Why Every Industry Can Use Free Samples as a Marketing Tool

Larry Alton
by Larry Alton 29 Nov, 2017

Consumers love free samples, period. Some people never buy the full-size product, but many do. Others buy the product regularly and just want to stretch their dollars and get that extra ounce for free. Regardless, free samples work when you know how to use them.

Although free samples are often used inside of loyalty programs, they're actually a separate marketing strategy.

Beauty businesses thrive by using free samples as the core of their marketing efforts. Just walk through the middle of any mall to see this in action. You'll be offered endless samples as you make your way through the crowds. Perfume, cologne, lotion, face cream, concealer and lip gloss are just some examples of free samples you'll be offered.

Walking through the mall may look like a cosmetic free-for-all, but retailers are giving away free samples intentionally. If they can get you to try their product, you'll have an immediate experience and if that experience is positive, you're likely to buy the full-size product.

Free samples can be used by every industry

Providing free samples in the beauty industry is easy, but what if your business doesn't have a product that can be put in a one-ounce tube or jar? What if you don't sell a product, but offer services through your website?

Free samples are designed to prove value to the customer prior to purchase. This is possible to achieve in any industry, though it requires some thought.

Determining what to offer as a free sample

Free samples aren't always for consumption. In many industries, free samples are used to help consumers make choices when they can't see the finished product before their purchase. To see this aspect of free samples in action, let's look at two distinct industries: printing and coaching.

Free samples in the printing industry

When ordering business cards or holiday photo cards online, customers have to select a variety of options for size, paper thickness and finish. They may not understand all of their options. For instance, for greeting cards, Printing Center USA offers six paper stock options, three size options, and uses desktop publishing terminology in some of their drop-down menus.

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If the customer doesn't understand all of their options, samples will clarify what the customer is ordering. What one printing company considers glossy might not be glossy enough to the customer. Having a physical sample clarifies that.

If your business is like the printing industry where each order is custom, create a sample pack that customers can request. Provide the customer with something they can hold in their hands. It won't be personalized, but the 3-dimensional experience will immediately clarify their preferences and allow them to order with confidence.

The aforementioned printing business puts samples in their customers' hands by way of a sample kit. The kit contains a swatch book of all available paper options people can feel, so they'll know they've made the right selections. In this case, a free sample isn't for the customer to consume but to help them select the right options during their purchase.

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Free samples in the consulting business

Coaches and consultants are hesitant to offer a sample of their time for free, and for good reason. Time is precious and limited. However, a "free consultation" is not just a marketing tool - it's a method to qualify leads. In other words, a free consultation is first and foremost for the coach.

Once a lead is qualified, the consultation can become a marketing tool for the coach to prove their value and get a commitment from the client.

If you're a coach or consultant, offering free sessions is a great strategy provided you use it correctly. You can't expect free sessions to automatically lead to paying, committed clients. You still have to do the work to close the sale at the end of the session.

As Marketing Scoop explains, "Many people use free consultations in the hope that the consultation will do the selling for them, and they won't have to engage in the 'dirty' business of asking for the order."

Sample kits aren't always cheap

Your free sample doesn't need to be something you can toss at people walking down the street. It can be a high-quality kit that customers need to request directly. You may even want to qualify your leads before sending them the sample so you know it's getting into the right hands.

Depending on your industry, your free sample kit might cost a bit of money to produce. However, putting time and money into producing a sample kit makes sense when your price point is high and your product is an investment. Remember, samples aren't just a marketing strategy - they're part of the sales process, too.

About the Author

Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer and researcher who contributes to a number of reputable online media outlets and news sources. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he's also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on  Twitter and  LinkedIn.