Sampler CEO on the peer-to-peer future of marketing

Consumers trust the opinions of their friends, says Chevrier, and that’s an unbeatable marketing resource

Here’s one sure sign of an entrepreneur—someone who sees a broken system and bends over backwards to create an entirely new one. Such is the case of Marie Chevrier, the CEO of Toronto-based Sampler. Chevrier, who has a background in brand consultation, looked at the sample products brands were distributing and saw a model that was both wasteful and ineffective. With the goal of helping brands turn casual consumers into diehard fans, Chevrier founded Sampler in 2013. The company uses targeted sampling campaigns and peer recommendation to get samples to a product’s ideal demographic. The result? Partnerships with industry giants like Garnier and The Body Shop, and a global list of clients that seems to grow by the day. We spoke with her about the importance of peer recommendation, doing highly targeted marketing at scale and the value of leaping before you look:

You’ve had an incredible period of growth between 2013 and now—how did you get the company off the ground as quickly as you did?

Sampler was my opportunity to merge my experience with marketing and tech. I had a lot of conversations with people in the baby industry, and realized that they were looking for ways to keep in touch with consumers. Knowing that, I drew up an idea of what I want Sampler to look like, and I presented it to potential clients. I sold my first client before the technology existed—I had rough mock-ups, but I didn’t have a developer, I didn’t have anything in place to get the contract going. But they gave me 62 days, so I found a developer and Sampler was born.

Were you worried about selling that client before you had the tech?

Oh my god, yes, that might have been the most stressful time in my life. I will say that I don’t think there’s a better way to figure out product-market fit than to get that first cheque. It probably wasn’t enough, looking back on it, I think it was like a $5000 cheque and I thought, “I’m going to build a technology!” At any rate, I think I couldn’t have gotten a better kick in the butt to get things going.

How would a company go about working with Sampler?

So, for retailers, they have to figure out who it is that they want to target. They can go to our platform and they can say, “We want to reach women who are between the ages of 18-35, that live in Montreal and are expecting.” Then there are several ways we would find them an audience. The first would to be to have existing consumers—ones who have liked a Facebook page, for instance—recommend a sample to their friends that they know are expecting.

The second would be through Sampler’s audience network. Our audience network is made up of partnerships that we have with larger publishers. For example, Mom365 runs sampling programs for their audience, and Sampler powers that campaign. So, brands that work with us can be sure that their samples are going to be going to that audience they had wanted to target.

Sometimes we actually do targeted, situational sampling. So we would work with a shampoo company that wants to target young women who are preparing for prom, and prepare a specific targeted sampling campaign for them. There are so many ways to work with us, but I think the thing is companies have to figure out is who they want to target, and then we can help them figure out how best to get to that audience.

And you’re also providing analytics to these companies?

Totally. So if a company wanted to do a more broad-market research piece, what we would do would be to send samples out across multiple audiences—moms and kids, Gen Z/College, health and wellness—and say, let’s see who organically picks this. Every single consumer who claims a sample through a Sampler program leaves behind data about who they are. We can see a customer’s sampling behaviour over multiple platforms, and that data is very impactful for brands. The baby industry is one that we really have focused on, and we mostly market it to women and specifically moms.

Why such a focus on the baby industry?

Because it’s a really scary time, and it’s been shown that it’s one of the periods in a woman’s life when she spends most. You’re emotionally involved in your purchase decisions in a way that isn’t seen anywhere else. You know that others in your entourage have been through it, and you’re naturally going to talk to them about it. My girlfriends all just had babies, and I can’t go to a dinner party with them without hearing discussions about what products they’re using. This doesn’t happen with anything else—you don’t sit around having conversations about the kind of peanut butter that you put on your toast.

Why is peer recommendation important to what you do?

When Sampler started the first product we developed was a peer recommendation platform. So basically, if you were a fan of a Facebook page, you would be invited to share a sample with a friend. And that product is still incredibly valuable to us. Especially when people have questions like, “What is the best bottle to use with my child, or what is the best organic baby wipe, or do I even care about organic baby wipes?” These kinds of decisions have been proven to be really influenced by peer recommendation. From my perspective, I always say to brands that it’s a really good bang for your buck. If you’ve already acquired that customer, we can help you empower them to bring you two or three more.

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