You wouldn't buy ad space on any other media and display only your logo
so why do it with promotional products?

Why Swag Fails 
Here Are 9 Deadly Mistakes Businesses Make With Swag. We Bet Yours Is Making At Least Three.

 #1 No Plan
Handing out the newest shiny things and quietly praying for results is not a plan.

Promotional products are not the only media form businesses spend money on with little or no plan, but they are the most likely to be purchased without any type of plan, besides their distribution.

They are great at attracting attention but the way most people use them is like going fishing, taking out the prettiest lure, cutting off both the line and the hook, and throwing it into the water.

Sure you’re apt to get a lot of attention. There will be fish coming from every direction, attracted to your lure. 

The problem is, there’s no way to get them into the boat… and you go home hungry.

It’s the same with shiny things at your trade show booth. Sure your swag is going to attract tons of freebie seekers and time vampires, but you are still going home hungry and broke, if you didn’t make a plan.

Like fishing you need a hook, something to get the right people to bite (or take that all important first action step).  Then you need a line to draw them in. In marketing terms this is a sales, or action funnel.  It includes qualifying a lead, differentiating your brand and leading them towards that one bankable action. 

#2 Your Logo Here

Un-gag your swag! When was the last time a logo got you to pick up the phone?

Too many organizations waste perfectly good advertising space with just their logo. In fact promotional products are the only media form where this insanity is not only accepted- it is encouraged. “Your Logo Here” anyone?

It is like spending $5000 for billboard space and displaying only your logo. 

How would people know what you do, or if they have any need for your products or services.

Promotional products offer amazing opportunities for people to physically interact with your story. Use that space to tell your story not to just display your logo.

#3 First Impressions

Think of how your swag choices are helping influence the movie that's playing in peoples' heads around your brand.

Promotional products are often the first contact anyone makes with your brand. That contact is often at third party events like golf tournaments, or silent auctions. Or it may be at a trade show or job fair.

First impressions are an essential part of your brand story. If your product is orphaned with just a logo and no one knows who you are, you probably just wasted your money.

If your product does nothing to accentuate your brand story, or it contradicts your core values or key messages, you probably just wasted your money.

Make your first impression count. Your brand is the moving playing inside people’s heads when they think of you. Make sure that movie has a compelling beginning.

#4 Trinket Peddlers & Product Floggers

We have very effective trinket peddler deterrent.  Just ask them how to measure results.

There are two words in promotional products. Unfortunately, the majority of the people who sell them focus on the product part.  To the manufacturers you are only as good as the amount of products you flog. For this reason the industry for many, has a negative connotation. Having an incredibly low barrier to entry doesn’t help this perception. Anyone who can pick up a catalogue and slam a trunk can sell you products.

If you want the promotional part, hire an agency. Agencies will integrate them into your marketing mix; add story, strategy and metrics. Ask a trinket peddler to do this and you just get that blank look, followed by profuse sweating and all out panic.

#5 Last-Minute Marketing 

It's 2 weeks before the show and you don't have a plan to capture, qualify and convert leads, so you pick up the phone, call your trinket peddler, ask what's new, and throw more money at shiny things.
It’s an unfortunate fact but I can count on one hand in the past 25 years of working with brands, those who proactively planned how they were going to use promotional products. The common practice is entirely reactive.  It usually plays out like this:

You have an event, you call the person who buys office supplies to find something shiny to give away. 

500 people come to your booth and walk away with your free stuff.

You have no idea if any of them were potential customers? 

You get back to the office; get swamped by the day to day and repeat the same futile exercise 6 months later. Does this sound familiar?

Don't worry, we see it every day, but we are changing things one plan and one organization at a time. 
A little bit of copywriting and a simple funnel can change everything.

#6 Putting Your Reputation In the Hands of the Lowest Bidder  

Don't let two people who now nothing about brand conspire to damage yours. Keep your reputation out of the hands of both materials management and trinket peddlers.

This one begins with a true story:

My mom and dad had been loyal to their local farm supply store for decades and then one day they went to a harvest dinner.  At the dinner mom won the door prize. She was ecstatic. It was an insulated bottle with her favorite farm supply store’s logo.

One week later the bottom portion of the bottle came apart. My mother concluded that it was indicative of where her favorite store’s quality was going. Neither of them has set foot in that store since. Dad used to spend about $5000 per year there. Over the past 15 years, that is a loss of $75 000 because someone cheaped out on a bottle.

Your reputation and your position in your market are too important to be delegated to materials management or procurement. 

Don’t do it!

#7 Personal Shopping 

Just because you like it, doesn't mean it's good marketing. Remember It's about your customer's, not you. We see this scenario all too often.

The boss says, "There’s a trade show coming up for construction workers, get Sally to get 500 on something to give away". Sally picks up the phone gets some catalogues and buys 500 pink mugs with rhinestones, because “ She Likes Them

Far too often, personal taste trumps good marketing sense. Just because you like something doesn’t mean it will resonate with your customer. 

Try to stay on brand. The products you choose should accentuate your story and if possible draw your audience deeper into your story.

#8 Trusting Your Re-brand to a Designer

Designers and graphic artists are great on paper and web, but few understand brand or about production beyond web and paper.

If you have read any of my previous work you know my strong feelings on brand. You will also know that your logo and colors are only the culmination of the branding process. However, for the purpose of discussion let’s just talk about a rebrand in terms of visual identity.

Graphic artists and design firms live with two mediums: Paper and digital.

The vast majority we have encountered have no idea about production on other mediums, such as screen printing, embroidery, laser etc. As a result they design something on paper that is impossible or prohibitively expensive on the medium they are designing for. 

AND... of course few of them have a real grasp of what brand is, so they can make things pretty but if you haven't done the work on
 the foundation of your brand, so it's like putting lipstick on a zombie.

Make sure you avoid huge expenses in the future, by including someone who understands the real world applications of your brand, in the early planning stages of merchandise design or rebranding.

#9 Too Many Guides- No Brand Guide 

Without a brand guide for everyone to follow and keep on track, you are more likely to create a platypus for a brand.

Without strong brand guidelines and centralized approval, your organization runs the risk of brand fragmentation. This means different departments sending out different messages and confusing your audience, internally and externally.

I’ve had more than one very large client with several verticals who are poster children for this issue. 

Their brand is supposed to be let’s say 485C (Red). Because the organization is so large they deal with a number of vendors and agencies. I have personally seen their brand in dozen different (off brand) colors and with logo elements bent and stretched in every way. 
To their audience, they look like a home improvement project, not what they want to project as a brand. 

Lack of consistency can easily lead to lack of trust.

Create a brand guide and stick to it!