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Free Samples Are Effective Marketing Tool - 2001-08-20

You are sightseeing in Washington, D.C., on a hot, humid day, feeling overheated and thirsty, when all of a sudden you are offered a free bottle of ice cold juice.

What luck, you think, as you gulp down the drink.

In fact, the free drink is not a result of luck. It is part of a marketing strategy known as "point of use" sampling.

"There's a logic to providing the consumer with a product at the point where they might actually use it, such as deodorant at their gym locker or a spice sample at an internet cooking site," said Claire Rosenzweig, executive director of the Promotion Marketing Association

The theory underscoring point of use sampling is this: When you are given a product you really need - a blister treatment at a runners' marathon, a stain remover outside a restaurant - you will use the product.

You might also feel so grateful you will want to buy the same brand the next time you shop. "A study that we did recently showed that a 36 percent lift in sales can be achieved by a sampling event," said Ms. Rosenzweig. "And that's an average. So it's extremely effective."

Figuring out where to offer free samples is the complicated part. It drives marketers to compile data bases of busy street corners and popular sporting events, and to develop specialties.

Brian Martin, president of Market Connections International, specializes in offering product samples to vacationers, for example.

"You're in a great mood, so any product you come in contact with, you tend to relate those great feelings of vacationing back to that product. And then we just forget stuff - toothbrush, deodorant, shampoo. These samples are viewed, when people are on vacation, as saviors," he explained.

Operating through cruise lines, golf courses, resorts, and national parks, Mr. Martin's firm offers clients the chance to dole out samples to 18 million vacationers.

"You need to be sure you are reaching the best demographic target. If I had a product that was targeted toward young families, I would not recommend golf resorts, because golfers tend to be older. I'd probably suggest a national park," said Mr. Martin.

Brian Martin says 79 percent of the respondents to a recent poll said they were more open to try new brands while on vacation.