Standing Out with Your Promotional Products

There’s no such thing as a boring T-shirt or logoed pen. Need proof? Check out our list of 10 hot company promotional items and 50 creative ways to use them in your next promotion.

In the huge sea of marketing, everybody wants to be a big fish. And promotional products are a great way to turn a small campaign into a whale of a branding experience. Whether they’re big or small, traditional or unusual, promotional products drive home a company message that will stick with your clients for a long time. “The key thing that you want to think about is standing out and developing a promotional idea and giveaway that is different from what your competitors are doing and different from the kind of things that everyone is receiving,” says Catherine Kaputa, founder of Self Brand, a New York City-based brand consultancy, and author of U R a Brand!, How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success.

We’ve come up with creative ways to use many different products that’ll get your clients to take the bait for your next marketing campaign.

#1 T-shirt

Promotional t shirts are the top-selling promotional product on the market. There are just as many uses for this simple product as there are styles. You can choose screen printed or dyed, plain or multicolored. And new fabrics – like combinations of super soft cotton and moisture-wicking materials – are constantly on the move to make tees more comfortable than ever. “If it’s well-designed, a T-shirt can have a lot of advantages,” says Kaputa. “You’ve got to do a design that will appeal to the target audience.” That might mean tweaking the usual company logo or slogan, but it’s all worth it if the recipients think the product is cool enough to wear all the time. Here are 10 cool ways to make use of the tried-and-true T:

1. T-shirts act as billboards for street teams participating in a guerilla marketing campaign. Pair a group of people in matching tees with a slew of promotional products and you’ll have a foolproof way to reach your target audience.

2. If your company is planning a group retreat, think about gifting the participants with T-shirts that will always remind them of their getaway. The matching tees will forge unity during the event and make your employees feel like a winning team.

3. Research shows that salespeople love to tout their success. So motivating them to win a T-shirt that says something about their top performance (i.e., “Seller of the Month” or “President’s Club winner”) is a slam dunk. Plus, when they wear the T-shirt, their colleagues will be more inspired to perform as well.

4. Using a T-shirt as a free gift to help with a product launch is a simple but effective promotional strategy. Sometimes the shirt becomes the desired product. Indiana-based custom motorcycle company Chopper Farm started distributing tees to promote its bikes. Pretty soon they were so busy making the tees that the motorcycles were put on the back burner. The tees even made it into this year’s Grammy Awards gift bags. “For something that started as an experiment on our part, the response to the shirts has really shown us that there is a market for this,” says Justin Tysdal, CEO of Chopper Farm Custom Motorcycles.

5. The people in your target audience don’t necessarily have to be the ones wearing your logoed tees. Take a different route and try giving parents a T-shirt for their children.

#2 MP3 Player

If you want to reach a youth-oriented market, electronics are your best bet. Everyone from tweens to 50-somethings is carrying around an MP3 player these days. But the target audience is still the 18- to 34-yearold demographic. “Cutting-edge, high-tech tools make a lot of sense to a younger demographic,” says Kaputa. This age group has strong purchasing power and often spends big bucks on a variety of techy items. “When you’re using an MP3 player it’s best to reach a high-end, upscale target audience or use it as an incentive,” says Kaputa. Here are some fun ways to use this ultra-cool techno-tool:

1. A T-shirt might not be enough of an incentive to get people to check out a new store or company on its open house day, but the chance to win an MP3 player will get people in the door.

2. Pair an MP3 player with the purchase of another technology device. You wouldn’t want to give a boring mousepad with your logo on it to a tech connoisseur who just spent $3,000 on a state-of-the-art laptop.

3. Have you received complaints from a major customer you need to keep at all costs? Send him or her MP3 player preloaded with a personalized “I’m sorry” message.

4. Technology-enabled clothing has hot-wired the apparel and accessories market this year. Coats, pants and even purses are equipped with pockets to accommodate portable electronics. An MP3 player would make a great addition to any of these techy wearables.

5. Custom MP3 players are like music to employees’ ears. Arby’s Corporation used Dr. Pepper can MP3 players as giveaways for its top store managers. Employees and managers who achieve high sales and customer service accomplishments also receive them as an incentive. “Rather than try to capture the essence of the brand by placing a logo on a product, we incorporated the brand into the product: creating a soda can-shaped custom MP3 player with custom graphics,” says Heather Phillips, marketing manager of the company that supplied the MP3 players.

#3 Writing Instruments

As the second-largest-selling category in the promotional products world, millions of pens circulate each year. And by no means are all of them the same. Doctors’ offices are flooded with different styles. Each education institution has its own version. And businesses nationwide use them in varying promotions. “Pens are great because they travel with people to meetings, in the car, in the kitchen, etc.,” says promotional products distributor Cathy Shaw. Here are five ways to use pens to juice up a promotion:

1. Pens work great for nonprofit organizations, which frequently send out contribution requests that include logoed pens. Recipients are happy about the useful gift – and more likely to write a check.

2. College students aren’t known for their big budgets, so they appreciate free stuff more than other demographics. Simply showcasing free pens on your table at a job fair or other college event will increase your chances of getting the coeds to stop by.

3. Collecting information from your target audience is tough. Send a pen, along with a survey, requesting that consumers respond. Imprint the pen with half of a special code that survey takers can use to claim free musicdownloads, food coupons or other perks. Send them the other half of the code once they return the survey.

4. Everyone makes mistakes. But if you’ve made one with your client, it’s best to mend the situation quickly. Send them an erasable pen so that they can erase their mistakes just as you promise to erase yours.

5. Sometimes simply giving tons of free pens away is enough. Commerce Bank pens can be found at races, concerts, art exhibits, grand openings and many other community events. And sometimes they show up somewhere unexpected. Ron Mendoza, vice president of merchandise for Commerce, says that he’s heard stories of customers finding Commerce pens as far away as Thailand

#4 Digital Tire Gauge

Vehicles aren’t always the most reliable things in the world. So going the extra mile to establish relationships is vital in the automobile industry. Dealerships can use promotional products like a logoed tire gauge to bring traffic to the lot. Salespeople could hand out products simply to forge a trusting relationship with their prospect. And when a buyer drives off the lot with a new car, the salesperson will want him to remember where he bought the car. The key is to give customers or prospects a product that is useful, but also brings the car company name to mind. “A digital tire gauge is something that a lot of people might not have, and it’s related to what the company is selling,” says Kaputa.

1. Purchasing a vehicle is a huge financial decision. Help boost new car owners’ excitement with this gadget that they can use on their new expensive toy.

2. One of the worst sights a car owner will ever lay eyes on is a “check engine” light. Service centers would be smart to hand out this product while their customers are waiting. While they may not be able to fix their engine, they can at least feel good about being able to check the air in the tires.

3. Truck drivers spend countless hours on the road. The last thing they need to do is go out of their way to stop at a garage and check the air in the tires.

4. Most school driver’s education programs teach students the written laws of driving. But how many classes teach how to check the air in the tires? Include a tire gauge and instructions, along with a textbook for a practical spin on driver’s ed.

5. With a focus on child safety, one promotional products distributor recently worked with a Colorado school district to use a digital tire gauge key holder to promote bus safety. Keeping a rugged and easy-to-use tire gauge on their keychain prompted bus drivers to check proper inflation more often.

#5 Lip Balm

Upscale settings like ski resorts are great places to target people with pampering products like soap, shampoo and lip balm. Personal care products are useful every day. And once people get a small sample for free, they are more likely to grab the product off the shelf next time they see it. They’ll also remember the company that gave it to them. Plus, spa kits are popular gifts both at the personal and corporate level, even though they’re not given as frequently as an imprinted mug or pen. “People are inundated with so many marketing items, it’s really smart to select something that’s a little out of the norm,” says Kaputa.

1. People who spend days at trade shows inevitably become parched and dehydrated. Including a moisturizing and soothing lip balm with a trade show badge will have your clients giving your company lip service.

2. Ski lodges would benefit by including lip balm in a welcome package for their guests. Nothing wreaks havoc on lips like the cold and dry winter months.

3. Looking for an au naturel approach? Implement a tint-free lip gloss made of all natural ingredients into a promotion that targets organic product lovers. Women who prefer to go natural don’t want a synthetic-looking kisser.

4. A well-known swimming pool builder and supply company recently gave away lip balm with funny lids to customers at its summer open house. Prospects walked away with lip balm sporting either a Snorkeler or Beach Lady head on its cap. “The unique character and clip is what sells it,” says Scott Kennis, vice president of sales and marketing for the company that sells the lip balm. “The size makes it easy to hand out.” The item clips easily to a backpack, beach bag or purse, and gives SPF protection against summer rays.

5. Visits to the dentist don’t top the list of most people’s ideas of a good time, especially if their lips get chapped and cracked during the process. Dentists’ offices could bring smiles to their patients’ faces by including lip balm along with the standard free toothbrush, toothpaste and floss.


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