Inducing trials the digital way

Chitra Narayanan November 14 | Updated on November 14, 2021

How Smytten is disrupting the sampling space by moving it online

How often have you been accosted at malls and neighbourhood retail stores by persuasive youths urging you to sample a new dip or soup? Consumer sampling is a great way to induce purchase and most brands allocate a significant per cent of their marketing spend towards this.

Swagat Sarangi, Co-Founder, Smytten, however, points out how inefficient this method of intercepting the user and trying to engage them is. Sarangi along with Siddhartha Nangia, both former Hindustan Unilever executives, are disrupting the sampling space by taking it all digital. And never has it been more relevant than in pandemic times.

The duo started Smytten in late 2015 with the idea of solving all the problems that they thought existed in the area of product trials in India – something they had first-hand knowledge of through their stint at HUL, and for Sarangi through his subsequent stint at Google India, where he was closely involved with the great online shopping festival initiative.

It also helps that they are mentored by partners at the CPG focussed Fireside Ventures, which has invested $6 million in the company.

“Sampling is the biggest consumer intent driver,” declares Sarangi. “Forty per cent of purchase intent of the customer comes through pre-purchase engagement,” he asserts, reeling off some statistics. According to him in the US, some $250 billion goes into ad and promotion spends by brands. “Almost 10 to 15 per cent of it actually goes into direct consumer engagement in sampling. It is a huge market.”

However, while offline sampling works well in the US where modern trade dominates and there is consolidation of retail, as well as homogeneity of audience, leading to 60 per cent accuracy of targeting, in India, he says there are challenges.

“Unfortunately in India, the actual reach of your core target audience is not more than 10-15 per cent. Plus there are supply chain leakages with pilferages to the tune of 50 to 60 per cent. If a company ships 100 units of samples, only 50 samples reach the consumers,” he says. Of this, he says, almost 75 per cent of the samples are not going to your core target group (TG).

How about innovations that some companies have shown by sticking sachets to newspapers or giving sample packs on airlines and trains, where the audience is captive. Sarangi says it still does not solve all the needs of a brand.

There are five big reasons a company invests in sampling, he says. 1) New product development – to test the efficacy of it; 2) Feedback from users in improving product experience; 3) To capture market share; 4) to drive recall; and 5) For deeper consumer insights involving competition benchmarking.

None of the current channels are geared to cater to a brand’s needs across these five objectives, he says. And that’s where Smytten comes in.

How it works is: the consumer downloads the app, surfs through the free trials on offer and puts in a request. The product is sent across and feedback taken. Currently the app hosts over 700 brand partners on its platform, offering product samples across a range of categories - beauty and makeup, male grooming, food and beverages, baby and mother care, health and wellness etc.

The app has over 5 million users, 75 per cent of whom are women. “It is by design, “ says Sarangi.

How exactly is Smytten disrupting the space? Sarangi says for the brand, they bring in the efficiency of micro-targeting of a segment. For example, if a skincare brand is only interested in targeting women in their 20s – the products would be shown only to that demographic.

For the consumer, the platform helps as the choice is wholly theirs to try a product. The conversion rate, says Sarangi, is varied across categories – high double digits in the case of F&B products which are taste driven, and lower in some others.

“Ultimately we are helping brands in top-of-the-funnel engagement. So they are getting their ROI by being here,” says Sarangi. It is an especially useful platform for D2C brands that lack the muscle of big FMCG firms.

Published on November 14, 2021

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