The Science of Sampling
In a previous life Chris Coffey was a scientist in cancer research. Today she harnesses a very different science to expand her product sampling and experiential marketing business.
In a previous life Chris Coffey was a scientist in cancer research. Nowadays she harnesses a very different science to expand her unique product sampling and experiential marketing business THE IN GROUP.
Often the road to success in a business niche is a long and winding one – this is definitely the case with Chris Coffey. Before starting her business five years ago as InWaiting, a start-up specialising in waiting room magazine marketing, Coffey’s CV included cancer research; she had held senior marketing roles with GlaxoSmithKline and Microsoft, and managed the healthcare arm of Auckland-based Grey Advertising.
InWaiting came about after she saw an opportunity to reach people in medical waiting rooms with advertising displayed on the front covers of new magazines. “I knew that many marketers I had dealt with in the healthcare sector would be keen to advertise directly to patients in this environment.”
Coffey created an advertising medium which involved selling the rights to advertise on the covers of the latest popular magazines, such as Australian Women’s Weekly, displayed in these waiting rooms. “I created customised plastic covers to hold the advertising in place and gained agreement from around 1500 medical and dental practices to display the magazines. I then got relevant healthcare advertisers on board – mostly pharmaceutical companies to start with,” she says.
This advertising model worked well and clients started asking Coffey if it was possible to place product samples along with the magazines. From that point on the sampling side of the business exploded, she says.
“We started to sign up more businesses and organisations that were keen to offer their clients or members our product samples and run advertising campaigns in their locations on our behalf.
“We chose industries with audiences that met the profile of people our clients wanted to reach – for example, mums with young children, busy workers, or dog owners. We now have more than 6,000 locations.
“As well as the medical waiting rooms we now have agreements with 900 hair salons, 750 business lunch rooms, 500 mums’ playgroups, 600 sports clubs, 120 dog groomers and a whole lot more.
“It has worked so well because all campaigns focus on the ‘win’ for the location we run our campaigns in as much as the ‘win’ for our clients. This means they are highly engaged and there are no high access fees for our clients.”
It was time to rename the business.
THE IN GROUP best reflects the expansion of their services, says Coffey. The business is now a fully-fledged product sampling and experiential agency, with offerings that she believes are unique worldwide.
“We’ve added on new divisions to our business to accommodate our clients’ needs to sample to supermarket shoppers, run sampling events and road shows. Not only are we able to deliver smart, creative campaigns, but also I believe we are second to none in terms of logistics and implementation. We have a full warehouse and distribution centre and a logistics expert on staff.”
Coffey says she chose to focus on product sampling because it is an area of marketing that’s growing rapidly worldwide. “Shopping has become so complicated because there’re so many brands and so much choice. People are overwhelmed; anything that helps them make a choice and reduce the risk of a bad purchase is gratefully accepted.
“We’ve found a way to deliver what many FMCG marketers are looking for; a way to run large-scale sampling campaigns that engage consumers and are affordable.”
Coffey says there is some impressive sampling work being performed in New Zealand, but tight budgets mean marketers must think smart on targeting. Unfortunately there are still mistakes being made (see sidebox).
Successful sampling campaigns THE IN GROUP has been responsible for include the Highlander Sweetened Condensed Milk School Fairs (which resulted in 14,000 mums baking with the product, and increased stall takings and supermarket sales); the Beneful Medleys Dog Food sampling campaign (which accessed people with small dogs via some 120 dog-grooming businesses); and the Milo Cereal junior rugby breakfasts (a campaign across around 300 clubs which has been expanded in 2014 to include more sports codes).
Coffey says her first two years in business were the toughest – having to establish a new concept took time, and sometimes her own money. She attributes her success to perseverance, doing the best job possible for clients, and having “great people” on board.
While there is still scope for growing the business in New Zealand, Coffey believes it’s inevitable they’ll soon partner up with a firm across the Tasman. This is largely being driven by the number of requests from global clients who have shifted their marketing departments to Australia.
She’s excited about the future for product sampling and predicts greater integration of social media with other sampling techniques; smarter, more customer-focused in-store sampling; harnessing technology to help analyse sampling effectiveness and target consumers; and clever product placement – ‘My Food Bag’ being one of her favourite examples.
In other words, expect the science of sampling to step up a notch or two further, and THE IN GROUP to be leading the way.
Glenn Baker is editor of NZBusiness.
How NOT to do product sampling
1. Use a shotgun approach. ‘Household-shopper’ is not a target audience! When a sampling campaign is designed to reach a very carefully selected target audience you’ll usually see better results and less money wasted.
2. Have tunnel vision.
Not all sampling campaigns need to involve brand ambassadors and not all tasting campaigns need to be in grocery. New ways of reaching your consumers can save money and deliver better results. In New Zealand grocery sampling is especially done poorly, largely due to the constraints and demands placed by supermarket chains on marketers and their lack of focus on the customer experience. US chains do it so much better thanks to better partnerships with their suppliers and greater staff involvement.
3. Lack objectives.
There are many different reasons for product sampling – for example, raising brand awareness, product or category education, brand repositioning, short-term sales, or taste education. If the objectives in the brief aren’t clear, the wrong sampling technique may be chosen resulting in poor results.
4. Be too global.
Sometime marketers are so hamstrung by the need to convey global messages, reach KPIs and activate global initiatives that they lose sight of the local customer and what it takes to reach and motivate them.
5. Have rose-tinted glasses. Sometimes marketers get carried away with how much they like their own product and presume everyone else will too. If customers don’t like the taste of a product no amount of product sampling will help. So know what your potential customers really think before your invest money in sampling.
Source: Chris Coffey, THE IN GROUP