There’s More to Promotional Products Than Putting Your Logo on a Pen

by Cassandra Moffitt on

Take a look around your office. Chances are you’ve got at least one promotional product hanging around – a pen, mug, mousepad or hat imprinted with another company’s logo. You may have gotten it at a networking event, trade show, in the mail or when a representative from the company stopped in. Promotional products have long been a way to keep a business top-of-mind with potential or current customers (the earliest US accounts of which date all the way back to George Washington’s 1789 election), but just as with all marketing efforts there is a bad, good and best way to make promotional products work for your company.

The Bad Way

The bad way always starts with the best intentions. You’re the owner of an accounting firm, who has been trying to increase your corporate clients. You’ve gone to a few networking events and see other businesses like that big name bank or the chain oil change shop handing out pens and keychains to everyone they talk to – sometimes two or three at a time. Well, you certainly don’t want to stand out from these guys, so you decide it’s time to get some promotional products for your business.

You hop online to find the cheapest per-piece product you can. You find a place where you can get plastic luggage tags for a fraction of the cost of anything else. Your brand colors are red and gold, but you choose the green luggage tags because it’s the cheapest color option available. They offer to imprint your logo onto the tags, but that’s an extra setup fee so instead you ask them to just type your business name across the tag instead. You’ve decided to order five hundred tags, but decline to have a sample mailed to you for review before they do the entire run.

You place your order and wait several weeks for the final product to arrive. When you finally get a look at how they turned out, you realize they’re a lot smaller than you expected, and the plastic is really flimsy. Would this even stand up to the abuse luggage can go through at an airport? Regardless of your worries, you grab handfuls of them and take them with you to your next networking event, eager to join the club of having free stuff to give out. You’re handing luggage tags out to anyone and everyone – your coffee barista, your mail carrier, you drop a few off at your parents house, you put them out at the reception desk for people to grab as they come in or out. You know for sure that next month’s sales are going to be through the roof.

At this point in our narrative we’ve thrown up a number of red flags that make this situation “the bad”. Did you catch any? Let’s review:

  1. Your decision to hand out promotional products is based on seeing other businesses do so. The business and marketing goals of every business are different. Just because another business (especially one in another industry than yours) is giving out promotional products doesn’t mean it’s a wise spend of your own budget. The decision to invest in promotional products should be made with careful consideration to your business and marketing goals, your budget, your target demographics, and the message you are trying to impart.
  2. You certainly don’t want to stand out from everyone else in the room, so you should do exactly what other businesses are doing (in this case, handing out promotional products). One of the main goals of marketing is to differentiate yourself. Engaging in an effort that is exactly the same as another business (in this case, literally in the same room) only dilutes your message. If everyone is handing out promotional products (which can seem impersonal and generic), try a warmer marketing approach that sets you apart, such as offering people a tour of your facilities, inviting them out for coffee so you can learn more about each other, or following up with a hand written note after the event.
  3. You base your product decision and quality on finding the cheapest per-piece product available. When considering promotional products, the single most important decision you will make is what product to choose. You should choose a product that harkens back to your business (a luggage tag is great for a travel agent, but not for a tanning salon), while also being a useful product for your target demographic. A luggage tag is a great promotional product for a travel agent, but will miss the mark for a tanning salon. An iPhone stylus may not be the best choice if your target demographics are 65+.
  4. You choose product options that do not align with your branding. Most promotional products have options you can choose to further personalize your selection. These are options like size, the color of the product, the typography used, the color of the printing, or even the material the product is made from. When making these decisions, choose options that align as closely to your brand as possible. You may not be able to get your exact green, or your exact brand font, but coming as close as possible is preferred to having a promotional product that looks like it could have come from any company.
  5. You choose to use plain text instead of your logo. If the product you choose has room for your logo, use it. Nothing will better brand that product than using your logo instead of plain text.
  6. You do not view a sample before placing a sizable order. The only way to ensure that the product you receive is up to the quality level that you want is to ask for a sample. Most promotional product companies will provide this to you for free for for just the cost of shipping. This can save you a lot of money if the product isn’t what you expected.
  7. You realize the quality is subpar, but you hand them out anyway. The only thing worse than not having promotional items is handing out poor quality promotional products. People value your business based on how you show them it should be valued. Sub-par items are only going to say to people that you either don’t care enough about them as a potential customer, or you don’t value your own business enough to invest in a higher quality product.
  8. You give out your promotional products to anyone that will take it. This is a great way to spend money unnecessarily. You don’t want to be stingy with your promotional products, but try to save them for people you would consider to be “pre-qualified”. That is, current customers or people who could genuinely become customers. Although giving free stuff out to everyone can make you feel popular, the ultimate goal is to drive sales.
  9. You know for sure that these promotional products will drive sales next month. Promotional products are not full marketing campaigns in and of themselves. It’s highly unlikely that a free pen is going to convert a cold lead into a customer. But that pen may make them pay more attention to your Facebook ad, your email campaign, or recognize your billboard when they are driving down the highway. Promotional products are one piece of an overarching marketing campaign.

The Good Way

Now that you’ve seen the red flags, let’s retell our same narrative the “good way”.

You’re the owner of an accounting firm, who has been trying to increase your corporate clients. You’ve gone to a few networking events and see other businesses like that big name bank or the chain oil change shop handing out pens and keychains to everyone they talk to – sometimes two or three at a time. Well, you certainly don’t want to stand out from these guys, so you decide it’s time to get some promotional products for your business.

You hop online to find a promotional product that people might actually find useful. You find a place where you can get branded coasters for a reasonable cost. Your brand colors are red and gold, so you choose the red coasters with a white imprint of your logo to match your brand as closely as possible. You’ve decided to order 250 coasters, but decline to have a sample mailed to you for review before they do the entire run.

You place your order and wait several weeks for the final product to arrive. When you finally get a look at how they turned out, you realize they’re a lot thinner than you expected, and the red is more of a maroon than it looked on the screen. You grab handfuls of them and take them with you to your next networking event. As you talk with people who seem interested in the services you provide, you give them your business card, a brochure about your services, and a coaster for them to take back to their office. “Sit back and enjoy that cup of coffee knowing your corporate taxes are being handled properly,” you say with a smile. You know for sure that next month’s sales are going to be through the roof.

How did we do this time around? Definitely getting better! This time we chose a product that might actually be useful for our specific demographic, and we did our best to brand it to our company colors. The color may not have been a perfect match (we should have asked for a sample!), but it’s the closest we could have come with the options available. We’re pre-qualifying people before we give them a coaster, and we’re making sure to pair the coaster with a clever slogan and a piece of marketing collateral that they can use to learn more about our services.

The Best Way

Let’s do this once more, but this time making all of the best decisions we can for our situation.

You’re the owner of an accounting firm, who has been trying to increase your corporate clients. You’ve gone to a few networking events and see other businesses like that big name bank or the chain oil change shop handing out pens and keychains to everyone they talk to – sometimes two or three at a time. Well, you want to make sure the people you give promotional items out to remember who you are, and won’t just throw your product away the next time they come across a trash can.

You hop online to find a promotional product that would most appeal to your target demographics. You find a place where you can get branded calculators for a reasonable cost. It’s definitely more expensive per piece, but you know that you’ll only be giving these to people who are in a decision making role, and they are worth the cost for that sort of good will. Your brand colors are red and gold, so you make sure to choose the gold backing plate instead of the silver or black. You also spring the extra setup fee to have your logo and the slogan “Working with us just makes cents” engraved onto the backing plate. You’ve decided to order 100 calculators, but reach out to the company first to request a sample. When it arrives, you approve of the quality and durability, meaning you feel comfortable about the product you’ve chosen.

You place your order and wait several weeks for the final product to arrive. They look great, but of course you knew they would! You don’t take any of them with you to your next networking event. You talk with people who seem interested in the services you provide, and invite them in to your office to meet your staff and see how you operate as a team. At your meeting, you offer them a calculator as a thank you for stopping in. You also offer to add them to your email list to get timely reminders about upcoming tax deadlines, which they eagerly agree to. Your next monthly email campaign goes out, and when it arrives in that potential customer’s email inbox, they remember how great it was seeing your office, and what a nice gesture that calculator was. In fact, it’s sitting right next to their keyboard for those quick calculations! You know for sure that next month’s sales are going to be through the roof.

Conclusion

Promotional products, like all marketing efforts, come down to finding the right solution for your specific business or marketing goals and your target demographics. If you’re interested in finding out more about how promotional products could work for your company, reach out! We’d be happy to work with you to evaluate your situation and make the best recommendations.