagement in a singular area, it’s a great idea to collaborate with local businesses! 

At the end of the day, it’s all about your goals, budget, and understanding your customers’ behavior.


The type of sampling you decide to leverage could get expensive. Digital sampling, influencer sampling, and indirect sampling are all among the priciest options. 

Generally speaking, the more product samples you want to distribute and the more people you want to involve in your strategies, the pricier it gets. While distributing more products can be a successful strategy, you will likely want an expert guiding the process to ensure you maximize your investment. Our team at A Little Bird can help you weigh the pros and cons and help you understand which investment leads to which reward. 

Potential Product Waste

One of the biggest risks when conducting product sampling is the potential for product and packaging waste. This is especially so when you’re distributing samples digitally to influencers or indirectly. Some individuals, for example, might decide they don’t want the sample anymore when they receive it, and throw it away. Not only is that product wasted, but it might even be improperly disposed of. 

Potential For No Feedback

As much as you might want feedback when giving away samples, people aren’t required to leave any feedback or provide you with their information for continued engagement. Some people just want free samples and don’t want to provide anything in return.

You can include incentives to receive feedback or data, but once again, the consumers receiving the product might not do anything. It is a gamble you have to take.

The best way to ensure you get feedback and data is utilizing in-person sampling campaigns. This way, you can have conversations with your audience.

The Final Verdict

While product sampling does have some drawbacks and challenges, it’s a long-standing, successful, and valid marketing method - one that has withstood the test of time. 

The way we look at it? Every marketing strategy has its pros and cons, drawbacks and advantages. 

At the end of the day, what matters most is not how many disadvantages or challenges a specific type of marketing has. It’s how you design and leverage a marketing mix that helps you reach your goals. 

Our Expertise

A Little Bird is a high-impact, creative product sampling agency. Our expert team has decades of combined experience, including some seriously seasoned product-sampling veterans (e.g. many of our people have been in the field!). 

We understand how important it is to get campaigns right the first time. Contact us today - we can’t wait to help your business grow.