Giving away stuff for free might seem counterintuitive – but for Marie Chevrier, it’s actually a practical business strategy that carries big payoffs in the long run.

Chevrier is the founder and CEO of The Sampler App Inc., a startup that helps B2C companies with sending product samples. In itself, shipping off product samples is nothing new. But Chevrier is convinced marketers can do better with the practice.

In her mind, sending samples is a way of garnering data and building both leads and customer loyalty, which is key. The problem is, so many marketers overlook this, she says.

She recalls going to a Blue Jays game and having someone hand her a little sampler packet of turkey gravy. Getting gravy at a baseball game is random in itself, but what was even weirder was there was no follow-up.

“I was wondering, why am I the target market for turkey gravy? That frustrated me, because those samples were getting wasted … That’s a missed opportunity,” Chevrier says, adding there also wasn’t any data to show anyone was buying turkey gravy after trying a sample.

So instead of just giving away both the cow and the milk, she founded Sampler, a company that tries to blend sampling and social media into one marketing solution. What Sampler does is that it connects to businesses’ Facebook Fan Pages. To get samples, Facebook users can become fans of those pages, giving companies access to the wealth of demographic data and preferences the social network has amassed on these users.

What’s interesting about Sampler’s approach is that Facebook fans can’t just claim a sample for themselves. If a product piques their interest, they are only able to send it to a friend by posting the offer to his or her timeline. Then the friend can visit the application installed on the brand’s Fan Page – encouraging users to share and grow the brand’s core customer base.

“It’s not just Julie and Fred claiming an offer. It’s all of their friends, and [the sample] shows up more often on their newsfeeds,” Chevrier says, adding there’s also an opportunity to collect data on who’s buying specific products. Sampler provides marketers with data analytics, allowing them to figure out who their top customers might be.

“How much influence does each consumer have? … How would you compare your performance to others in the industry?” she says, adding at some point, she hopes Sampler will be able to give brand a look at how their customers are progressing through the entire marketing funnel.

Using Facebook also helps solve a problem that often plagues marketers offering samples – “freebie hunters,” as Chevrier calls them. These are people who frequent sites looking for deals, and then pass them along to others through deal-hunting websites. It’s akin to TLC’s reality TV show, Extreme Couponing, where shoppers take advantage of store coupons to buy as much as they can while saving money.

Unfortunately, these aren’t people who are likely to become customers, so using Facebook as a way to share deals is a good way to authenticate people, Chevrier says.

So far, most of the brands working with Sampler have been in consumer packaging, so they tend to target women, especially moms who make most of the household purchasing decisions. One of Sampler’s most high-profile, successful brands has been Living Proof, the shampoo launched by Jennifer Aniston.

However, there is still some room for other types of customers, Chevrier adds. She points to fitness and health-related companies that sell goods like protein powder, which skew more towards men.

Correction: A previous version of this post indicated Facebook users needed to ‘like’ Fan Pages to claim samples. However, Facebook users do not have to ‘like’ the pages to claim samples – they only need to visit the application installed on the brand’s Fan Pages.

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