Free samples are one of the most tried-and-true ways to get people to love your product, but “social sampling” goes a step further by tapping into deeply rooted psychological principles.

Social Sampling Makes You Feel Special

We all know everyone loves to feel special, and getting early or exclusive access to a brand makes people feel important. Sampling can be used both as a sign of high status and as a reward for brand loyalty; for example, Burberry launched its “Burberry Body” fragrance in September by providing free samples to 7.6 million facebook fans before it hit stores. When consumers feel that a brand elevates their “status” they may develop positive associations with that brand. After all, doesn’t Burberry perfume smell better when you are one of the select few chosen to wear it?

Social sampling, on the other hand, involves providing consumers with products to share with others. Kleenex recently unleashed a wildly successful campaign, “Softness Worth Sharing,” that allowed consumers to send free tissues to friends. One million packs of tissues were sent out.

Although social sampling campaigns focus less on exclusivity, the act of sharing also makes people feel important.  As this blog post discusses, a recent study from the Haas School of Business determined that “rise in status seems to be strongly correlated primarily by actions that enhance a person’s value in the eyes of fellow group members—that is, by acting in ways that signal task competence, generosity and commitment to the group.” Generosity is yet another way to increase your status.

How to Use Social Sampling in Your Marketing Plan:

For the most powerful impact, tap into both exclusivity and sharing. Don’t just provide free samples or coupons to “influencers”—bloggers, active tweeters, etc.—but provide a mechanism for them to share with their friends too.

To build the maximum positive association, remember that the root of social media’s success is Word of Mouth.  That one-to-one personal recommendation still has a 70% influence on brand preference.  When you give people a way to share with friends, you are the agent of a positive association for them, and the likability extends to your brand.

When it comes to social sampling, be exclusive but not stingy.  What goes around will come back around to your brand.