Steps for Launching a Successful "Free Sample" Promotion

Steps for Launching a Successful "Free Sample" Promotion

By: Marcia Duffyphoto

The best way to entice new customers to buy your product is for them to try it first - for free. But offering free samples takes more than simply giving something away for nothing.

It takes good planning before, during and after the free sampling if you want to reap the full potential of this kind of promotion. After all, if you're giving away your product you will want - and should expect - some kind of return on investment, i.e., more customers and more profits.

Here are steps to creating a successful free sample promotion:

1. Decide on the Freebie

There are three criteria for a good giveaway:

• Keep the cost low. "It has to be a reasonable marketing expense," says Shel Horowitz, a marketing consultant/copywriter and author of six marketing books including Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World and owner of
• But not too low. Don't offer stuff that has so little value that it's a "throwaway."
• Make it attractive to the sampling audience. Enough for them to want to purchase the full priced product.

"Food and beverage artisans, of course meet all three criteria, but plenty of non-food artisans can do so as well," says Horowitz. For instance, someone who works in textile arts could give out doll blankets, a metalworker could do single spoons and encourage people to buy a complete cutlery set, suggests Horowitz.

2. Don't Call it "Free" but "Complimentary"

Each promotion needs to be tailored to each artisan type, adds Colleen Leader, owner of Loose Thread Stitchers (, a marketing and public relations firm for the needlework industry.

"[The giveaway] needs to be something that enhances their brand while not taking away from their current business stream and it needs to [labeled] 'complimentary' not a 'free sample,'" says Leader.

The reason is that "free" means a product that has little or no value - even if it has taken the artisan many hours to create the giveaway.

One of Leader's clients, Just Another Button Company, which sells handmade clay buttons that are used a embellishments to needlework designs, gave away "complimentary" needlework design samples that would showcase the company's buttons.

"The designs are 'complimentary' but the consumer pays for the buttons," says Leader. "They give away something of perceived value that creates a demand for their that's a great promotion!" says Leader.

3. Do Face-to-Face Giveaways

Leader says the business owner - or a trained salesperson - be the one to hand out the complimentary samples. "You are your own best salesperson," says Leader. Leaving the giveaways with marketing material or product information is the second best thing; worst is leaving the giveaway alone in a basket at a show for passersby to help themselves.

"Don't let the sample speak for itself," agrees Debbie Gokhan, vice president and COO of Oil & Vinegar (, an upscale culinary specialty shop with international and U.S. franchise operations, which frequently promote their product with samples with salespeople at the ready to answer questions.

"Someone needs to be there to explain the product...if the customer hears the whole story the product becomes more interesting and chances are you can sell them the full product," she says.

4. Work the Giveaway to Your Advantage

These giveaways are not just passive advertisements of your business, but must require a little bit of "work" for the receiver, says Larry Bennett, a professor of entrepreneurial practice at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University

Items that are consumable are often forgotten once the wrapper is gone. A way around this is to make sure that the receiver has to do something to get more benefits. For example, a free food sample might be accompanies by a request to sign up for email coupons.

"If, however, your free food sample was to try and directly sell your product(s) at that moment/event, you would not want to create this kind of a barrier," says Bennett.

Giveaways for higher cost items can require that the customer go to your Web site, for example, and sign up for a newsletter, with the full customer contact information.

For example, if you are an oil painter and you wanted to provide interested customers with either a downloadable screensaver (or a CD) containing images of your works you might request information, in advance.

"This helps to identify customers that are shoppers and not "lookers" or freebie packrats," says Bennett.

5. Include Your Contact Information & Follow Up

Don't forget to include your contact information with your complimentary sample.

"I would go one step further and make it include a call to action," says Leader. This could include, for example, a request for a phone call for more information, a mail in card for coupons, or written URL to a web page with a "limited time offer."

"If someone is taking a complimentary sample they are interested in your products, services or offerings," says Leader. Don't drop the ball, but continue to move the recipient through the sales cycle. Create a plan of action (or a marketing plan) to move a consumer from complimentary sample to an actual product sale.

"The [giveaway] promotion is the beginning of the relationship not the end," she says.


MARCIA DUFFY Marcia wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (, an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.