Prepping your Alcohol Brand for SOND Sampling Events

SOND sampling events are crucial for pulling product through retailers and increasing business for your alcohol brand. Here's how to prepare for them.

Did you know that most alcohol suppliers start preparing for their SOND (September, October, November, and December) sampling programs in June? You may be wondering why it’s necessary to plan so many months in advance for events that occur toward the end of the year. 

The truth is that in-store demos are the best way to pull products through retailers for many months after the event. In fact, one shelf placement secured prior to SOND can stand for up to 24 months afterward! It’s the pull-through that matters most to your retail partners, so SOND can potentially lead to a 5-10x increase in business. In this blog, we’ll give you a step-by-step breakdown of how you can prepare for your SOND sampling campaign. 

How to Get Ready for SOND Sampling

If you haven’t already started prepping for your SOND sampling campaigns, here’s what you’ll need to do to get all your ducks in a row. 

Step #1: Prepare your schedule

Beverage suppliers often partner with their distributor partners to schedule their in-store samplings at both the independent level or with larger chains. Some stores will often allow brands to schedule months in advance while others may give less lead time. 

Book several events on different days of the week and times of day to see what combination will yield the best results. Once you have your schedule locked in, you’ll want to make sure your product is on the shelves and that you have talent ready to sample consumers. 

Step #2: Hire brand ambassadors 

If you still need to hire a team of brand ambassadors to run your sampling events, now is the time to staff up! You can find high-quality talent for your brand through event staffing sites like Pop-Bookings or CPG recruitment platforms like BevForce (Force Brands)

It’s also important to note that even if you do already have a team of ambassadors working for your brand, you might still consider contracting a few additional agents to meet the demand of your busy SOND sampling schedule.

You may want to contract a promotional agency to handle this step (and the following) for you. For tips on working with sampling agencies, check out this article:

Step #3: Assign individual samplings to your team

Confirm your talent’s availability and get them scheduled as far in advance as possible. Life happens and sometimes you need to change staff at the last minute, especially during the holiday season. Be sure to have your talent roster organized by market and a contingency plan in place if someone calls out.

Having strong communication with your talent or staffing agency is key here. With more means of communication than ever, it’s crucial to have a system in place for organizing your demo schedule internally and notifying your samplers/ambassadors of their upcoming events. For example, you can create a master calendar for your SOND schedule, and notify your team of upcoming in-store demos by sending out calendar invites.  

Step #4: Train your team

Stores can get very crowded during SOND, and there will often be multiple sampling events happening at once in a given retail location. That is why brevity is key when explaining your brand to your customers. Be sure to hand out clear and concise training materials to new reps well in advance of the sampling events so that they have time to rehearse their product pitches. 

Step #5: Create a system for reporting

In-store samplings are an investment. How are you planning to prove ROI? How are you going to quantify your results so your sales and marketing departments can get the necessary data they need from your sampling programs? What type of insights are  looking to gather from these events?

A good place to start is how many people does your brand ambassador engage with? And, how many  bottles are sold during the time of the event? This will help you determine your conversion rate and ultimately your talent’s performance. 

Additionally, who did the ambassador engage with and sample the most? Demographics are key here as this could drive your strategy for next year’s holiday programming. These metrics, along with dates, times and locations should all be put together in one place so your team can get the most information out of each activation. 

Step #6: Simplify & automate everything with tech

Because driving sales is such a high focus during the SOND period, every layer of the three-tier system — including sales and marketing, distributors, and retailers – is often stretched thin. As such, all of the important work in the field can take priority over the administrative work, and leave everyone scrambling for post-event recaps at the end of the month.

On top of that, deriving insights from all of your individual recaps to understand the bigger picture can also be a huge time investment, which is why you’ll want to automate this entire process. 

Sampling software like Tastings will allow you to create reports immediately after a sampling activation is completed. Plus, you can look at your Tastings dashboard for insights on the macro-level to see which stores, locations, talent and times are performing best overall for your brand. Understanding how your sampling program is working on a larger scale will give your brand a tactical advantage going into the new year. Also, these insights will show you where to focus your efforts for the following SOND season and maximize your sampling budget. 

SOND Sampling Wrapped Up

We all know that shelf space is precious and limited. Any point of distribution that you secure ahead of SOND means that your product can remain on that shelf for Q1 and into the following year. However, these placements do not sell themselves, especially for new brands or line extensions of current brands. Getting your brand in the minds and mouths of your potential customers is key, and there’s no better tried-and-true method than hosting in-store samplings during SOND. 

It’s important to remember that your retail partners will be booking up their sampling schedules with other brands as early as June. Additionally, some states have laws on how many bottles can be open in a retail store at one time, or how many samplings can occur in a single store per day. With hectic retail schedules, and your time and resources being pushed to maximum capacity, preparation is key. 

With the right schedule, staffing and reporting, you can set yourself up for success in the new year by having your best SOND retail sales season yet. 

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