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Marketing Brand Strategy Product Sampling

The metaverse, cryptocurrencies and NFTs are shaping the future of product sampling

By Duncan McCaslin | Managing director

SIDEKICK®

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March 2, 2023 | 9 min read

Duncan McCaslin of Sidekick argues that product sampling is far from dead; in fact, it’s taking on a new life through the metaverse, NFTs, and cryptocurrencies.

An array of 'HardSelzer.Eth' drinks cans

Is product sampling making a comeback? / Image courtesy of Sidekick

I feel a bit sorry for product sampling.

Since marketing began, it’s been a part of the mix for brands, and for good reason. On average, 35% of customers who try a sample will buy the sampled product on the same shopping trip; 78% say that trying a sample makes them more likely to purchase.

It’s not just direct sales that sampling can help with. It can bolster relationships with retailers, support distribution, help gather data, encourage reviews, create brand advocates… the list goes on.

But is sampling attractive? A quick Google search tells you that no, it’s not. Instead, it’s seen as something marketers begrudgingly must do. Like flossing.

Sampling might’ve never reached the dizzying heights of adoration that other strategies have achieved (looking at you, digital and social), but it’s a stalwart of marketing success. It’s as timeless as denim, red lipstick, and The Beatles.

And it has changed; it is changing. Sampling is aging like a fine wine, merging with newer strategies to take brands where they’ve never been before. Here are four ways to make sampling fit for the future, right now.

1. Get meta

It won’t be long before we’re all living in vast virtual realities, and Coca-Cola knows it. That’s why the brand launched an exclusive soda in the metaverse. Coca-Cola teamed up with gaming organization PWR to create Pixel Point, a custom Fortnite island featuring Coke-themed mini-games and the drink itself.

To drink it, you’ll have to hold a glass underneath your USB drive, from which the sparkling substance will emerge, cold and fresh (just joking, but a lucky few have tasted an IRL version).

Meanwhile, McDonald’s has filed several trademarks hinting at plans to sell digital food and beverages. Bakery chain Panera Bread filed a trademark application for the ‘Paneraverse’; Tiger Beer has hosted two Street Food Virtual Festivals. At these festivals, attendees could order real-life food and drinks from local Malaysian food vendors while immersing themselves in the virtual world. Games and activities let them cash in for IRL discounts, happy hour promotions, and merchandise.

By handing out digital samples, you can whet the appetite of potential customers, and build intrigue and excitement for an eventual IRL launch. Going a step further by blending virtual applications with real-world samples, you can give customers a true taste of what you’re all about, blowing their pixelated minds with experiences and events that’ll get them talking (and buying).

If your target audience spends their time in the metaverse, it makes complete sense to engage with them there. With the space not fully defined, the possibilities are endless. We’ll start to see a lot of early-adopter brands creating experiences in the metaverse that engage with visitors in the same way as they do in real life – and ending with product samples delivered straight to home.

2. Think NFT

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have seen the wealthiest dropping millions on ape pics as primitive as the primates themselves. The popularity of these digital assets, frequently bought and sold with cryptocurrency, has peaked and plummeted since their inception in 2014, taking a particularly nasty nosedive last year. But they just might be set for a comeback, acting as a ‘foundation for commerce’ in the metaverse.

One brand using NFTs to blend the digital and physical is Bored Breakfast Club: web3’s first NFT coffee subscription, delivering real-world coffee shipments and exclusive digital experiences. You pay money; you get ‘monkey’: a Bored Breakfast Club NFT (a digital image of a chimp), along with a coffee shipment.

Adidas, meanwhile, launched its first NFTs in 2022 (because avatars need clothes too). Buyers receive exclusive access to experiences, products and virtual wearables, with tangible products to match.

With NFTs, you can sample your products, and get people buzzed about buying them IRL. Success lies in online-offline fusion: offer customers NFTs they can show off to their digital peers, plus access to real-life samples, an incentive to get them ‘aping in’ (in NFT-speak, that’s rushing into an NFT or cryptocurrency).

3. Consider crypto

In 2021, Nike acquired NFT firm RTFKT and launched CryptoKicks: the first Ethereum-NFT-metaverse sneakers. The RTFKT x Nike Dunk Genesis CryptoKicks are digital wearables that can be altered via collectible, swappable ‘Skin Vials’. They cost the equivalent of between $4,000 and $9,500 in Ethereum.

In December 2019, Nike was issued a patent for a blockchain-powered system that can pair digital assets with a physical product. So, sneakerheads might be able to get their actual hands on (or feet in) these coveted trainers too.

Nike has successfully proven that accepting cryptocurrency allows you to share digital samples, free or paid for, with customers before they splash out on the real deal. And they will. The virtual sneakers generated approximately 3,100 Ethereum ($8,720,000) in trade volume during their first week on the market; ‘Skin Vials’ generated another 2,500 Ethereum ($7,040,000).

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4. Reimagine posters and panels

Pasting your product over billboards and bus stops isn’t the worst idea. Add some sampling magic, and it becomes one of the best.

Take Movember’s Pash Rash facial-recognition dispenser panel, which invited those sporting ‘taches to have their facial hair rated by an AR-powered panel in Sydney, based on how bad of a rash it would give potential partners. Rewards included a free pot of ‘pash rash’ cream.

Then there’s Cadbury’s iconic Secret Santa Postal Service campaign. Hundreds of posters, static and digital, popped up across the UK, featuring Jeff: the interactive Cadbury postie. Jeff’s job? To deliver 120,000 Cadbury chocolate bars. Wannabe gifters simply had to scan a QR code to send a bar, for free, to anyone, in secret.

Stay focused

Never lose sight of your goal. It’s all about sampling smarter; choosing the best-placed channels to give customers the optimal experience of your product and brand. Through this careful selection, you’ll convert trialists into loyal brand advocates effectively and efficiently. Sure, sexy sells. But sometimes, tried, tested, and trusted is the sexiest of all.

Marketing Brand Strategy Product Sampling

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