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Social Sampling!

Social Media is all the buzz. It is one of the hot topics marketers, advertisers and the media want to talk about. It is new, it is fun, and most importantly it allows us to interact with our target audiences. In this blog, I will take a look at how the Pros at IBM are interacting with their customers, but I will also draw on the past to look at how old school sampling can also engage audiences, educate and build relationships.

This month’s (Feb.) cover story of Target Marketing examines IBM’s social marketing strategy. This article interviews Sandy Carter, vice president of service-oriented architecture and WebSphere strategy at IBM. “Games, networks and blogs are part of IBM Software Group’s strategy. IBM considers the channel an avenue of learning, sharing and collaborating.” Carter is quoted in the article as saying “I think the best practice companies will begin to measure is engagement, this loyalty, this connection with the customer, and that will actually be the measure that leapfrogs this return on investment focus that we have today.” The article explains that IBM is very involved in social media, beyond offering the simulation software in the form of a game; the IBM staff actively participates by reaching out to customers with blogs and tweets. Carter explains “We want to make sure we’re very local. We’ve got bloggers on industry topics.  Like banking, health care and government. We have different Twitter channels sponsored by different groups and different people.” Their tactics bring their brand slogan “I am an IBMer” to life, it puts a face on IBM, allowing staff to share their expertise.  Carter explains that just being on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn doesn’t matter if you are not listening to your customers. She explains IBM’s focus on building an environment for sharing and collaboration. (It is a great case study – I recommend you read the article.)

Social media is important and it is here to stay. As marketers we need to constantly look for ways to engage and interact with our target audiences.

But sometimes we get all caught up in the new things and forget about the things that have always worked and continue to build an environment for sharing and collaboration. What am I talking about?  Sampling, taste testing, demonstrations, grass roots promotions. Shall we say “Social Sampling.” Simply put, get out there and meet the target audience and let them try your product.  Nothing beats word of mouth, except real “word of mouth.” I mean you can be told something tastes good, or works great, but when you experience it for yourself, and then it sticks.  What is more social than sampling?  You are having one to one communication with your target audience.  You can share information, educate and listen to them. The listening part is important. Every sampling experience needs to be accompanied by listening, research and most importantly recording of the input from the target audience.

I have personally been a big advocate of promotional sampling programs for many years.

The Nebraska Soybean Board’s Consumer Linkage program is in its 13 year.  This program educates Nebraskans about the health benefits that come from adding soy to ones diet. We hand out samples of soyfoods and easy to make recipes. We distribute coupons and brochures. We smile and have fun talking to consumers. Recently we attended the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women event. The event was a success. We sampled several different recipes including: Bean Team Three Bean Salad, Berry Muffins, Spinach Dip, Soy Nut Butter and Bean Team Salsa. The 300 attendees enjoyed sampling the products and getting the recipes.

The Bean Team is our promotional team, we conduct soyfoods demos in grocery stores and attend community events, similar to the one mentioned above. We interact, we build relationships and we listen. Is this social media?  No, but does it still work?  Yes.

Reaching the target audience with relevant information in an interesting and engaging way is the start of successful marketing. So, even though sampling products may not be new and it may not be considered social media. It is very social.



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