With a history that goes back at least as far as George Washington in 1789, promotional items have been around for a while. Two printers in Coshocton, Ohio in the late 1800s are considered to be the originators of custom promotional products as a business.
Branded book covers and marble bags were among their first products. In 1904, 12 promotional item manufacturers joined together to form the trade association now known as the Promotional Products Association International. Today, you can get your message on just about anything you can think of.
In the meantime, newspapers have seen their reach diminished by radio, TV and the internet. As communication has become more digital, the real-world presence of branded items has held steady, and by some accounts gotten stronger. A report by the Promotional Products Association International shows that sales of branded items continue to grow.
An estimated $21.3 billion in items were sold in 2016. The top items were: wearables (34%), drinkware (9%), bags (8%) and writing instruments (8%). The PPAI predicts growth to continue into 2018.
The top uses for the items were: brand recognition (14%), business gifts (13%) and employee gifts or events (11%). Other uses included new customers, dealer/distributor programs, public relations, new products and non-profit programs.
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In our increasing digital world, messages are fleeting, gone with a click on a screen or a remote. Promotional items stick around and sometimes become a part of a consumer’s daily routine. A favorite T-shirt, a keychain that hangs on the wall, a flashlight or a flying disc, they all last a while.
More than 80 percent of consumers keep a promotional product more than a year, according to PPAI research, with most people keeping items up to 5 years.
PPAI research also shows that when consumers were asked about a promotional product they had received in the previous two years, 3 out of 4 could remember the product, the advertiser and the message.
That kind of recall comes from repetition and is the key to getting a message to stick with a consumer, a quality often referred to as Top Of Mind Awareness, or TOMA. Put simply it means that a particular product or service comes to mind when you think of a general category. For example, thinking about a particular brand of tissues when you need a tissue, or asking for a brand name bandage when you need one.
According to the textbook, Advertising: Principles and Practice, people must see an advertisement nine times before they become interested in the message. Many other advertisers swear by the “Rule of 7,” suggesting the magic number of times an ad must be seen is seven.
The number of times an ad must be seen, also called its effective frequency, can vary by product or service, but most experts agree that repetition is a key part of advertising.
Consumers are bombarded with messages and advertising all day. According to Jay Walker-Smith, president of the Marketing Firm Yankelovich, consumers now see about 5,000 ads per day, compared to about 500 a day in the 1970s.
In fact, consumers go out of their way to avoid ads. Ad-blockers, premium subscriptions, DVR fast forward features, there’s an entire industry devoted to avoiding advertising.
On the other hand, consumers will go out of their way for a free pen, or coffee mug, or shirt, or almost anything that is free. In a small survey by the PPAI, 70 percent of consumers would pick up an item they found useful. An additional 23 percent would take the item regardless of what it was. More than 9 out of ten people would take an item that carries your message.
Those items often end up a part of the consumer’s daily routine. Ninety-one percent of consumers surveyed had at least one product in their kitchen, 74 percent had one in their kitchen and 55 percent in their bedroom closet/storage space.
That access to a consumer’s life can be had for pennies. Products like branded magnets and keychains can cost less than a nickel each, but can provide daily messages to customers about a business or product.
In the digital advertising world, you pay for every click or view of your message. With branded items you pay once for something that may gather real-life views for years to come.
In addition to repetition, which was discussed above, an advertiser needs to consider the message, timing, and delivery of the advertisement. What is said, when it is said and how it is spread can affect how an advertisement is received.
While the amount of printing space can vary on custom promotional products, it is usually not very big. The message needs to be short and simple. Instead of “Dan’s Donuts are made with the freshest ingredients, in small batches throughout the day to be hot and delicious whenever you order,” simplify it with key words. “Dan’s Donuts, Fresh, Hot & Delicious.”
In a short message it is important to include the business or product name, a memorable slogan and a point of contact. The slogan can be left out, or combined with the business name if space is tight, but a point of contact is a must.
If the message succeeds in connecting with the potential customer, there must be a way for the customer to get to the product. A web address, email or phone number are best. A street address or location may work for a business that relies on foot traffic.
Businesses that skip the contact info, hoping that consumers can find them through a web search, are putting themselves at the mercy of Google, Bing and Yahoo, which may lead potential customers to a competitor.
If a business is clever or lucky enough to have a web address that includes enough identifying information, that may be all that is needed. Something like DansDonuts.com or FredsCollisionRepair.com would work.
An advertiser can send the perfect message to the right people, but if the message or the product isn’t relevant at the time, the message can be lost. A message for a snow plow service isn’t going to get much traction in the spring or summer.
In the case of a custom promotional products, with their longer staying power, the relevance of the product may be more important. If a snow plow service distributes branded ice scrapers in the spring, both the product and the message may be lost. But if a pool or landscaping service distributes branded ice scrapers at the onset of winter, their message may resonate through the winter as drivers scrape their frozen windows and daydream about the warm days to come.
Just as there is a seemingly endless array of products to choose from, there are many ways to distribute them. Advertisers need to consider their desired audience. Each business or product is unique. Shooting T-shirts from an air cannon may work for reaching sports fans and a younger audience, but might not be the best way to reach potential clients for a money management firm.
Depending on the audience, businesses might find success through promotional booths, giveaway campaigns aided by more traditional advertising, or direct mailing of magnets or other small items to targeted consumers. A experienced promotional products company can provide advice tailored to specific businesses.
It's important to be clear on the goal of the promotional effort. The two most common uses of branded items are marketing and employee recognition. Both are good uses, but it pays to be clear what objective you are trying to reach.
Giving items to employees as gifts can boost employee moral, but it won't likely do much to promote your business. As mentioned above, most items end up in a kitchen, office or closet. In that case, the people who end up getting the message are the people who already know it. While this may be a good way to thank employees, it is a poor way to get the message to a new audience.
Promotions are a great advertising tool that should be a part of any businesses advertising effort. Digital, print, TV, Radio and billboards each have their own advantages. An orchestrated campaign with traditional advertising tied to a promotional event where items are distributed can give a business a burst of interest with long-term repetition.
Each can complement the others, but for staying power and repetition, branded items are hard to beat.
There is a lot to consider when choosing promotional items for a business or product. An experienced provider can help answer questions and provide a guide to a successful marketing strategy.
With more than 15 years of experience in the industry, Custom Center has the experience, to provide the best solutions for every type of promotion effort.
Items that will stick around for years and repeat an advertising message should be a part of any marketing budget. They have proven their effectiveness for more than a century.