Successful Promotions

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Summer 2004

NEWS : Successful Promotions

The Magic Of Promotional Products

By J. R. Roren
When used effectively in a creative and enticing marketing campaign, few things can add an “abracadabra” to your response rate like logoed specialties...

There was scene in Godfather II, near the end, when Michael Corleone visits Cuba. There’s a meeting with all the Cuban dignitaries and American industrialists to celebrate the partnership and growth plans of the new alliance. The chairman stops the meeting to thank American Telephone and Telegraph Company for their gracious gift, a gold-plated telephone (no doubt embellished with the AT&T logo).

The gift, like the millions of other business gifts given before and after, is the cornerstone of the promotional products world; a creatively chosen, tastefully decorated product that serves as a reminder and everlasting expression of the benefactor’s wishes. It’s no wonder that “business gifts” top the chart of most popular uses of promotional products, according to recent industry estimates.

But as I will soon reveal, promotional products are much more than a business gift with a logo. Promotional products are the nucleus of an ever-growing industry that’s often misunderstood and worse yet, underutilized.

While most people concentrate on the promotional products available and the sale prices attached to them, I think we need to go deeper. So join me in my mystical quest as we look to uncover the magic of promotional products.

America Loves Promotional Products

In America, the proliferation of symbols, tokens and mementos are everywhere. Early Americans branded their cattle. That was our currency. Branding was taken so serious, that taking an animal that carried someone else’s brand was a capital offense. Championship fights are centered on the transfer of the belt. The World Series is played every year for the coveted ring. Hollywood bows to a golden statue called OscarTM. Our military goes into battle in proudly decorated uniforms that are adorned with badges, medals and ribbons.

Remember how powerful and intimidating General Swartzkopf looked in his uniform on TV briefs during the Gulf War? It’s hard to imagine him in checkered shorts, a white crew neck T-shirt and black socks up to his knees. Is it the uniform that makes the man? Many times yes, but it’s also the badge, button, pin, emblem and ribbon as well.

What is the first thing we do after a baby is born? Take footprints. Bronzed baby shoes and personalized blankets are promotional products that celebrate life’s most precious gift. Promotional products are everywhere.

Picture This

Ever think about the phenomenon of pictures? Our obsession with capturing a moment in time has built billion-dollar industries in photography, art, film, processing, paper, printing, etc. And what is a photo, really? A piece of life, captured onto something we can hold, collect and treasure. And even though the industry is now all but digital, the phenomena continues even more so. Why do we get excited about watching a video copy of what we just experienced in real life? Because we love capturing, saving and showing life.

Polaroid’s dominance during the ’60s and ’70s has been hugely eclipsed with the digital revolution. Most people think this is proof of how antiquated processes are naturally replaced by high-tech methods that are much faster and cheaper. This is true. But my point goes further. It goes to the real difference, or better yet, similarities between your Dad’s Polaroid and your daughter’s digital cell-phone camera.

Polaroid’s success was built on our human need for immediate gratification, the ability of a consumer to instantly turn a moment in time into something that could be held, saved, framed and kept for a lifetime. But it’s most unique virtue was the fact that it was instant.

We are addicts of life. All of us. We want memories captured in the highest resolution, able to reproduce on a key chain as well as a 40 ft. wide banner, but we want it saved on a disk smaller than a half dollar. But why do we want it saved? Why do we want it to be of the highest resolution? To be shown, displayed, printed, embellished, copied or hot-stamped onto something. And as soon as we do that … magic happens. This magic can turn a pickle jar into an ice-tea jar. How? By taking a plain generic pickle jar and imprinting a drawing of the sun accompanied with two words: “Sun Tea.”

The Art Of Promotional Products

A promotional product is a tangible item; an otherwise ordinary product that many times is a simple consumer commodity. But when that product is carefully chosen to fit your target audience and decorated with a powerful message, magic happens. Whether they’re treated as useless trinkets or the coveted ring is all in the perception and the usage.

My suggestion is that you don’t take them lightly. If you agree that American people are an extremely symbol-crazy lot, then you’ll begin to see the huge potential in promotional products. The ability to choose either a common consumer product or a highly creative new creation, choose your target audience, carefully craft your message and execute the plan is an art. That art is not only the basis of the promotional products industry, but is the basis of any great marketing plan.

Let’s get back to our photo. As it is, this photo is nothing more than one of billions of pieces of paper or film that capture a moment in time. It’s something that may be kept or captured, but more likely to be filed in a photo box or the infamous circular file. But, surround that same print with a 37-cent custom-imprinted magnetic photo frame and ta da …you have created a promotional product.

Yes, it costs less than a buck, is readily available and not the latest and greatest thing, but don’t let any of that fool you. Unlike a picture, it’s rare that a magnet (however plain or unimportant) ever gets tossed. Imagine this hard working little magnet surrounding your client’s or employee’s loved one. If you’re in the consumer business, I must think that having your targeted message on the homeowner’s refrigerator every day, wrapping your message warmly around their daughter’s picture from her first school play, wouldn’t be a bad marketing play.

Now let’s take that same item, a photo frame, and step it up a notch to a B-to-B friendly use. Let’s make it a nice wooden or acrylic frame that costs less than $10, and most business people would find useful and attractive on their desk or credenza. Now, imagine this frame containing a picture of a resort in the Bahamas, the location of your next sales contest vacation. What do you think the effect would be on a participating sales person who stares at this unique reminder every day when entering and leaving her office? I think you get the picture … literally.

It’s not the product or the price attached to that product. That gets way too much attention in our industry. It is your recipient and the behavior you desire from them, that should drive a successful promotion. Once you have clearly defined these factors to your professional consultant you’re on track for success. Does budget count for something? Of course. But as I have briefly shown, many ideas can be translated into very affordable products that can produce noteworthy results.

Promotional Products Vs. Other Advertising

I can’t think of any other advertising medium that is victim to as much misunderstanding, misuse and miseducation than promotional products. Notwithstanding, it’s one of the fastest growing, most effective forms of advertising being utilized today. It’s no secret that during 2001 and 2002, the U.S. economy suffered huge set-backs. The promotional products industry saw declines as well. However, while many conjecture that an industry abounding in “giveaway” products would be devastated in the wake of corporate belt tightening, the opposite is true.

While common forms of mass advertising suffered 20% to 40% decreases, the promotional products industry (now nearing $17 billion in annual sales) shrunk by single digit numbers and has already returned to positive growth.

Why has this industry faired so well even in the most uncertain economic times? One main reason is that promotional products work. Yes, in the arena of advertising, promotional products successfully compete with radio, television, newspaper and outdoor media as an extremely cost-effective way to reach a target audience. But this is a very important differentiator: Where radio, television and other mass media leave off as purely advertising, promotional products are just getting started. What if I told you promotional products can save lives?

Using promotional products to their highest potential starts with cost-effective, highly targeted advertising, but can result in:

  • Motivating prospects to try your products and services;
  • Thanking new customers and loyal clients;
  • Attracting, hiring and retaining the best staff;
  • Doubling the results of your next mailing or attendance at a trade show booth;
  • Rewarding and motivating a sales staff to peak performance;
  • Saving lives! It’s a proven fact that a carefully chosen promotional product that serves as a safety achievement award and/or continues to remind high-risk workers to work safely can reduce accidents, injuries, and yes, even save lives.

When you think of promotional products in those contexts, it’s amazing that some business people still consider them useless trinkets.

As a matter of fact, when you look at all promotional products can do for your firm, you begin to see them as an important part of a comprehensive business plan. For those who have the imagination, vision and desire to get outside their marketing vs. sales vs. production “box,” you’ll open yourself up to a powerful new advertising medium.

Outlast And Outperform

Let’s start with marketing. If marketing can be defined as your overall brand strategy, you’re way to transform suspects into motivated prospects, think of the ways you can raise your brand awareness and tempt prospects to come into your client fold with a branded product bearing your targeted message.

The way you recruit and train your employees, quite frankly, is a contest. A contest between you and every other company on the planet to find, acquire and motivate the smartest, hardest working employees. The way you build a team of dedicated, loyal employees is to reward and thank your people. With promotional products this can range from an item as informal as T-shirts for the company picnic to esteemed awards recognizing years of loyal service.

In sales, the never-ending questions are: “How do I encourage top performance?” “How do I turn salespeople who ‘reach their quota’ into superstars who outsell and outperform all of their competitors?”

As with all employees, recognition plays a vital role, but salespeople typically need more. Usually, they’re competitive and driven to succeed by many stimuli. The promotional products world abounds with highly creative, compelling items that can drive a salesperson to succeed and exceed previous goals.

Client retention: How do you transform fickle customers who are always looking for the best price into loyal clients who rely on you as their business partner? By differentiating yourself from your competitors. Not by saying you care, but by showing it. A promotional product’s flexibility to accommodate any budget makes them great solutions to positively amplify every step of prospect, customer and client contact.

If you’re ready to look at all aspects of your business and examine real ways you can reach your goals, you’re ready for promotional products. America’s smartest companies, after all, use promotional products to propel and keep their companies at the top.

Why Does The Magic Remain A Secret?

Using promotional products can be difficult without a plan. Work with your promotional consultant to plan an effective campaign that employs creative imprinted products designed to elicit a phenomenal response.

If you sell machinery, you visit the manufacturing department. If you sell copiers, you go to the office manager. But try to figure out who should use promotional products. Well, show me someone who is growing, hiring, celebrating, changing, moving, building, opening or launching nearly anything and I’ll show you great potential for hard-working promotional products.

Even if you’re not in a highly competitive field, promotional products give you the ability to quickly raise your products and service awareness at many levels.

You hold in your hands a publication that can continually help you build your business. Through a detailed analysis of usage and products available, you have been blessed with a plethora of business-building strategies. While relatively low in circulation compared to a Fortune or Business 2.0, this publication can be your secret weapon in fighting the ever-growing war for new customers, dedicated employees, motivated sales people and loyal clients.

Use it wisely and thank the person who gave it to you. What a magical gift it is.

J.R. Roren owns Synergy, a promotional products firm in Tempe, AZ and is the founder of the Business Building Institute, an organization dedicated to helping business people “Stop Running Their Business and Start Building It™.”