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Someone looking frustrated because they don't know how to get results with promotional products
24 January 2022

Why Promotional Products Work For Everyone But You?

Our most frequently asked question- "Do promotional products work?"


High-Value Prospects

Need to book a meeting with that high-value prospect who can make a real difference in your project's success? We challenge anyone to show us a better-performing marketing tool. 

Physical Brand Interaction

When used creatively, promotional products are the only media form that allows your audience to interact with your brand physically.

Sensory  Engagement Advertising

No other form of advertising can compete with the level of sensory engagement that promotional products provide.

Only Media Form With a Perceived Value

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. That's effective advertising!

Touchable Stories

In the hands of a storyteller, there is no parallel in their ability to draw your audience deeper into your story and keep it on the top of their 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. Now, that's brand magic!

Significant Wins Using Promotional Products

• Recruiting three senior engineers during the height of a labour crisis

• Reducing losses due to on-site accidents to zero within a year of implementation

• Generating a 4000% ROI within six months of a campaign launch

• Adding six figures in sales to the launch of a new business vertical

• 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 and apparel.

However, promotional products are also the most misused and under-measured of all channels. So, let's jump into nine key questions to determine whether promotional products will work as one of your top-performing channels or continue to be a budget black hole.

The number one reason promotional products fail is the same reason any marketing fails: no plan.

Promotional products are the most likely media channel to be purchased without any plan besides their distribution.

Handing out the newest shiny things and quietly praying for results is not a plan. Having 500 people come to your trade show booth to snap up your free coffee mugs, water bottles, or other freebies is not a result.

Far too many organizations confuse tactics with strategy and continually chase the newest shiny thing to draw more attention to their brand. Unfortunately, tactics only get attention. It is the strategy in a marketing campaign that converts attention into actions, sales, and hires.

Let's use a fishing analogy.

Imagine grabbing a shiny lure, cutting off the hook and line, then throwing it in the lake. Can you see all the fish attracted to your lure? Some are biting, but there is no way to get the fish in the boat with no hook or line. That's how you go home hungry.

It's the same with shiny things at your trade show booth. Your swag attracts plenty of attention but then what? You go home hungry if you cannot hook and reel them in.

The Solution: Before You Use Promotional Merchandise:

Create a plan by asking the right questions. We will be discussing these questions in an upcoming post.

#1 Are You Planning For Results with Your Promotional Marketing?

A photo of a woman with text reading " A goal without a plan is just a wish"

When was the last time a logo got you to pick up the phone?

How long do you think you would have your job if you spent $ 5,000 on billboard space and printed only your logo on the billboard (no call to action and no contact information)? Or printed business cards with nothing but a logo? That would be ridiculous, right? So, why do so many organizations still do this with promotional 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?"

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. 

Consider a prospect at a busy trade show:

They have a conversation with you; they get to the end of the aisle and forget what you talked about because they had 12 more conversations along the way. They get back to their hotel, dump out their bag, and see your swag with a logo on it. Unless you have spent millions on your brand, your logo probably says little about what you do and, more importantly, why they should choose you. 

Expecting them to research you after a show can be a huge friction point. 

The Solution:

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, they may become an integral part of your success story.

#2 Is Your Logo on Swag Enough?

A photo of a mug with eyes crying while its mouth is taped with a message reading "your logo here"

People flocked to your booth and loved the free promotional gifts. Is that a win? In our books, only if a number of them are potential customers who followed through and took out their wallets, joined your list, or in some way helped you reach your event goal.

Key metrics to consider are cost per lead, cost of acquisition, average sale size, churn rates, lifetime value of a client, or mailing list signups. Of course, none of these will be relevant if you neglect to consider who your target audience is in the first place.

Considering these, you can focus your budget on the channels and audience segments that deliver the best return on investment.

The Solution:

Measure success against your pre-show goal. Remember the call-to-action you printed on your swag?

Tools like SimpleLeads™  can help you prove which channels, events, and sources deliver the most leads that end in actions, sales and hires. That way, you can determine where to focus your budget for the best results.

#3 How Will You Measure If Your Promotional Products Are Working?

A photo of a tae measure with the caption "Measure Success"

What do your choices say about your brand?

The first contact a new prospect will likely have with your brand- is through advertising. In the case of promo items, it may be at a third-party event, such as a client's golf tournament or silent auction. 

Those who first receive your products may have little knowledge about your business. They may not understand who you are, what you do, or why they should choose you. You probably wasted your money if you orphan your product with just a logo (see#2).

You waste money if your product choices contradict your positioning, core values, or critical messages. Perhaps worse. See #8.

If your product choices are inferior quality, you risk repositioning your brand, and you probably did more damage than just wasting a little money. See #7.

The Solution:

Make sure you make your first impression count. Think of products that reinforce your story, core values, and position. Add a call to action that integrates with your marketing funnel. Never waste an opportunity to capture new leads, make new connections, and create new fans. Promotional products are up to the task better than most channels, as long as you use them right.

#4 Does a First Impression Also Apply to Promotional Advertising?

A photo of two hands shaking, except one hand is a smelly fish.

There are two words in promotional products. Unfortunately, many people who sell them focus on the product part instead of the promotional part.

It is all about selling more products. To the manufacturers, the trinket peddler is only as good as the number of products they 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. 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?

The Solution:

Unless you have a dedicated marketing department with a track record of providing results, specifically with the promotional product medium, I advise hiring a professional. Ask to see case studies. Review results, tell them your goal, and ask them how they would get you there. Be prepared to invest in a professional's time.

#5 Who Are You Trusting with Your Promotional Budget and Your Reputation?

A photo of a cheezy salesman in a cheap suit with his collar open. He has greasy hair. Is this the pewrson you are trusting your brand too when you buy promotiponal products?

Many of you have experienced this firsthand:

It's two weeks before an event. You finished your display, and your brochures are all printed, but you just started thinking about how you will stand out from everyone else and attract people to your booth.

So, you pick up the phone, call your trinket peddler, ask what's new, and throw some money at the latest shiny thing. Many people take your free stuff, so you call it a success. You get home, and your boss asks, "How much business did we get from the show?" You reply, "Well, many people came to our booth." And your panic attack begins.

It was all about getting attention but forgetting the then what?

The Solution:

A bit of strategically written copy and a simple funnel can change everything. It will undoubtedly make the boss happy.

Creating and sharing a marketing calendar with your marketing partners is another essential. If you get too busy, they can remind you of deadlines and ask the appropriate questions to ensure you have a plan to maximize your investment before an event.

If you are working on a new program, campaign, or launch, make sure you include your partners in the initial planning stages so they can ensure that you choose products strategically. You should also optimize your copy to lead to action at prime points in your marketing funnel (see#1).

#6 Are You a Victim of Lazy Promotional Marketing?

Someone lying on the floor with a tablet implying lazy, last-minute promotional marketing.

Are you making the deadly mistake of tendering out your reputation?

We all love to save money, but not at the expense of our reputations. No one wants to throw away a lifetime of potential earnings. Your reputation is not a line item!

As I have said, "Show me an organization that treats marketing as an expense, and I will show you an organization that will always live in the shadows of its competition." 

Tendering has its place. Your reputation is not one of them. Please don't let materials management reposition your brand.

Short-term savings can lose customers for life. 

Why? Here is 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 harvest dinner. After dinner, Mom won the door prize. She was ecstatic. It was an insulated bottle with her favourite farm supply store's logo printed on it.

One week later, the bottom portion of the bottle came apart. I noticed the supplier code on the bottom of the bottle and sighed. They are known for low-priced giveaways.

My mother was inconsolable. She concluded that her favourite store was now cutting corners with quality.

Neither Mom nor Dad has set foot in that store since. Dad used to spend about $ 5,000 per year there. Over the past 15 years, that is a loss of $ 75,000 because someone decided to save a couple of dollars by tendering out their promotional products. It may have looked good as a line item but lost a client for life. That never shows up on the books!

Your reputation and brand's position in your market are too important to delegate to materials management or procurement. 

If your reputation means anything, please don't do it! Short-term savings can cost you tens of thousands of dollars AND your reputation. They can also reposition your offering in the minds of your clients. (Read as: "lower your profit margins"). 

The Solution:

Treat promotional products as an investment, not an expense. If you have a plan and can measure results, you can measure the effectiveness of your investment. Choose a partner who can help you plan and measure those results.

#7 Never Trust Your Reputation to the Lowest Priced Promotional Products Supplier

A one star review, implying purchasing promotional products at the lowest price can damage your reputation

Are employees' personal tastes outweighing your marketing purpose?

Just because you or your employees like a product doesn't mean it is good marketing. Remember, it's about your customers, not you. 

We see this scenario all too often:

The boss says, "There's a trade show for our construction clients; get whoever orders our office supplies to get 500 of something to give away". The admin buys 500 pink mugs with rhinestones or 500 blingy pens online. She loved them, so she bought them.

Crazy, you say? We've seen it!

I've also seen engineers buy the oddest things because they thought they were cool. They had nothing to do with their brand, but the engineer was like a retriever with a stick. He just had to have that new shiny thing. Unfortunately, personal taste often trumps good marketing sense. 

The Solution:

My advice? Try to stay on brand. The products you choose should accentuate your story and, if possible, draw your audience deeper into your story. Ensure they reinforce your market position and are useful items people will use and keep.

Pro Tip: Think of purchasing them from your customer's point of view instead of your own.

#8 Is Personal Swag Shopping Repositioning Your Brand?

A pink mug purchased by an admin because they liked it, even though the target audience was male construction workers

Without a brand guide to keep everyone on track, you may create a Frankenbrand.

Without strong brand guidelines and centralized approval, your organization risks brand fragmentation. Fragmentation occurs when different departments send out mixed messages and confuse your audience internally and externally. 

A lack of consistency can easily lead to a lack of trust. For example, we have had more than one large client with several verticals who are poster children for this issue. 

One client's official brand guidelines state their brand colour as 485C (Red). Because their organization was so large, they dealt with several vendors and agencies. Over the years, I have seen their brand in a dozen different (off-brand) colours, with elements bent and stretched in every way. 

They looked more like a home improvement project than what they wanted to project as a brand to their audience. 

The seemingly unconnected issues led to losses in productivity, negatively affecting employee morale, resulting in lost business and more than one product recall and redo. All this because there were too many guides (agencies) and no brand guide.

The Solution:

Create a brand guide for consistency, and stick to it! 

Hopefully, this will set you on the road to getting the fantastic results that promotional products can.




Q: What are promotional products?

A: Promotional products are items like pens, drinkware, desk accessories, USB drives, power banks, t-shirts, and other items that are given away for free to promote a company’s name, logo, or message.

Q: Are promotional products still used in digital marketing?

A: Yes, promotional products are still used in digital marketing. While digital advertising is becoming more prevalent, promotional products are still an effective way to promote your brand offline and create a lasting impression with potential customers.

Q: How can I choose the right product to promote my company?

A: To choose the right promotional product, you first need to consider your existing marketing message and branding. Then, think about what items your customers might like and what items are relevant to your industry or company’s events. Be sure to have a plan!

Q: What are some common items used as promotional products?

A: Common items for promotional products include apparel, pens, notepads, tote bags, drinkware, USB drives, power banks, polo shirts, and desk accessories.

Q: How can promotional products help build customer loyalty?

A: By offering promotional products to customers, you create a sense of appreciation and loyalty with them. When they use or see the item with your company’s logo, they are reminded of your brand and may be more likely to refer your company to others.

Q: Why do companies use promotional products?

A: Companies use promotional products to increase brand awareness, promote a new product or service, and create a lasting impression with potential customers.

Q: How can I make sure my promotional products are effective?

A: To ensure your promotional products are effective, have a plan. Your plan should include, at the very least, identifying your target audience, what you want them to do once they have they have received the item, and a way to measure how many people took action. 

Q: What everyday items can be used as promotional products?

A: Everyday items like t-shirts, tote bags, drinkware, and desk accessories all make great promotional products because they are items that people use regularly and are likely to keep for a long time.

Q: Can referral programs be combined with promotional products?

A: Referral programs can be combined with promotional products to incentivize customers to refer their friends and family to your business. For example, you could offer a free promotional item to both the referring customer and the new customer they refer.

Why choose us?  We make promotional products work!


#9 Why Is Your Brand Guide So Essential To Promotional Products & Branded Apparel?  

A photo of a fish with a cat head implying that without a brand guide your promotional products and branded apparel can create a Frankenbrand
A promotional mug with a hammer in one hand and a board in the other implying promotional products work!

12 Things Promotional Products

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