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How To Deliver a Successful Drinks Sampling Campaign 

March 24, 2022 by Tom Bronock

The drinks sampling campaign is a key tool for brand managers to drive awareness and engagement of their products. 

Both at launch phase and further in the brand’s lifecycle, sampling is an essential weapon in the drinks marketer’s arsenal. 

As the noise across the UK drinks industry continues to grow, with thousands of brands across multiple categories vying for attention, let’s dive into what makes a stand-out sampling campaign for drinks.  

Why Choose a Drinks Sampling Campaign?

A drinks sampling team for Greenalls Gin at Epsom Racecourse
The Cocktail Service supplied a drinks sampling team for Greenalls Gin at Epsom Racecourse

Liquid on lips really does work.  

Research from Sampling Effectiveness Advisors stated that “73% of consumers said they were likely to buy a product after trying it. Only 25% said the same thing about seeing a television commercial”

The difference is huge and is down to the undeniable cut through that an engaging sampling team can have with consumers. 

After working in this field for over a decade it’s become clear to our agency that the benefits of drinks sampling for drinks brands are plentiful as they vie for volume in the lucrative UK market. 

As with any live marketing activation though, there is a huge margin for error and a very real risk of not achieving the ROI brands expect from this kind of activity. 

This is down to several factors: 

  • Weak operational planning 
  • Poorly trained sampling teams 
  • Choosing the wrong locations for driving trail 
  • Sampling at the wrong times 
  • Campaigns that fail to engage or do not adequately collect data on touchpoints 

In essence there are costly mistakes to avoid but we hope this article might assist drinks brands in delivering effective alcohol sampling campaigns in the UK. 

What To Consider When Planning a Drinks Brand Activation?

The Cocktail Service staff at a Laphroaig "Opinions Welcome" sampling campaign
Case Study: Read how the Cocktail Service managed the Laphroaig “Opinions Welcome” sampling campaign

We have mentioned some of the key areas that will need to be considered to ensure drinks sampling campaigns are a success.

Here is a deeper dive into some of these: 

Campaign Strategy

Every sampling campaign needs a strategy. 

The strategy is your playbook and will allow you to articulate your goals to your chosen sampling agency. 

Typically, your campaign strategy will outline the overarching brand aims and key messages for sampling teams to communicate to consumers. 

It will outline your goals for the drinks sampling activation and KPIs to measure success. These could be as simple as number of samples trialled, through to gathering specific data on whether the consumer enjoyed your product. 

Including a mood board and brand tone guide will ensure that the look and feel of your brand are translated from your strategy through to the live sampling activation.

Operational Plan

As a drinks brand owner or brand manager the operational plan is a vital cog in the success of your drinks sampling campaign.  

It needn’t go into really heavy detail initially (your chosen brand ambassador sampling agency will feed heavily into this) but you do want the framework that you intend to work to. 

You will need to consider: 

Budget – how much budget do you have for your sampling campaign?

You will need to consider staffing costs, logistics, product, agency fees, asset production costs and any associated costs with location fees

The types of locations you are targeting– sporting events, on trade locations or festivals? Where are your customers found?

What number of locations do you want to sample at?

What is the approximate length of the campaign? 

These and several other variables should be established in the initial stages of your alcohol sampling campaign planning. 

Choosing a Sampling Agency

Malfy Gin Alcohol Sampling Campaign
Case Study: our alcohol sampling campaign with Malfy Gin

This is a key decision to get right. 

When working with any 3rd party supplier or agency there are several aspects which are important. 

Ask yourself:

Is there chemistry between the brand and staffing agency? Do they share your values?

From a working perspective do they align themselves as your valued partner, as committed to the success of the campaign as you are? 

Do they specialise in the area that your brand sits within?

For example – at The Cocktail Service we specialise in brand activation sampling campaigns for drinks brands – we would only work in this area and are not a sampling agency who work across multiple sectors.

Does the agency have good case studies and clients? Who do they work with year to year? 

How does the agency select talent and what frameworks do they use to monitor their effectiveness? 

These are just a few of the questions you should factor into your decision making when selecting an agency to work with. 

Brand Ambassador Staffing Brief & Training 

Mrs Foggs - Christmas Popup-82

Both agency and brand will need to work very closely in delivering the right product fit from when staffing a brand activation. 

Not all drinks sampling staff are equal once you factor in a brands ethos and guidelines, you’ll need to be extremely specific with which staff to utilise. 

For example, a whisky brand may require a different brand fit in terms of staff look and feel from a craft beer brand. 

However, there are certain non-negotiables when it comes to effective sampling staff for an activation: 

  • Engaging Personality – this is the key trait you need from experiential sampling teams. Effective sampling activation relies on engaging with consumers and building a connection between the brand and consumer in a very short space of time. 
  • Training – knowing the brand inside out, the key campaign messages and the deliverables for the brand are vital. They should be aware of how to drive first purchase by knowing where the product is available both on and off-trade. 
  • Energy – sampling is a tiring and sometimes repetitive marketing activity. Ensuring that the agency selects, and briefs staff with this in mind is crucial to maximise ROI. 

Although this will be the responsibility of your agency to deliver, brands should be involved beyond the brief to ensure the best possible outcome 

Data Collection & Evaluation 

The key to good marketing is data and interpreting that data, and without it you will fail to measure return on investment.  

A good metric to look at in the simplest sense is cost per customer touchpoint or cost per sample (CPS).  

This will give you a good foundation metric to understand what the cost is to engage with consumers and can be used across multiple marketing tactics from social media campaigns to tradeshows. 

Otherwise, the data you collect from your sampling campaigns is a wide opportunity.  

You could run a competition and collect contact details for remarketing. 

There is an opportunity to collect topline demographic information such as gender. 

You can gather feedback on reaction to the product or ask the simple question – would you buy in a bar or did you enjoy the product. 

The insights you gather will be largely dependent on what you want to achieve (based on your campaign strategy) and where is your drinks brand in its lifecycle? 

Aside from having a clear understanding of the metrics you want to track, you will also need to understand how your chosen agency will process this data and distribute it to you. 

There are a few options for data collection such as driving consumers to a competition via a sign up. However, we tend to collect our data via tablet and will do this live while sampling with consumers.  

This ensures accurate information and the highest ROI from a data collection perspective. 

Other Considerations 

Brand activation staff at Red Bull Lab Bar activation, Latitude Festival

The key areas to focus on when building a campaign are above, they are the areas where you will need to invest your time and expertise for the best possible results. 

There are though a few other elements to keep in mind: 


Understanding and adhering to licensing laws is important to ensure your activity is legal. Samples need to be of the correct legal size, responsible drinking guidelines must be adhered to including Challenge 25.

Pro tip: The Portman Group has a useful document on best practices for sampling

Location & Timing 

Selecting the right location for your campaigns is important. You need to ensure it has the right demographic for your brand and has adequate footfall (or indeed is not too busy).

The location must be seasonally relevant to your product (sampling Irish Cream Liqueur in August is not advisable!) 

Ensuring you choose the right locations and the right timing is a nuanced but highly important decision to make. 

Alcohol Sampling Campaigns: More Complex Than They Look

Although drinks sampling looks relatively simple it is easy to get it wrong and waste money. 

Marketing budgets are always tight and it’s the job of the marketing teams at drinks brands to squeeze every inch of return from every penny spent. 

To find out more about how The Cocktail Service could support your next sampling activation contact us here.


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