Using online demos to help fill the void left by in-store demos

How to use online demos to replicate the impact of face-to-face activity

The coronavirus outbreak has had a major impact for brands relying on product demos to boost product sales. Indeed, product demonstrations have been called off for now due to the pandemic, leaving brands of all shapes and sizes without a vital marketing platform.

We all know there are unique benefits to face-to-face product marketing that could never be fully replicated in an online environment. But there are still plenty of things brands can be doing to ensure they remain front of mind for customers whilst they are whiling away the days in lockdown. 

But to understand how to translate the unique properties of in-store demos to an online environment, first, we’ll need to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes them so vital.

The unique benefits of in-store sampling

In 2017, we conducted an exit survey of over 2000 customers, which found that 95% of shoppers believed that in-store sampling encouraged them to try new products, 87% thought it improved their shopping experience and 58% would pass on their sampling experience through word-of-mouth. This proves that it works, but what is it specifically that makes online demos so uniquely influential?

Customer feedback 

A sample isn’t just a way of increasing spend and encouraging customers to try new things by literally taking them off the shelves. A demo or sampling represents a golden opportunity for your brand to get to know your customers and for customers to get to know your brand. A large part of this is the first-hand, real-time qualitative feedback that can be gathered from a demo, which would be almost impossible via any other means. 

“The ability to gain genuine and unfiltered feedback direct can prove invaluable.”

For food products particularly, the ability to gain genuine and unfiltered feedback direct can prove invaluable, especially for products which have just launched. If the customer feedback is strong enough, entire marketing strategies can be reshaped by it and products themselves can even be altered. 

By asking open-ended, simple and well-timed questions, brand ambassadors (and the brands in-kind) can gain golden customer insights and influence future purchasing – think conversational selling.

Changing habits

It’s not only the immediate customer feedback that makes in-store demos so potentially valuable; try before you buy can keep customers buying in the long-term too, even if they don’t pick up and purchase on the day. It’s been proven that product sampling can have an impact on consumer buying habits. An EventTrack Survey from EMI, for example, discovered that 65% of customers will purchase a product or service promoted at an event and that 78% are happy to have the chance to try it first. 

Repeat sampling events have also been proven to have a multiplying effect on sales and to disrupt customers who ‘shop on autopilot’ by breaking up their shopping experience and encouraging them to form new shopping habits. 

Sainsbury’s “Try Something New” campaign, for example, was an initiative to grow sales by putting an extra £1.14 in every shopping basket. The marketing team did this by encouraging people to add one or two additional items to their basket every week and it saw sales jump by more than 300%!

Brand awareness

Perhaps more vitally, sampling is a direct and inexpensive way to build and advocate brand awareness, driving consumers to share their experiences via word-of-mouth marketing in a manner that reflects well on the brand in question. Think of your in-store as a way of allowing your customers to get to know your brand ‘in the flesh’. It’s a more emotional and personal experience that can really help engender a deeper connection between customer and brand.

In-store sampling

The right brand ambassador with the right demo in the right location at the right time can be a perfect blend of potential and, if used correctly, can be a platform to create a really powerful connection. 

Once that connection has been formed, you might have a customer for life, as Nielsen’s New Product Innovation Survey found that 59% of customers prefer to buy new products from a familiar brand and 21% have purchased a new product just because it was from a brand they already liked.

What can brands do to replicate this online?

There is no replacing face to face store sampling – it’s a platform that is impossible to fully replicate in the digital realm but it wasn’t something that even required consideration until recently. This is an unprecedented moment in history that nobody was able to prepare for but that doesn’t mean brands can’t make the best of a bad situation. Instead of throwing their hands up in defeat, they could be taking advantage of the extra time people are spending online and on their various smart devices.

Live-streaming – For food brands, there is no replacement for being able to taste and smell a product but brands could be looking at more ingenious ways to keep their products on consumer minds. Live-streaming a cooking show featuring your products, for example, allows you to interact with your customers and give them fresh ideas for how to use your products. It also allows for real-time feedback. In China, Taobao Live, (the Alibaba Group’s live-streaming platform) saw a rise in brand activity as merchants found ways to reach consumers in the midst of the outbreak. From cooking tutorials from celebrity chefs to farmers promoting their produce, it’s a platform ripe with innovation and UK brands should be taking notes.

It could be difficult for brands to create new, professionally produced content at this time. Brands could dig through the content archives to identify suitable material, or produce DIY content using phones and home-editing equipment!

Walkthroughs – For tech brands, there are more direct ways that the internet can be utilised for promotion. From apps and pieces of software to more specific pieces of hardware and everything in between, with so many people having more time on their hands than ever before, they are more likely to devote their time to watching a product walkthrough than they might have been previously.

“There’s no reason why brands couldn’t be using the lockdown as an excuse to field test more digitally-focused experiences.”

Gamification – One thing that many brands have been playing with for years now is a way to make their marketing experience feel like more than just selling you a product – they want it to feel like an experience. Online portals allow brands to create bespoke online gaming experiences that can focus either on the brand itself or individual products. Perhaps the most famous case of modern gamification has been McDonald’s Monopoly game, but there’s no reason why brands couldn’t be using the lockdown as an excuse to field test more digitally-focused experiences. From VR experiences to branded video games, there have been hundreds of branded games released in recent years to inspire you.

Charity – Finally, there can be few brand building exercises as benevolent as the charitable fundraiser and the power and flexibility of online video conferencing means it’s now possible for brands to host fundraisers, charity quizzes, bespoke challenges and more completely remotely. 

Bridging the gap

Coronavirus is something we’re all going to have to live with for the foreseeable future but the world doesn’t need to stop spinning completely. It’s all about learning to adapt to the situation at hand and understanding that the world will recover and things will get back to normal, so you want to remain front of mind for when that day finally dawns.

Online demos can be a wonderful way of bridging the gap between the world in lockdown and the world at the other side of the crisis and as long as brands understand the limitations, they should be able to work within those limitations and keep themselves relevant until the world returns to normal and we can finally start engaging with each other the way nature intended – face-to-face.


Featured image via Unsplash