Your Logo Here: Why the Promo Industry Has a Branding Problem

By David Betke

The use of promotional products is an incredibly effective form of advertising. However, the industry has unintentionally become synonymous with office supplies due to the prevalence of the phrase "Your Logo Here." The problem is compounded by who sells and purchases these items, leading to a negative perception of them as trinkets and trash. Despite having existed for over a century, promotional products, also known as promo items or giveaways, continue to be a diverse and expansive market of manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers. In this article, we will delve into the industry, its role in marketing, and the challenges it faces in improving its brand image.

How Does the Industry Work?

The industry comprises manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers collaborating to produce and distribute branded items to businesses. These products are often given as freebies at events or as purchase incentives. The industry offers various items, including apparel, pens, drinkware, hats, bags, promotional outerwear, and more. While practical items like tote bags and water bottles remain popular, brands can opt for unique products for their business or campaign. However, the industry faces branding challenges because of how they are used.

Promotional products are the only marketing media freely given away with no plan beyond their distribution. With the "your logo here" mentality, there is rarely a call to action or any metrics to determine if the product generated any positive results besides people the comments that people loved receiving them, but people love receiving just about anything for free. 

Your Logo Here on shirts

Why Does the Promo Industry Have a Brand Problem?

Advertising Investment Vs Office Expense

If you have received a product catalogue, an email or visited a promotional items website, you've probably seen the ubiquitous "your logo here" emblazoned across any number of items. Unfortunately, most sellers flog products with some version of "we can put your logo on thousands of products." They take an order for the product, take your money, and you hear from them again when it's time for another transaction. There is rarely a plan beyond the distribution of products to your clients. There is rarely even a call to action included or conditions placed on receiving the product. Metrics seem to be mythical creature that exists only in fantasies. This is lazy marketing at its worst and why many perceive promotional products as commodities akin to office supplies. Your Logo Here only reinforces this perception.

If promotional products don't work, it is often because they were given away without a plan. So, the next logical step for a purchaser is to discontinue their use or find the lowest price because, without results, they are just an expense to be limited. Thus, promotional merch is delegated to someone who buys office supplies, or materials management, instead of someone with a fundamental understanding of marketing and communications. The race to the bottom to find a lower price with a distributor with even less marketing knowledge continues.

However, if we view promotional products as a strategic marketing tool, they can become an investment in your company's success. To experience how effective promotional products can be, consider the following:

1. Determine your objectives: identify the target audience, the message you want to convey, and the ultimate goal you hope to achieve with the campaign.

2. Choose the right product: select an item that aligns with your brand and that your audience will find useful or desirable.

3. Create a call to action: encourage people to take a specific action, such as visiting your website, attending an event, or requesting a consultation.

4. Measure success: track engagement, leads generated, and ultimately, the return on investment.

By taking a strategic approach to promotional products, you can turn them from a commodity into a valuable tool for growing your business. So next time you see "Your Logo Here," think twice before hitting the buy button and ask yourself how to make the most of this marketing investment.

In the hands of an agency with a plan, I can assure you that promotional products do work, and they work very well. Here are a few examples.

Common Misconceptions

The Pen or Mug is the Product

Promotional products are tools, but they are not THE product. The product is the campaign that generates results such as increased leads, higher sales, reduced accidents, recruitment success, employee retention, fundraising, social action, and more.

Whether it's part of a product launch, event, or trade show, you should use branded items strategically to engage with your target audience and leave a lasting impression. This can include interactive experiences, personalized messaging, and creative packaging.

A logo alone never gets someone to take action

Your Logo is Enough 

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 $5000 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?

So, why do so many companies still do this with promotional products?

Promo products are the only media form where this is accepted and encouraged. 

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. 

All Promotional Products Sellers Are The Same

Two types of businesses work with promotional products: the product flogger and the full-service agency.

While both types of businesses sell branded products, they operate differently and have different goals. Product sellers focus on the physical items and the customization process. At the same time, promotional marketing agencies prioritize developing an effective strategy, including metrics, and selecting the right products to achieve a client's marketing objectives.

The key differences between the two types of businesses lie in their approach, knowledge, and expertise. Promotional marketing agencies know the latest trends and can offer creative solutions tailored to client's needs and budgets. They also understand how to measure the impact of campaigns and use data to refine future campaigns.

On the other hand, product sellers tend to have a narrower focus and may not be equipped to provide the same level of strategic input. They are more concerned with fulfilling orders and delivering products on time and within budget. While they may understand their products well, they rarely have the expertise to help clients fully leverage their potential as marketing tools.

In conclusion, not all companies that sell branded merch are the same. Understanding the differences between product sellers and promotional marketing agencies can make a difference between more budget waste and measurable ROI.

How to Choose the Right Supplier?

Marketing Services Partner Vs Office Supply Salesperson

A partner should be a demonstrated expert in promotional products as an advertising medium. Ask for case studies. Case studies illustrate the effectiveness of products in real-world marketing campaigns. By reviewing these examples, you can learn how other companies have successfully used branded products to achieve their marketing goals. Here are some questions you can ask your promotional product partner:

1. Can you share examples of campaigns you have worked on? 

2. How did your clients use the products in their campaigns? 

3. What were the results of the campaigns in terms of brand exposure, customer engagement, and sales? 

4. Do you have case studies demonstrating how the use of products helped clients increase their ROI? 

5. Can you provide references from satisfied clients who have worked with you on campaigns? 

An excellent partner should be able to provide plenty of real-world examples of their work. By reviewing these case studies and testimonials, you can gain confidence in their ability to help you achieve your marketing goals with promotional products. 

Dimensional Advertising Piece

A Powerful Advertising Medium Positioned as Swag

If this industry is ever to be considered a superior marketing medium, we need to flip the script. Giving away branded items such as pens, keychains, and t-shirts has been a popular marketing strategy for decades. This method is ineffective because it does not create a lasting impression on the consumer, nor is there any way to measure effectiveness. The promotion is quickly forgotten after the item is used or discarded. It is also a waste of resources and not environmentally friendly. Rebranding as the branded merch industry will not make a difference.

Tracking the success of branded merchandise through metrics such as sales, customer engagement, and social media mentions can help businesses understand the effectiveness of their efforts. Data-driven insights can inform adjustments to the merchandise strategy to improve ROI.

The Future Market for Promotional Products

In 2023, we must look beyond types and styles of promotional products and instead focus on positioning the promotional products industry as a critical advertising pillar. We must educate end-users on the difference between wasting money on giveaways and investing in a campaign with a strategy. They need to differentiate the product floggers from the agencies, like differentiating a tv salesperson from an agency made up of copywriters, strategists and creatives.

To achieve this, we must emphasize the strategic nature of promotional products, highlighting their ability to drive engagement, build brand awareness, and foster brand loyalty. We must focus on creating data-driven and measurable campaigns, showcasing the value that branded merchandise can bring to businesses of all sizes.

In addition, we must prioritize sustainability and ethical sourcing in our industry, ensuring that we minimize our environmental impact and promote fair labour practices.

Overall, the industry's future lies in positioning ourselves as a strategic partner in advertising, distinguishing ourselves from the product pushers and demonstrating the actual value of branded merchandise in building successful businesses. As a multi-decade member of ASI (Advertising Specialty Institute) and multiple-time speaker at the PPAI expo, I will continue to make this my mission.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are The Most Popular Promo Products?

A: Instead of asking for the most popular products, perhaps the question should be, "What products will work best to help us reach and influence our target audience?" 

The answer will be different for each customer. The one-size "Your Logo Here" approach creates desk fill, not effective marketing.

Q: How can I find a reliable promotional products company?

A: Look for a trade association member company like the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) or (Advertising Specialty Institute) ASI. Ask for case studies. 

Q: How can I use promotional products to attract new customers?

A: Consider using promotional products as a cost-effective way to get your brand in front of potential new customers. Distribute items at trade shows, events, or as part of a direct mail campaign, but be sure to have a plan, including desired action and how to measure that action. 

Q: What is the cost per impression for promotional products?

A: 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), promotional products' cost per impression (CPI) can be as low as 1/10 of one cent – lower than nearly any other advertising medium – making it an excellent choice for smaller businesses lacking large advertising budgets. 

Q: What should I consider when choosing a promotional product category?

A: Consider your target audience, budget, and the event or promotion you are marketing. 

Q: What is the most important thing to consider before choosing promotional products?

A: Consider what you want them to do for you, who your target audience is, what you want the recipient to do to receive or after they receive them, and how you will measure their effectiveness.                                        

About The Author

David Betke has dedicated his career to helping brands that give back, make a bigger difference. His campaigns have helped save a 65 000-acre forest forever, reduced carbon emissions in a city measurably, and helped recruit three senior engineers during the height of a labor crisis. One even generated a 6000% return within six months and attracted a couple of great customers for life. David has been personally recognized with seven national marketing awards.