Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Using Promotional Products Wisely and Creatively

Conventional and unconventional ideas that work

"Without promotion, something terrible happens ... Nothing!"
-- P.T. Barnum

Try to put yourself in the shoes of a customer or prospect walking the show floor at your next event. You're likely to be overwhelmed by an endless array of Frisbees, coffee mugs, paper weights and squeeze toys. What exactly does it take to catch your eye or to make an impression

Before opening a catalog or visiting a Web site and drooling over all the shiny items available to promote your organization, think about what you can do that will stick in someone's mind and remain cost-effective. Think about what you want the promotional products to do. What do you want to achieve at your next event? Do you want to generate "buzz" and attract attendees to your exhibit? Do you want to make sure every attendee goes home with something in his or her "goodie bag?" Or do you want to be more selective, rewarding actual prospects with something significant?

The best promotional strategies work toward one of two goals -- reinforcing your branding or emphasizing a call to action. Different products work better to help you achieve each of these goals. Let's start considering three types of promotional giveaways: practical, somewhat risky and green products.

Practical and "safe" options with staying power

When branding is your primary objective, give out high-quality, useful, practical items. Choose something that people will appreciate receiving, and will use often -- preferably several times a day. Some popular imprintable options:

  • Tape measures.
  • Mouse pads.
  • Calculators.
  • Hand sanitizers.
  • Wine openers.
  • Key chains.
  • Magnets.
  • Suntan lotion.
  • Ice scrapers.
  • Flash drives.
  • Pens and highlighters.

Pens? Doesn't everyone give these out? Aren't they old hat? Well, pens remain popular for good reason. They are cost-effective, come in a wide array of colors, are easy to customize and offer a wide rage of prices. Every time your customers reach for a pen, they'll see your logo, your Web site or your phone number. Whenever customers use it, they'll connect with your company. However, don't be too cheap and buy pens that don't work. Request four to five samples in different price ranges and test them out.

Different than the rest but riskier, too

Creative, whimsical or different items will set you apart and are memorable. But they carry some risk unless you find a way to connect with booth visitors or appeal to sentiment. Otherwise, they may get tossed. If you go this route -- be creative and be prepared to spend a little more to make a statement. Some popular options on the show circuit:

  • Removable tattoos.
  • Earplugs in an imprinted carrying case (for the plane ride home).
  • Business cards that turn into a sponge when wet.
  • Stress relievers (squeeze toys, Weebles, yo-yos, Rubik's cubes).
  • Piggy banks.
  • Mint and gumball tins in the shape of a truck, computer, home, etc.
  • Chocolate bars.
  • Gift cards.

If you are a new company, attend many shows each year or have a new product release, take a chance on a different item and see what happens. Whimsical items are often a great idea for customization -- to really fit your target audience. Earplugs are perfect for road warriors while a Rubik's cube is excellent for engineers or others who solve puzzles for a living.

For instance, one successful promotion at a bank involved sending a letter marked "Gift Enclosed" to key clients. Inside was a single dollar bill. Try giving away a silver dollar and business card to a qualified prospect who takes the time to listen to a full presentation. What's the downside -- $100? It's original, and they'll remember you long afterward -- that silver "cartwheel" will go home with them for sure.

And who doesn't love receiving gift cards? You'll want to save these for those you consider "premiere" customers, but a $10 gift card for Starbucks, ITunes or Amazon will make them remember you.

Green -- Good word of mouth, growing list of options

Recycled, biodegradable, organic -- you name it, it's available. Choose a green promotional item, and you make a statement about your organization and your values. You'll enhance your reputation and foster goodwill. Remember those pens and mugs? Both are available in an eco-friendly form. Some other green ideas:

  • Tote bags. Giving out an eco-friendly tradeshow bag provides attendees with something useful for the show and for years to come.
  • USB flash drives. Consider offering an imprinted USB flash drive filled with electronic versions of your slide show, printed collateral and an order form. If your budget is tight, hold a drawing, perhaps once or twice a day, for anyone who gives you a business card.
  • Water-powered calculators. Just fill the compartment with water as instructed -- and they work! Better still, they don't require batteries.
  • Apparel. For those attending an event, eco-friendly t-shirts and polos made from recycled materials are also very popular and cost-effective.

Green items are typically pricier than standard giveaways -- but shop around, and you'll see a lot more eco-friendly items available from suppliers, which indicates an increased demand from consumers.

Consider your audience -- One size doesn't fit all

Do your booth visitors spend their workday in a cubicle, or are they out in the field? Do they work from home, or are they road warriors who live in hotels and airports? Consider these important questions when purchasing branded items.

Gifts -- like promotional products -- have to be appropriate for the recipient. So, choose them carefully. Tradeshow exhibitors have long known this secret to success, and as an event planner, you can learn a great deal from their experiences.

Here's a sampling of giveaways at a recent high-tech event:

  • Digital cameras.
  • Computer accessories.
  • Ergonomic aids like grippers and "stress-relievers" (mouse pads and wrist rests are a little passé at this point).

Tip: You may also consider two sets of giveaways: 1) those specifically for "good" customers or potential leads, and 2) those for general attendees and other vendors walking the show floor, shoving anything they can get for free into their tote bags.

The Do's and Don'ts of Promo Items


* Make sure attendees cannot remove your name and logo from giveaways.

* Choose items that attendees will keep and use, not throw away or eat.

* Find something relevant to the local market: windshield shades in the hot summer sun, ice scrapers in the winter (remember it snows in over 40 states).

* Give out mugs and cups with your logo when you visit -- or mail them directly to your target group.

* Match your items to your target group's interests (e.g., realtors appreciate a carpenter pencil, tape measure or mini-tool kits).

* If possible, hand out your gifts personally: Shake hands, smile, get a card, give them their reward.


* Bother giving anything away if you can't brand the product to your company.

* Be a copycat: Envelope openers are useful; however, seven at one event is too much.

* Give out junk. The little balsa airplane might work well for a company in aviation -- but if it doesn't fly well, it'll come off as junk.

* Pass out items in the hope that prospects will give them to their kids. You want the prospects to remember you, not Junior. What's worse, it may feel manipulative to adult recipients.

Think strategically ...

Looking for products that will act as a call to action? These items should have less clutter for higher impact. They should also be highly visible and contain top-level information about your company. Your logo, a tagline and one or two forms of contact are usually the most information that will fit comfortably on this type of item. Keep it simple. Choose a product that will comfortably hold your message.

Looking to get your attendees really engaged with your promotion? A software company recently found a good way to launch a new product. To boost traffic in its tradeshow booth, staff sent a timed series of mailings to their top prospects. Each mailing contained a unique promotional item. In this case, the recipients really couldn't tell what the product was or how to use it. The only way to find the answer was to come to the booth.

This unique approach got people to the booth, and it gave the sales reps time to talk to the customers. As soon as they were done explaining the promotional product, they had a foot in the door to talk about their featured product. Even customers who took the promotional product and ran were exposed to the company's booth and basic message.

As an organizer, you now have a multitude of options that didn't exist even a few years ago. If price is not a major concern, you can really make your items stand out with your logo. Offering eco-friendly items is a great way to make a statement and set your organization apart -- especially since there's a growing demand for green giveaways. The list of eco-friendly options is long and getting longer. Most promotional-product companies offer some green choices, while other companies devote themselves to them entirely.

Even if you choose to play it safe, you have more resources at your disposal to shop for bargains or off-the-wall ideas until you find what suits your organization's goals. Best of luck!