State of the Industry 2008

Online Marketing: Become A Web 2.0 Marketer
By Ken Hein

Many distributors may have read a blog entry and watched a video on YouTube. They may even have overheard their kids talking about Facebook. However, the vast majority of ad specialty distributors do not actually use these tools to promote their business. Either due to lack of knowledge, time or understanding – they simply don’t bother.

This has opened up a tremendous opportunity for early adopters who have embraced Web 2.0 to build their businesses. Bobby Lehew, director of operations for Robyn Promotions (asi/309656), began blogging in 2003. First, he did it among friends and family. Then he took a stab at writing an industry blog, but ended up “flushing” a number of ones that didn’t work.

He finally got it right with the launch of in 2006. The focus of the site is how to create and run company stores. “When you niche your business, these tools start making sense,” says Lehew who gets about 100 visitors a week to his site which translate to “one or two decent leads a week which isn’t bad especially when you look at the potential.”

He’s not alone. When all of the news hit about Bisphenol A and polycarbonates, Absorbent Ink (asi/295819) President Lee Eldridge decided to clear up some misinformation about the topic on his blog Ab Ink at “I got 1,000 hits on Friday alone,” he says referring to the day he posted his entry. “It helps drive traffic if you have good content.”

The more content and the more traffic to the site, the more likely the search engines will help clients find it, says Manny Okito, senior media relations associate for WunderMarx PR. “One of the easiest ways to create cheap buzz is to harness the power of the Internet – starting a blog is free. The more activity your blog gets, the higher up it moves in search engines like Google.”

Robyn Promotions, for one, is so committed to blogging that it launched a second blog last summer called and hired someone to write it full time. Another distributor, ePromos Promotional Products Inc. (asi/188515), also has two blogs ( and One is an entertaining look at the industry; the other is a series of case studies to help end-users come up with ideas. “Blogs position you in a way that make you more credible and make people want to buy from you,” says Mark Yokoyama, director of marketing at ePromos. At the very least, he says, it “maintains interest in your company even when you’re not doing work for them.”

This also holds true for online video and Podcasts. (asi/192001) regularly creates online how-to videos as well as conducts in-depth interviews with industry suppliers. It posts its videos on its site and has created its own channel on YouTube.  It has also posted the videos at Yahoo! and Google. Subjects include “how-to use eco-friendly products” as well as an interview with Paul Lage, the CEO of Norwood.

“The future is videos and podcasting, just like it was for blogs five years ago,” says Jared Emin, executive vice president of Web operations at “We hope to put out two online videos a week.” Emin, who posted the company’s first online video in 2005, says the trick is making the videos educational in nature (not a hard sell) and less than five minutes long.

When launching, Mark Trotzuk, president of Boardroom Custom Clothing (asi/40705) not only debuted his Eco blog, he made sure to add online video. This was necessary because it’s easier to show distributors and clients a video about eco-friendly apparel rather than tell them. “My customers will send their customers to my site and say watch the video,” he says. “Video can do it way better than print.”

ePromos also uses video to show promotional products in action. “We’ll go to trade shows like Ad:Tech and get people to talk about how their products are performing,” says Yokoyama. Absorbent Ink, meanwhile, put together an internal Christmas video that ended up on YouTube. “It reinforced the attitude of the people who work here, plus it help put some faces with the names,” says Eldridge. He is also putting together a recruiting video.

Social networks, meanwhile, are the low-hanging fruit of marketing. By creating a Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn profile, small businesses can cheaply (it’s free) and quickly connect with hundreds if not thousands of people. “I used to think LinkedIn was a waste of time, but people are finding us,” says Lehew. “It’s been a jewel for recruiting.”

Since ad specialties are a relationship business, social networking is a natural fit, says Emin. “Most people are in some sort of business and most buy promotional products,” he says. “I have friends from high school I reconnected with who bought products from us.”

Ultimately, online marketing tools are evolving and becoming more useful for ad specialty companies, says Lehew. “Promotional folks think online tools aren’t effective for business-to-business marketing, but it is maturing,” he says. “It’s no longer about having a static Web site. It’s about having a Web presence through your blog, Facebook, LinkedIn.” – KH