The Power of Swag: Promotional products proffer prominence, prospects

PHOTO/CHRISTOPHER HOLLAND Sales of promotional products hit a record $23.3 billion last year.

As the co-founder of EBC Printing of Trexlertown, Murtaza Jaffer has ordered a wide variety of promotional items for its clients over the years.

But even he was surprised by the response to the bottles of rose gold nail polish that his employees gave out at the Lehigh Valley Women’s Summit in June.

“It was such a big hit and created such a big buzz that our phone’s been ringing off the hook,” Jaffer said.

The small, eye-catching bottle imprinted with his company’s name and contact information was a novelty item that appealed to the women attendees and stood out among the standard pens, mugs and other swag that vendors gave away.

“People are trying to find out what more we can provide for promotional products for their companies,” Jaffer said.

Proof, he said, that companies that are strategic and creative with their promotional products have a better chance of gaining new business.

With the promotional products industry reaching a record $23.3 billion in sales in 2017, a 9.3 percent increase over the previous year, clearly businesses are spending money on this method of advertising.

But do branded promotional products create new business and boost profits?

If a business owner buys hundreds of water bottles with her company’s logo imprinted on it, can she expect a return on her investment?

It depends how you define return. If a customer recognizes your company name because it was on the hand sanitizer you gave away, but doesn’t buy your product, you’ve created value – brand recognition – that eventually could result in a sale.

MEMORABLE

Branded giveaway items are more memorable than other forms of advertising, according to a 2017 study by the Promotional Products Association International, a nonprofit organization that represents 15,000 manufacturers and distributors of promotional products.

According to PPAI research, nine in 10 consumers recall the branding on promotional products they have received – which is 67 percent higher than broadcast advertising and 78 percent higher than online, print and mobile advertising.

What’s also at play with promotional products is that marketers capitalize on the understood social contract that exists when someone gets something for free – the recipient feels obligated to give something back in return.

Marketers hope it’s your business.

As to whether promotional products lead to a purchase, 83 percent of consumers said they were more likely to do business with brands advertised on promotional products, the PPAI said.

FUN, NOVEL

Unlike other forms of advertising, branded items are tangible, and when they are useful, such as mouse pads, USB adapters and squishy stress balls, they tend to have staying power.

Fun or trendy novelty items, such as the fidget spinner pens that Kreischer Miller, the accounting and business consulting firm based in Horsham, gave out at a business event last year, also lodge in customers’ minds, if not their desk drawers.

When promotional products replace everyday items, such as a chip clip or a bottle opener, they assume a more functional role in consumers’ lives, which increases exposure to the brand, PPAI said.

Eighty-one percent of people who responded to an association study said they have kept promotional products for more than a year, 22 percent for six to 10 years and 18 percent for 11 years or more.

USEFUL, GOOD QUALITY

Jaffer said the more thought and creativity put into a piece, the more likely it and your company’s brand will stick in a customer’s mind. Items that are high quality and useful, such as water bottles and lined tote bags, tend to be more successful, he said.

Andrea Hemphill, the director of development at EBC who came up with the nail polish idea, travels four times a year to promotional product trade shows to see the latest and hottest products and to bring back samples to show customers.

“We educate ourselves constantly to make sure our customers receive the greatest and latest,” Jaffer said.

Many low-cost promotional products are made in China, but the trade tariffs imposed by the United States could affect availability and prices, he said.

SHOWS, CONFERENCES

Trade shows and business conferences are a prime target for businesses to distribute promotional products.

BSI, an employer benefits company based in Bethlehem, was among the dozens of businesses that set up tables with pamphlets and an array of freebies at a health care conference this year at DeSales University.

“It draws people over,” said Nick Tranguch, director of sales and client acquisition, who gave away cobalt blue mugs with the BSI logo.

“And then it’s my job to start the conversation. Plus, it’s better than having an empty table.”

CULTURAL TRENDS

Jaffer said companies should develop a plan and put thought into the type of promotional products they want to give away. He often works with his customers to determine the best products for their audience.

Promotional products mirror trends happening in consumer culture, such as Fitbit-style gadgets and stainless steel thermoses.

Suburban Testing Labs, a water testing company based in Bern Township, took the concept of the trendy thermoses and ran with it. It imprinted the chemical symbols for calcium and iron from the periodic chart to reinforce their scientific branding.

Wearables, or promotional apparel such as shirts, jackets, and caps, are still the leading category, followed by logoed drinkware, which consumers say they use two to three times a week, according to PPAI.

LOGO, COLOR THEME

Univest, headquartered in Souderton, has a large inventory of fun and practical branded items that it tries to update and keep fresh, said Kim Detwiler, senior vice president and director of corporate communications for the regional bank, insurance and investment company.

But the company still gives away free pens at the check-writing tables at all of its locations because they’re handy and an easy way to promote the Univest brand, she said.

Univest employees often attend events where they distribute the items that incorporate the company logo and its blue-and-yellow color theme. Some of the items they carry include hats, tote bags, water bottles, cellphone card holders, umbrellas, carabiner keychains, screen cleaners, microfiber cloths and USB adapters. Workers also can buy the products for personal use.

AUDIENCE DRIVEN

Products are selected based on the audience the Univest employees will be working with, Detwiler said.

“If we’re in a school, we might take something kids would like to put on their backpacks, so we might take a piggy bank keychain. If we’re with seniors, then having branded sunglasses is something they’ll think is cool,” she said.

“We try to tailor items to make some kind of connection with the audience we’re going to be in front of.”

Detwiler said it’s hard to measure the success of a promotional item unless it can be tracked if a customer takes a measurable action, such as clicking on a website to get a free gift.

AN ARROW IN THE QUIVER

Promotional products are only one part of Univest’s strategy to spread awareness of its brand in the communities it serves, Detwiler said.

Jaffer concurred.

“The promotional product is just a tool,” he said.

“At the end of the day, people want to hear your story. The promotional product is the tool that helps you build that relationship.”

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