What I Learned About Digital Marketing From Handing Out More Than 50 Cottage Cheese Samples

When you try a sample of a cheese, crackers, or the like, you probably don’t realize you’ve been marketed to.

But those handing out the samples are doing it for a reason.

They’ve been hired by a brand to hand out samples in hopes that eventually, you or your fellow shoppers will go on to purchase the product.

It’s called in-store demonstrations, demos, sampling, or hiring brand ambassadors. They’re on the ground connecting a product with a face, a taste, and an impression.

What does this have to do with digital marketing and business-to-business marketing? More than you’d think. I’ve been the person handing out those samples and I’ve learned quite a bit about marketing from those on-the-ground experiences.

Positioning is important

When you hand out samples, you are instructed to set up in a particular location.

If that location is low traffic, you won’t get as many opportunities to hand out samples and interact with guests. But often, the quantity of interactions isn’t everything. For example, at a recent event, I was handing out samples of cottage cheese. I was positioned in the back of the store, away from the registers.

This might have been an issue (because it was in a comparatively low traffic area), but I was also positioned at the end of the dairy aisle. That means that people who purchased things from the dairy aisle might come by and see a cheese product, which they were already shopping for.

It was also an ideal location because whenever I got someone to try the offering, it was easy to direct them to the product’s location on the shelves.


The lesson: Determine how to put your marketing in a position that compliments your offering and vice versa.

In digital, you will need to look for the channels that your customers actively use. You also need to remember that this platform should make it easy for you to direct leads to your website.

Because the buying cycle in B2B is more complicated and longer, you probably won’t immediately convert them, but you will start them on the journey towards purchase.

Making first contact

When you hand out samples, the first step is not handing out a sample, nor is it asking a person if they’d like one.

You first need to establish contact with them. What I normally do is allow them to survey my offering and the materials themselves to decide if they’re interested.

If they are, I look to make eye contact with them. This is a very important first step in starting the sales process. Once they make eye contact, they’ll sometimes ask what I have and I’ll respond with the name of the product and a differentiating factor about it. In the case of the cottage cheese sampling, this meant I would tell them I had cottage cheese with no added sugar or other preservatives. And that it was delicious, of course. This led many to try it, even just to test my claims.


The lesson: First impressions color your first interactions. You want your setup, be it at a trade show or digitally, to entice the potential buyer into speaking with you.

The appearance of your booth or website is your first hook. From there, you must convince them to stay by giving them information that appeals to them.

Making a value-oriented claim like “it’s the most delicious cheese on the market” makes many people want to try the things you offer. Obviously, that’s not a phrase that applies to selling software, but variations like “it will save you time and money” when offering a trial means that individuals will be tempted to test your claim.

Some products work; others don’t

I’ve handed out samples of cottage cheese, hummus, and coupons for dog food.

Those things all went well. People were inclined to try them.

But not every event goes that well. For example, I once handed out samples of lotion at Walmart.

Turns out, it’s weird to ask people to try out a lotion. I had bottles labeled “try me” and almost no one tried that lotion.

This is an example of poor placement and a brand trying to use an ineffective tactic to sell a product. People will try lotion on their own if there’s a “sample” they can try, but putting someone there to try to draw more leads just makes people feel uncomfortable.


The lesson: Consider what tactics you use when you try to push your product. It turns out that having a person push lotion is ineffective, could you be trying to push your offering on a platform where people aren’t looking for it?

Maybe you’re a B2B seller and you cold call leads to get them to buy your offering. Or you send emails trying to get ice-cold leads (they haven’t even heard of you!) to schedule a call.

Both are uncomfortable and ineffective, much like trying to hand out lotion samples at Walmart. Consider these tactics when you set up your marketing strategies.

People feel more comfortable in a group

You’d think that people wouldn’t be intimidated by a 5′ 4″ girl standing at a table, but they often will peer at you from the corner of their eyes suspiciously as they attempt to avoid direct eye contact.

But, as soon as another person has approached the table, they will often do the same. There’s this group mentality of, “If they’re up there talking about it and trying it, it must be good.”

It’s a social mentality and it works. If others are engaging with you, it’s more likely that others will jump in too.


The lesson: This is self-explanatory. At trade shows, you’ll find that more people come to your booth when others are already there.

The same holds true with social media and blog posts. If people are commenting, liking, and engaging with your posts, it’s more likely that those who see them will engage too.

This is an argument for connecting with your customers on social media and having your employees engage with you on social media.

The boost in engagement you get from these connections means that others will be more likely to check your brand out. Just ensure that your employee engagement programs are diverse and appear reasonably natural. This means pushing a diverse set of voices, not just the same individual posting and commenting over and over.

There are countless examples of how in-person sample and brand ambassadorship relate to both B2B marketing and digital marketing. These are just a few of the latest lessons I’ve learned from marketing in the field.

Both in-person marketing and digital marketing have the same lessons and similar tactics apply. Have you ever considered how in-person tactics and digital tactics relate? Let us know what you discover.

Have you ever considered how in-person marketing and digital marketing relate? What other lessons have you learned from non-digital channels? Tell us what you think in the comment section.



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