How Trial Marketing is Growing to Fit Digital Consumers

Here at Octopus Ink, we spend much of our time thinking about how to help brands cut through the clutter – developing brand stories, strategic marketing and media plans aimed to stand out. We asked, what kinds of experiences really push a consumer to buy a product? The clear winner: product / service demos. Consumers feel like they’re getting a freebie trial and you get a chance to win their hearts, and wallets. Service trials and product demos are simple, effective and in today’s competitive market, quite necessary.

Of course, demos are by no means a new concept—they are a tried and true marketing tactic that spans the entire history of marketing. But it’s no secret that the retail marketplace is drastically changing: we’re swiftly shift more dollars into shopping online. In fact, from 2016 to 2018, the average online purchases by Canadians went up 58%. So how do you grab a consumer’s attention with trial or demo—usually a very tactile experience—when they’re not even there? That’s where demo through technology excels. Finding new and creative ways to trial with tech helps to combat some users fears of shopping online and provides innovative ways to connect with consumers. Whether offering a free trial period, high-tech product demo experiences or basic level service with option to upgrade, the concept rings true that consumers are more likely to buy if they get to try.

Canada Post: 2019 Canadian e-commerce benchmark report.

Here are some examples of how trial-marketing is growing to fit into the digital consumer’s shopping experience.

Augmented Reality Offers New Age Product Trial

With the advent of AR tech, it’s now even easier for brands to offer digital opportunities to convert “maybe’s” into customers. What started as futuristic and sometimes gimmicky has grown into very life-like experiences. AR tech has improved and can now deliver products demos like never before. In general, augmented reality aims to integrate into and improve a user’s view of the real world. So using it to bring products into a customer’s life is a no brainer—and often does better than real life.

Through AR, brands can share or showcase experiences that would be impossible via regular demo/trial. Take IKEA’s AR app for example: IKEA Place lets users virtually place true-to-scale 3D models of the latest IKEA items in their homes. There’s really no feasible way to test out something like the purchase of a couch and that can be a big barrier to buying and overall customer experience. IKEA did a study and found that 14% of consumers take home furniture that doesn’t fit where they had planned on putting it. But with AR, product trial is made easy and as technology improves, more accurate. Talk about high-tech couch shopping… from your couch.

Bringing the Fitting Room to Your Room

Clothing shopping is a very personal experience, which is why closing clothing sales online can be tricky. Without first-hand trial, consumers can be reluctant to buy. At bricks and mortar stores, fitting rooms are a must-have—this “trial” experience is so familiar, you may not even think of as a product demo. In fact, all in-store shopping offers a mini product trial to touch and review products first hand. While apparel is among the top online categories, one of the main pain-points for Canadians that are still hesitant about online purchases is that they expect the experience to be like it is in-store. Brands beyond just clothing retail have adopted several ways to help deliver the familiarity that these shoppers seek.

A few tactics that retailers have developed to help consumers make the leap from in-store to online:

  • Ultra-fast delivery
  • Free shipping
  • In-store pickup
  • Delivery to a post office
  • Free return shipping
  • Pickup service for returns
  • Ability to return items in-store

Retailers are making sure customers can have their cake (or clothing) and eat it too: shop from the comfort of your own home, risk-free—and without having to brave that always-awful retail fitting room lighting.

Getting Hooked on Subscription Trials

How you look signing up for free trials with a new email address every time.

The trick to subscription-based trials is getting users hooked to your offering and then reel-in for the full deal. The catch: you’ve got to have a decent product or service that proves its value, and pretty quick. On average, it take about 2 months to form new habits (66 days to be exact). Trials can be an effective way to give users just long enough to enjoy a service, build new behaviour, and miss it once trial ends. The two main ways to do this are through free-trial or a slimmed-down version.

Free-Trial: this full-service offering gives users a real deal experience in hopes they will convert to full time customers. The benefit is that they get to see everything you have to offer so you have a greater chance of proving your worth. It’s no coincidence that Apple Music offers a 3-month trial, getting users past that magic 66th day. The risk is that they’ll still leave. Or come back again and again for the free ride, to which companies must balance easy-signup with barriers for free-loaders.

Freemium: this tiered model gives users free vs. premium service levels. This lets customers use the service indefinitely but many companies will augment this free ride with additional revenue models, such as serving ads on the free version. Spotify is doing a decent job gaining both types of users on its platform: earlier this year, they clocked over 217 million monthly active users, of which 100 million were paid Spotify Premium subscribers.

Let Consumers Try Before Buying

Even products that aren’t traditional demo-items (i.e. furniture) can get consumers to try before they buy. Trial is a time-tested tactic, with potential to win over hesitant consumers into to lifetime customers. The bottom line: Everyone likes free stuff and technology-focused experiences can open up a whole new world of opportunities for consumer demos. We predict that the brands that most effectively implement technology into their consumer demos will be leaders in our increasingly digital landscape.