Social Media + Promo = Brand Fans

Socialmedia-pmSocial media marketing is a form of internet marketing that involves creating and sharing content on social media networks in order to achieve your marketing and branding goals.  Promotional merchandise is products branded with a logo or slogan and distributed in marketing and sales promotions.  When you put them both together you have a powerful marketing strategy that can help your company stay ahead of trends and better target specific audiences, resulting in a new generation of brand fans.

Since social media is basically free and available anywhere for consumers, many companies already use it to find potential clients.  The next-level step would be to design a clever social media campaign that is tied to a unique audience or experience.  Consider these ideas to better connect with, and ignite, your followers:

  • Offer a Gift for Super-Fans:  Choose a few devotees engaged with your brand and reward them for their loyalty with a gift that would appeal to them.
  • Ask for a Shout-Out:  Send a message like, “Be one of the first 50 people to retweet our big news and receive XXX”.  Be sure to specify what they will receive and make it creative.
  • Drive Demand with Limited-Edition Items:  Create a custom item that represents something unique to your brand.  Offer it to your followers as part of a contest to sign up for a new service, buy a product, donate to your charity or book a trip.

There’s no doubt that clever promotional merchandise – of good quality distributed in a creative way to a specific target audience – can do big things for any company, large or small.  But you have to be ahead of trends and engage your brand fans where they spend their time – on social media.  So go ahead and surprise them with cool stuff – it will help you break through all the other marketing noise.

Can Swag Be Cool?

guitarsBefore we can determine if there is such thing as cool swag, we should first consider what the word “cool” represents, keeping in mind that what is considered cool changes over time, and varies among cultures and generations.  What was cool in the 1960’s would certainly not translate into the same for today.  One consistent aspect however is that cool is widely perceived as positive and desirable.

In addition, even with the subjective, ever-changing nature of what it means to be cool, it clearly represents individuality – a conscious decision to avoid conformity.  When we think of mobile phones – Steve Jobs, an industry rebel, created what most people consider to be the first truly cool phone.  Is there any cooler car than James Bond’s Aston Martin?  or singer Pharrell Williams’ Grammy hat created by Vivienne Westwood?  All these examples have one thing in common:  none of those items were common when they first came on the scene.

So, back to cool swag.  Yes, branded promotional merchandise can be cool.  But that doesn’t mean it has to be a product no one has ever seen before, or wouldn’t use.  After all, we had phones, cars and hats long before the aforementioned folks introduced their personal styles to the world.  The trick is to choose appropriate promo items that can be decorated with the corporate brand in a way that avoids conformity without ignoring the brand guidelines.

Creative graphics incorporating the company logo can be used on practical items like playing cards, socks, notebooks, glass water bottles, custom-shape flash drives and – one of my personal favorites – guitars!  The product is useful, and the presentation is unforgettable.  And speaking of presentation – don’t forget the impact of custom packaging, personalized print collateral and kitting items together to make a cool statement that is as individual as your brand.

Swag can definitely be cool!  Giving cool swag is all about the mindfulness of your approach to selecting the right product for the audience, and decorating the item in a creative manner that protects the brand identity while delivering that “wow” factor.  Keep your mind open to the different branding possibilities – your customers will notice!

(Image courtesy of Brand O’ Guitar Co)




Kickin It Up A Notch

soulkixCustomers always ask ,”What’s the newest product trend in promotional merchandise?”.  Today, one of the best answers to that question is custom printed canvas sneakers.

A growing desire for one-of-a-kind goods continues to drive the market for custom-designed footwear.  This trend is spurred by millennials on one end and baby boomers on the other, making it a very appealing marketing tool for companies in any industry.

The fact that there are few promotional merchandise options that are truly unique, custom  printed sneakers stands out as a way for companies to set themselves apart.  It’s a gift that lends itself well to team recognition or as a creative way to drive traffic to a trade show booth.  If you sponsor an in-booth drawing that awards 10 people each day with a pair of custom branded sneakers, you get their contact information at the same time you get their shoe size!

Custom printed sneakers may not be the answer for a large-scale giveaway, but it’s new, and it’s hot, and it definitely shows your company is kickin it up a notch when it comes to increasing brand awareness.



Marketing To Millennials? Get Practical


chairIt happens to everyone and the millennials are no exception – they are getting older.  But what’s more important to marketers, these older millennials have become a strong economic force with 95% employment and an average income of nearly $50,000.  They are the most up-to-date generation with the tech gadgets, but when buying cars, they choose used and practical over new and flashy.  They elect to buy a home rather than rent (over half of US home buyers are under the age of 40), and they are committed to practicality and convenience.

So, when purchasing or receiving promotional merchandise, this pragmatic generation is looking for more practical items that work well with their lifestyles.  The branded light-up bouncing balls and refrigerator magnet photo frames of yesteryear have been displaced by glassware, kitchen cutlery and CO2 alarms.  Flashlights have always been popular, but now they are part of a safety kit or given in tandem with a auxiliary light that comes on when the power fails.  Folding camp chairs that can double as sideline soccer game chairs are popular, as is anything that relates to the millennials’ passion for their pets.  Folding bowls that attach to water bottles for a portable hydration station and containers that include plastic bags for clean-up are practical gifts that will be used and appreciated.

Now that millennials outnumber baby boomers, it makes economic sense to track their distinctive likes and dislikes.  And when marketing to this demographic, if you remember to ditch the bobblehead for a more useful gift like a BBQ set or tech organizer case, you’ll make a brand impression that will translate to more loyal customers.



Eco-Happy Branding Ideas For Earth Day

After witnes21646827sing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, Earth Day founder, Gaylord Nelson, US Senator from Wisconsin, announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment”.  On April 22,1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies.  Since then, Earth Day has reached into its current status as the largest secular observance in the world, celebrated every year on April 22.

So how can you and your company make a difference in support of this massive movement?  It’s simple!  Next time you are considering a branded giveaway, consider if those items are made from recycled materials and/or can be recycled after they outlive their usefulness.  Not every product category in the promotional products world is available with an eco-friendly option, but plenty are, so maybe it’s time to ask that question.

In the meantime, you can ponder a few of the following ideas – time-honored and new – to support this year’s Earth Day celebration.

  • Eco Core Golf Balls:  100% recycled material and features a rubber core from recycled tires
  • Eco Fleece Blanket: 70% virgin polyester / 30% Repreve® certified recycled polyester
  • Recycled Notebook:  Paperboard cover with 70 sheets of lined recycled paper
  • Eco Bike Bottle:  BPA / BPS-Free Recycled HDPE (high density polyethylene)
  • Bamboo Award:  Renewable and recyclable bamboo on black iron stand
  • Recyclable Pen/Highlighter:  Recycled paper & plastic
  • Eco Plastic Handle Bags:  40% recycled polyethylene, 100% recyclable

The number of eco-happy products offered in the advertising specialties industry is growing – not just because it’s a worthy cause – but because the demand is there with companies across the country that want their audience to know they have the same far-sighted regard for our planet as they do.  Use this year’s Earth Day celebration as a reason to get on board the eco-happy train!




Paying It Forward

yellow stripesThe cost of distributing a branded giveaway can only be justified if there is a measurable ROI.  Questions that should be asked and answered range from the cost-per-impression of the item to the length of time a recipient keeps the product, and even what happens to the gift once the customer discards it.  Fortunately, the Advertising Specialty Institute performs a lengthy study every year to give us the answers to these types of questions.

Branded merchandise remains less expensive per impression than most other forms of advertising.  In fact, the only form of advertising with a lower CPI (cost-per-impression) is internet advertising. But with advertising specialties, the investment is modest, more targeted and allows for much greater level of interaction with consumers than other forms of advertising, like TV, magazine and newspaper ads.

Another benefit of using promotional merchandise to market your brand is the staying power of those products.  Some items, such as calendars, can stay around for the entire year.  Other types of merchandise, especially health and safety products, last for 4 to 6 months.  Outerwear and USB drives hang around for over 8 months, and drinkware, bags, caps, office accessories and shirts last over 6 months. And if the recipient chooses not to keep the item, 63% give it to someone else.  So you get double-duty impressions from one item.  Compared to a 30-second commercial, that’s a lot of bang for your buck!

Finally, and I believe most importantly, promotional items sway consumer opinions.  The study shows half of the people who received a branded giveaway had a more favorable opinion of the advertiser who gave it to them.  And, even more impressive, 63% of the people who received a piece of outerwear with a logo had a more favorable opinion of the company.  If we can agree that consumers who have a positive opinion of a company will be more likely to buy that firm’s products or services, then promotional items have proven to be a good investment.

As always, the exact product selected for a marketing promotion or an incentive gift definitely matters and will affect the outcome of the program.  But with careful consideration of the audience, the right promotional item at the right price will provide a solid return on the corporate investment.

Time For Action In The Second Half

Time for action. Stopwatch on white background. Isolated 3D image“How you respond to the challenge in the second half will determine what you become after the game, whether you are a winner or a loser.”  Lou Holtz 
Second quarter results are in – it’s time to look at the data and analyze how you make the most of the remainder of the year.  Whether the results met expectations, or fell short of the goals you started the year with, the second half of the year is the perfect time to “re-boot” your corporate energy and reenergize your brand visibility.
However, expanding your brand differentiation as your customers are heading into the third and fourth quarter frenzy can be challenging.   Employees are returning from summer vacations and already looking forward to the fall and winter holiday breaks; sales teams are reviewing their quotas and working harder to meet their goals; the finance department is concentrating on reducing spending and improving profits; and, through all of this, your objective is to somehow break through the noise in order for your brand message to be heard.  To help with that task, consider the following tips.
  • Donate time to community non-profit events:  As Aristotle said, we are what we do.  Volunteering in the community will set your company apart and position you in a different light.
  • Actively solicit customer feedback:  Knowing how your company has scored with customers in the first half of the year will help you map out a strategy for building on the positive and improving on the negative.
  • Optimize your social media channels:  Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram – these platforms all have their advantages, but if you don’t have the company resources to stay current on all of them, it’s best to narrow them down.  Expanding your brand presence on two or three social media channels is better than being nearly invisible on all of them.
  • Plan now for end-of-year customer appreciation gift – but send it at Thanksgiving:  Better to beat the end-of-year gift clutter, and express your thanks when it will stand out.  And don’t settle for another cookie tower that will be placed on the pile of holiday food that has already arrived.  Look for the newest, up-to-date promotional merchandise options and demonstrate your understanding that customers aren’t just corporate buyers, they’re people who know a well-considered gift when they see it!

Your company is in the second half and racing towards a great finish – it’s time for action!

Brands Connect With Experiential Marketing

hugExperiential marketing is a form of advertising that focuses primarily on helping consumers experience a brand.   Staging events with interactive experiences enable your customers and prospects to relate to your brand in a way that creates a memorable, long-lasting impression.  As a result, this type of emotional connection sets your brand apart from competitors, increases brand loyalty and drives sales.

Determining how to bring the event to the people and create a buzz-worthy interactive experience with your audience may seem like the biggest challenge of the planning phase, but in reality it is only the beginning of the discusson.

  • How will you advertise the event?
  • How will the event integrate with the larger marketing initiatives?
  • What social media channels can be used to reach the highest numbers of target consumers?
  • Which branded products should be used before, during and after the event to support the brand message?
  • Which emotion are you trying to associate with?
  • How do you keep the buzz going after the event is over?

The answers to those questions are different for every company, but the discovery phase is not.  Involving your expert corporate partners in the planning sessions is imperative to a creative and memorable event.  Your marketing team may know the demographics for your target audience, but may be less informed in the best content marketing strategy for your social media campaign or have little understanding of the best products available in the promotional merchandise industry to carry your brand message.

Once your planning team has been assembled, the driving mentality behind every suggestion should be how to connect your brand to the senses of the customers.  The booth should stand out; the experience should be creative, but natural (no cream pies in the face, please); and brand ambassadors should exhibit energy and enthusiasm in a professional manner.

Experiential marketing is the fastest growing category of the events sector for a reason.  Do it well and you’ll create brand advocates who will further spread your brand messages through word of mouth advertising, and become a loyal customer for life.


Tell Your Story

storyThere is great value in storytelling as a marketing vehicle.  A good story gives the reader a reason to put aside subconscious barriers, allowing you to communicate a message directly to their hearts.  Once you have reached their heart, you are one step closer to winning a new customer.

The story should be memorable, even contagious.  Corporate stories like the founding of McDonald’s Corporation by Ray Kroc, a 52-year-old milk-shake machine salesman; Harvard drop-out Bill Gates and Paul Allen forming Microsoft; or, one of my personal favorites,  the TOMS Shoes business of giving one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold, are stories that connect with the buyers.  Of course, once you have decided on the story you want to tell, one of the questions all marketing departments must answer is how to communicate the story.

Your corporate story can be communicated through many vehicles – advertising, social media, marketing materials – and, on a grass roots level, through the distribution of promotional merchandise at events and trade shows.  When working with this marketing medium, the story should be a short, concise mini-version of the whole narrative.  For example, “One For One” was gleaned from the history of how the company was founded and is a brilliant three-word line that represents the TOMS story and business model.   Fortunately, whatever that shortened version of your company story becomes, there are several marketing vehicles that can creatively carry the message.

  • Marketing Card:  Printed information card the size of a business card.  They are offered as part of the product purchase for items like cell phone grips and screen cleaners.
  • Banner Pen:  Ballpoint pen includes a retractable laminated banner that offers a cost-effective vehicle for your message.
  • Custom Journal:  Add a separate information page to the front of a basic business journal.
  • Hang Tag:  Easy way to include your story on gifts such as apparel, drinkware and briefcases.
  • Pre-Loaded USB:  Add your story to the memory on a flash drive and it will launch every time the user opens it.

Regardless of what marketing vehicle you choose to tell your story, remember that stories are meant to engage the reader.  Make it fun – make it heartwarming – make it memorable!