Opportunity is in the Mail

When Kitty Kolding decided to enter the discovery commerce business, she knew she had to try something different. “We had to find a way to get to the consumer to try the product that she had walked by a hundred times in the store,” says Kolding, former CEO of the home sampling event company House Party. Oh, and she also had a goal of creating a minimum of a million earned impressions for brand participants at low cost.

Here’s what Kolding and staffers at her new company, Cravebox, came up with: Convince consumers to enter a drawing for the right to pay $12 to $18 for a sample box delivered to their doorstep, involve media partners like Time Inc. and Martha Stewart, and massage liberally with social media activation and measurement.

“Making [customers] pay completely changes the degree of engagement,” Kolding says, “and making them enter a drawing enables us to reach many more people than we have boxes.” The anticipation of the contest and posts from winners on Cravebox’s and their own Facebook pages often extends that reach into the tens of millions. Yet, only 2,500 to 10,000 boxes are awarded in the drawings, and costs for participating brands run about $10,000 plus the product.

“Sampling programs can cost brands up to $300,000,” Kolding says. “They can’t do that quarter after quarter.”

Total Beauty Media also charges for mailed samples boxes in a program it introduced last year on totalbeauty.com, but there’s no contest involved. Customers pay $15 to $25 for a box that contains four to six samples. “Women are serious about finding the right beauty products. They spend an average of 20 minutes researching a single category on our site,” says Head of Marketing Ethelbert Williams. “Paying $25 for products that they believe will work for them is nothing.”

Customers also like to share the great finds that they make. “They write reviews, and we encourage [customers] to write them about the brands they receive in the sample packs,” Williams says. “Brands also have the opportunity to engage consumers with offers. Many of them include coupons for 40 to 60% off a full-sized product purchased on their own commerce sites.”

In February Total Beauty launched e-commerce itself, now offering 55,000 SKUs on its Total Beauty Shops website, which is linked with its online beauty advice properties. Other components in what Williams describes as an “aggressive content marketing play” include a deals program presenting offers from advertisers and Beauty Buying Guides—paid content shoppers can access in store.

“Trial is of huge importance to beauty marketers, so sampling is not new to them,” Williams explains, “but we’re taking it a step further. This is where things really can get fun,” he adds.

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