Smaller companies embrace USPS sampling

The financially struggling US Postal ?Service distributed its first round of “Sample Showcase” mailings last month, helping marketers reach a target audience of mothers in Austin, Texas, Chicago and Denver. Brand marketers reacted positively to the program’s initial results.?

Established consumer-packaged goods companies, including Secret and Starbucks, as well as lesser-known ones participated in the program. Smaller companies say placement in the same box with name brands works to their advantage. “Not only do we know that our small, flat product isn’t going to get lost in the mail, but being in a box with big-name products elevates the perception of our brand,” said Ann Foppe, senior director of trade marketing at Gum Soft-Picks, an oral healthcare product.?

She added that sampling also makes sense for the company because consumers often easily bypass dental picks in the pharmacy. “We have high consumer satisfaction and conversion rates once consumers actually try our product,” said Foppe, who added that Gum plans to continue distributing samples at restaurants and grocery stores.?

The Postal Service, which ran a net loss of $8.5 billion dollars in its 2010 fiscal year and announced thousands of job cuts this year, hopes the program will become an attractive marketing medium for brands, said Marc McCrery, manager of shipping products at the USPS. He added that marketers’ use of sampling is growing about 7% year-over-year. ?

“Mail’s still relevant, because you can’t convert the experience of a product electronically,” he said. “Marketers give their target consumers time to engage with a product at home, where they’d normally use it, and then can ?efficiently measure conversions with coded coupons, post-sample surveys and sales sheets in target markets.”?

Sleep aid Dream Water is also using the USPS program to reach potential customers, ?but considers in-store sampling a greater priority. The company will continue to use Sample Showcase if it sees positive results.?

“Travel’s an important sector for us, so we just gave out 100,000 samples of Dream Water at The Paradies Shops airport convenience stores,” said Adam Platzner, CMO of Sarpes Beverages, Dream Water’s parent company. “If the results are there, we’d definitely keep working with Sample Showcase.”?

Kathryn Corbally, director of corporate affairs at Sun Products Corp., said the program offered an attractive trial-driving tactic to reach consumers with a sample of its relaunched Wisk stain remover. ?

The Postal Service did not have conversion data for the program by press time, but it is planning to ship at least one box to consumers per month. The organization will eventually target more specific demographics with “back to school” and “new mover” boxes. ?

Kathy Duggan-Josephs, VP of multichannel marketing at RMI Direct Marketing, which offers in-person sampling programs, said the strategy is a boon to brands, but she isn’t worried about competition from USPS. “Product sampling has grown, and there are more opportunities, but Sample Showcase isn’t going to be able to offer everything we can.”

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