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Promotional Products

2011 August 22

Aside from swanky advertising campaigns, flashy billboards and word-of-mouth marketing, most businesses turn to another method when looking to increase their brand’s visibility: promotional products. While we may think that consumers are constantly inundated with unneeded items like free t-shirts, coffee mugs, pens, umbrellas, stress balls, and more, there is no doubt that having and using these products gets a brand noticed and increases a company’s value. This practice is nothing new; promotional products have been around since the time of George Washington and have been an effective marketing tool ever since. Today, promo items are more popular than ever, and everyone from small Mom and Pop stores to international retailers are using them to increase their brand’s value. Take a look at why promotional products have become so widely used and why they will remain an effective marketing strategy for many years to come.

A Brief History of Business Promotional Products
I bet you didn’t know that even the great George Washington had a hand in promo items! Well, it’s true; the first known promotional items were commemorative buttons dating back to the first American President’s election in 1789. Then, in the early 19th century, advertising calendars, wooden products and rulers become popular as advertising materials, but there was still no official “market” for these branded items.

That was until a printer in a small town in Ohio, Jasper Meeks, got a local shoe store to supply area schools with book bags carrying the store’s logo on it. This soon caught the attention of another printer in the same town, Henry Beach, and in fear of losing ground on this hot idea, he too began to print logos and company names on products. Soon, Meeks and Beach were printing on and selling items like card cases, fans, buggy whips, marble bags, and even hats for horses. It was a hit, and a small idea became a big deal for those making the products as well as for those companies displaying their names on the products.

In 1904, the industry now included 12 manufacturers that were creating promotional items, and they decided to band together and hold the first industry association meeting. They created the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), which now has about 8,000 members around the globe. Companies realized that their brand, logo and even special events  could be viewed much more widely than before and their sales and profits began to increase. Seeing the value in business promotional products, they continued to create them and supply local schools, sports teams and organizations with items and also began giving out promo products as corporate gifts to their employees.

Why Promotional Products Work
Studies from Baylor University have shown that promotional products increase the customers’ positive feelings and overall feelings of goodwill towards the company. These positive feelings ultimately translate into increased sales. One study from the Dallas Marketing Group & Promotional Products Association showed an incredible 51.3% increase of quarterly sales due to the promotional products distributed previously in the year. Promo products also work because they’re easy for both the promoting company and the vendor.

A company can buy relatively inexpensive items in large quantities and supply them to local schools or sports teams, give them away as a raffle prize, hand them out at trade shows, or supply them to employees as an appreciation gift. Unlike traditional business marketing materials, such as a brochure or print advertisement, promotional products are designed with the idea that the customer will retain the item and put the product to good use while being continually reminded of the business whose branding adorns the product.
These items work well and help the company increase sales and revenue.

The vendor, in return, has the ability to get many large-scale orders and repeating business. Often, the items themselves are low in cost when ordered in bulk, so the vendor can spend very little on the products themselves and charge a little bit more to their customers when they imprint their logo on the product, earning a considerable profit.

There has also been a lot of research done by the organization that started it all. In late 2009, the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) designed a two-part study intended to evaluate a cross-section of the American consumer population about television, print, online and promotional products.

Here’s what they found:

  • 94 percent could successfully recall a promotional product they had received in the past two years
  • 89 percent could recall the advertiser of the promotional product.
  • 83 percent reported that they liked receiving promotional products
  • 48 percent would like to receive promotional products more often
  • 69 percent typically keep the promotional product

Those are some pretty impressive statistics and living proof that promo items are effective for brand awareness.

The second part of the PPAI study focused on comparing promotional products to mainstream media (television, print and online advertising) and evaluating their reach, consumer recall, and reaction to each.

Here’s what they found:

  • Promotional products were the only media that showed staggering results in recall and reaction.
  • Compared to TV, print and online advertising, promotional products delivered higher recall rates of the company/brand, and/or the product or service.
  • Consumers made a purchase after receiving a promotional product (20.9 percent) more often than after viewing a print ad (13.4 percent), TV commercial (7.1 percent), or online (4.6 percent).

Products and Uses
Many are often surprised at how quickly promo products became popular in nearly every industry, but when they realize just how many products are available for imprinting, it is easy to see that the options are almost limitless.

We have all seen the typical colorful stress ball or frisbee being tossed around the yard, the snazzy pens proudly displaying a local bank’s logo, or the boxy white t-shirt emblazoned with a big corporate logo, but there are many other effective ways for companies to display their brand.

Here are some lesser-known but very effective promotional products that have uses beyond gathering dust in one’s closet.

USB Drives: Especially popular in our all-tech world, USB drives are an easy way to promote a brand and help spread information about a company’s products or services. Because they can hold files, a company can attach a white paper, advertising image, or other marketing material to the USB drive and hand it out to prospective clients and customers.

Flashlights: A great idea for every industry, from manufacturing companies to schools, flashlights are a great way to help promote the idea of safety. There are many different kinds available too, so a property management company might want to purchase keychain flashlights to give to their prospective tenants, while an auto-supply company might want to give garages or dealerships clamp flashlights to be used when working on cars.

Eco-Friendly Tote Bags: The “go green” movement has swept the globe and everyone is trying to be more environmentally friendly these days. A great way for a company to show their commitment to this movement as well as provide a very useful item, tote bags are a good option for nearly every industry.

Golf Tees: It’s often said that many business deals are closed on the golf course, so this is a great option for any business looking to expand their current client base.

Custom Poker Chips: Especially popular for businesses surrounding casinos and resorts, custom poker chips are an especially unique way to promote your business. What may seem like just a little detail that would be overlooked by eager gamblers, poker chips are often in the forefront of play and examined by hundreds or thousands of players per day. Seeing the images of your logo on the chip will store in their memory even though they may be hard at work playing Black Jack.

With all of the new items that come out each year, we cannot forget about the classics. There is still much to say about the “old standbys”, like t-shirts, mugs, water bottles, and especially pens. There is no doubt that pens are in; personalized writing instruments are the most-recalled advertising specialty items (54% of respondents recall owning them), followed by imprinted shirts, caps and promotional bags. Among the “wearables” category, promotional bags were reported to be used most frequently with respondents indicating that they used their bags an average of 9 times per month. They also deliver the most impressions: each promotional bag averages 1,038 impressions per month.

Brand awareness is the most common use for promotional items, as many of the buying companies want their corporate logo or name to be visible to thousands of potential buyers.. Other objectives that marketers use promotional items to facilitate include new product introductions, employee relations and events, trade show handouts, new customer generation, dealer and distributor programs, employee service awards, and public relations.

Promotional items have also been are also used quite frequently in politics to promote candidates and causes. Like we mentioned in the History section, it all began way back with George Washington, and this tradition with promo items continues today. though many of the items, like pins, pens and stickers do not last that long.

Promotional items as a tool for non-commercial organizations, such as schools and charities are often used as a part of fund raising and awareness-raising campaigns. A great example of this was the Livestrong wristband, used to promote cancer awareness and raise funds to support cancer survivorship programs and research. In one year, the Livestrong campaign had 50 million yellow wristbands around the wrists of supporters, raising over $50 for cancer research.

Many high school and university sports teams also use promo products to help raise funds for their tournament fees, new uniforms or equipment updates. Teams will get t-shirts or other apparel printed with their logo and sell them to fans, family and friends to wear in support at their games.

There is also a lesser-known use for promo products: collecting them as a hobby. Most people would not find this fascinating, nor would they think of it as a profitable or worth while task. However, big brands like Coca Cola and Ford that have been effectively utilizing promotional items for their marketing and advertising initiatives have a long history of products that are now considered “antiques” and are worth quite a bit of money.

One of the best ways to use promotional products inside of a company is to use them to boost employee morale. It is a fact the the companies that have a system set up to give out rewards have a happier and more satisfied staff. Promotional products are great for this because they are one of the ways to feel good about working about a place. A company can set up a “competition” of sorts or a set goal that everyone strives to reach and reward all of their hard work with some of the company’s promo products.

When a company takes that extra step to include employees in marketing and development it benefits the company in the long term. Employees who feel that a company cares enough about them to offer a few extra bonus items during the year are more likely to remain employed at that company and to feel appreciated and continue to work efficiently as a valued employee.

Trade Shows
Trade shows and conventions have been a venue for businesses to get together and share information and new products with their competitors and customers for quite some time. The use of promo products at these events can help establish a company’s brand, and expand client relationships in order to create a lasting impression for products and services. Promo product use at trade shows has been quite popular and very effective. In fact, according to a study conducted by the Promotional Products Association International, 72% of trade show attendees who received a promo product remembered the name of the company that gave them the product.

With so many promo products to choose from, a company should be sure they are picking the right ones to make the best impact for the brand and ones that will correlate with their trade show marketing objectives. If the main goal is simply to entice visitors to the booth with the promotional items being handed out, toys and games are items that tend to attract initial attention. Food giveaways can also increase traffic toward a booth. If you want to provide more of a lasting impact for a brand, stick with classic promo products such as pens and key chains. Though these items may not seem very exciting for recipients, items such as these that provide a distinct function for users are often kept longer by recipients, meaning longer exposure for your brand. Another strategy to implement is to have promotional items correlate with the company’s products or services to help recipients better remember the brand. For example, companies in the travel industry often give away custom luggage tags. The best promo products are those that can catch the eye of a passer-by and be useful enough for that person to hang on to the item for many years.

When getting ready for events like trade shows, representatives not only need to think about the promo products being given away to potential customers, but also those needed to outfit their booth and sometimes even the representative! Items such as table covers and background displays imprinted with the company’s name and logo can provide excellent additional advertising and further entice visitors to your booth with its professional appearance. Outfitting employees in custom embroidered polo shirts and ID badge holders so they look clean, neat, and also more approachable for potential consumers is another great trade show tip. In situations like trade shows where there are often hundreds of companies and booths vying for attendees’ attention, it is important to do everything possible to make sure the brand stands out from the competition.

Covering the Expense Spectrum
One of the greatest things about using business promotional products is that they can be helpful to nearly all companies, large and small. A budget of only a few hundred dollars can still have room for great promotional products, though the selection may be a bit limited. A larger budget of a few thousand dollars makes things a bit easier, as there are more options available as far as products, color availability and design. However, promo products really can cover the expense spectrum.

We may just think of promotional products as cheap trinkets that are used to help a brand get noticed, but there are often quite expensive business promo products out there that are out to achieve the same goal.

Take, for instance, the celebrity gift bags that big companies put together for awards shows like The Grammy Awards, The Oscars, or The Emmys. These bags filled with high-end promotional items, are valued at upwards of $100,000 per bag. Last year’s Oscars included a bag with an $85,000 African safari with a personal chef, a $14,500 stay in Monaco, and a $7,000 trip to Connecticut, all sponsored by fabulous companies looking to increase their visibility. There is also a load of limited addition jewelry from the most exclusive jewelers in the world and vouchers for personalized fitness classes at high end gyms. Not too shabby. There is a catch, however. Companies that provide expensive gifts for celebrity attendees often ask that the celebrities allow a photo to be taken of them with the gift item, which can then be used by the company for even more promotional purposes.

Promo Product Return on Investment
No matter if a budget allows for $100 or $100,000 of marketing collateral, the buying company is always looking for a great return on investment. Common promo products have an incredibly great ROI and make this a new advertising initiative that is worthwhile. Many studies have been conducted to prove the effectiveness of promotional product ROI and have revealed that they are, by far, one of the best things to include in your advertising and marketing campaigns.

Most companies value their products on a cost-per-impression basis, where they compare the overall cost of an item to the number of times its advertisement was viewed by potential customers.  On average, the costs-per-impression of popular promotional items are as follows:

  • Promotional baseball cap: $0.002
  • Personalized calendar: $0.002
  • Logo bags: $0.002
  • $3 custom pens: $0.002
  • Shirts: $0.005

Compare these rates to TV ads, which generally have a much higher cost-per-impression, ranging from $0.007 to $0.019, or newspaper and magazine ads which cost about $0.033 per impression, and you can see that promotional products really are an economically great strategy for advertising.

Promo Products Are Beneficial!
Promotional products have a wide range of benefits for businesses including increased sales and product referrals, improved image to customers, and best of all, they can serve as a continual advertisement for the company for as long as a person keeps the product. The use of promotional products can affect the success of a business, and because of recipients’ positive attitude towards promotional products, businesses have been proven to grow by retaining current customers and helping bring in new clients.

Bottom line: If your company is looking to expand its client base and have yet to try promotional products, put this at the top of your list. Create a unique product plan, use identifying colors and logos and distribute them to your target audience. Then, monitor your sales and brand awareness over the next few months to see if your promo products are making the impact they have proven they can. There are great seasonal items available or products that can be used year round, so there is no excuse for not finding the right fit. If you’re thinking about gifts for a corporate holiday party, branded items to hand out to your employees, a great giveaway for a local club or organization, promotional products are the way to go!

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