By David Betke
There has been a lot written lately about promotional products being a waste of money, arguing that promotional products have a limited impact on sales or brand awareness or that the money spent on promotional products could be better invested in other channels that have a more direct impact on revenue or customer satisfaction.
Sure, they waste money if misused, but the same could be said about any other marketing channel.
It all comes down to marketing strategy and how you use them. In our 30+ years of marketing, we have found promotional products to be a superior marketing channel.
Promotional items have played instrumental roles in some of our campaigns leading to significant wins for ourselves, our clients, and our planet, including:
• Recruiting three senior engineers from overseas during a labour crisis.
• Reducing losses due to on-site accidents to zero within a year of implementation, saving the client significant insurance costs
• Generating a 6000% Return on Investment within six months of a campaign launch and multiple clients for life
• Adding six figures in sales for a new vertical within one year
• Inspiring a community to reduce single-passenger vehicle use and reduce CO2 emissions measurably
• Motivating business leaders to fund and set up internal programs to combat violence against women
• Increasing festival merchandise sales by up to 400% in key categories
Our proudest moment:
• Helping save a 65 000-acre forest near Nelson, B.C. - forever (The West Arm Provincial Park) through the sales of our custom-designed t-shirts, stickers & magnets.
When used creatively, promotional products are the only media form that allows your audience to physically interact with your brand. Using promotional products, your audience can touch, feel, and use your brand daily, making it a tangible and memorable experience. This type of marketing creates a long-lasting impression on your audience and helps build brand loyalty.
No other form of advertising can compete with the level of sensory engagement that promotional products provide. They are the only media form that has a real perceived value. People don't ad-block them, turn the channel, or surf away. They enjoy receiving them, and, in many cases, a promotional product is kept for years. When you consider cost-per-impression, that's effective advertising!
In the hands of a storyteller, they have no parallel in their ability to draw your audience deeper into your story and keep it top of mind for longer. They are a gateway to your marketing funnels, an incentive to act, and a powerful reminder of how you made them feel when you touched them with your story.
Branded apparel can become an interactive billboard that sparks conversations around your brand, especially when you encourage your customers to share photos of themselves wearing your apparel on social media. This gives your brand increased visibility and promotes user-generated content that is trusted and valued by potential customers. By creating branded apparel that people want to wear, you're also creating a sense of community around your brand, which can lead to increased brand loyalty and advocacy.
Compared to other forms of advertising, promotional products can provide a lower cost-per-impression due to their longevity and visibility. For example, a branded pen or keychain can be used by a customer for several months or even years, exposing your brand to others and reinforcing the customer's loyalty. According to ASI (Advertising Specialty Institute), The cost per impression (CPI) of promotional products can be as low as 1/10 of one cent – lower than nearly any other advertising medium – making it a great choice for smaller businesses lacking large advertising budgets.
Graphic courtesy of ASI (Advertising Specialty Institute)
However, promotional products are also the most misused and under-measured of all channels.
Buying promotional products should not be considered without a plan. The plan needs to include who your audience is, what you want them to do to receive the product, and what you want them to do once they have received it. Before you spend money on promotional items, you must have a marketing strategy to measure their effectiveness as a marketing channel. If your organization is giving away promotional products without a plan, you probably are wasting your money. Ensure they are either an incentive to act, a reward for taking action, or essential in communicating a message.
That would be ridiculous, right? So, why do so many organizations still do this with branded products?
Promo products are the only media form where this insanity is accepted and encouraged. How many websites and e-mails have you seen displaying the ubiquitous "Your logo here?" It's time to stop! The promotional products industry needs to evolve.
Promotional products are the perfect vehicle to tell your story. Printing a logo alone on them is like gagging them and preventing them from telling it.
A simple call to action doesn't cost a penny more to print.
Choose the right product for the right place and time. Use the space to pique someone's curiosity to learn more. If you do it right and have a plan, the recipient may become integral to your success story.
It is all about selling more products. To the manufacturers, the trinket peddler is only as good as the number of products he or she can flog in a year. So, there is pressure to focus all their energy on selling the products.
There is also a very low barrier to entry into the promotional products industry. Anyone who can pay for a generic "your logo here" template website, carry a catalogue or slam a trunk qualifies. Is this the kind of partner you want to help with your marketing?
Would you hire someone who just sold you a TV to create your next ad campaign?
For your next promotion, ensure the buyer is not personal shopping or materials management trying to save money because that strategy will certainly waste money in the long term and potentially damage your brand. Let me expand on this.
Any marketing and advertising success depends on strategy, creativity and human connection.
Personal shopping is one of the seven deadly sins that will ensure your marketing budget ends up in a landfill. In my 30+ years of experience, I have encountered this more than I can count. The person who purchases office supplies is delegated to purchasing promotional products because they are viewed as a commodity and not the superior marketing channel they can be. They rarely have any marketing experience and choose giveaways that they like. The product is handed out, nothing happens, and the conclusion is that "Promotional products don't work."
Similarly, if materials management or the company's purchaser is in charge of procurement, they often focus on the lowest price. The products are purchased, handed out, and nothing happens! And we hear a similar refrain, "We buy them at the lowest price because they don't work very well, so we are just trying to limit expenses." There are two issues with this pervasive logic:
1. If the business had a marketing plan, it wouldn't be an expense. It would be an investment. Materials management is not equipped to purchase an investment. Their purpose is to limit costs.
2. Of all the channels in a company's marketing arsenal, promotional products seem to be the only one that is tendered based on a commodity (the product) vs a service (agency results).
The solution is to embrace promotional products as a marketing channel and procure them like you would any other marketing medium through an agency, not a product flogger, and by someone in your organization who understands the fundamentals of marketing.
For any marketing to be successful at generating results, it must begin with a plan.
The plan needs to include who your audience is, what you want them to do to receive the product, and what you want them to do once they have received it. Before you spend money on promotional items, you must have a marketing strategy to measure their effectiveness as a marketing channel. If your organization is giving away promotional products without a plan, you probably are wasting your money.
One of the most important things to consider when selecting promotional products is that they should be relevant to your brand. For example, if you are a tech company, you might leverage USB drives or phone chargers. Similarly, you might leverage water bottles or gym towels if you are a fitness brand.
If you can't measure it, it's not marketing. Metrics are critical to a successful marketing strategy. By measuring different metrics, such as conversion rates, engagement rates, and customer retention rates, marketers can adjust their strategies accordingly to achieve their goals. Without metrics, it is challenging to determine what is working and what needs improvement. Therefore, metrics are essential for measuring the success of a marketing strategy and making data-driven decisions.
Promotional products are often overlooked as a waste of money, but they can be a powerful marketing tool in the right hands. The key is to avoid buying from a product distributor and instead work with a promotional marketing expert who can help you create a plan and incorporate products into a broader story.
It's also important not to delegate the selection of promotional products to a purchasing department, as they may not have a deep understanding of your brand and audience.
Simply slapping your logo onto an item is not enough – it must be strategic and thoughtful.
However, the industry needs to evolve beyond just branding and focus on reframing promotional products as a legitimate marketing channel with measurable impacts. With the right approach, promotional products can effectively educate, engage, and leave a lasting impression on potential customers.