The Tech Effect

Product Ideas You Can Target Sector With

Tech EffectThe burgeoning high-tech market presents a wealth of sales opportunities for distributors. Here are some ideas on products to target this sector with. Hint: Think low-tech.

Gregg Emmer says breaking into the high-tech market is not as intimidating or as daunting a task as many new distributors might think.

Where Tech items work

“A lot of them are afraid to approach high-tech companies because they don’t know enough about high-technology,” says Emmer, chief marketing officer for Top 40 distributor Kaeser & Blair (asi/238600). “That’s not part of the question. The question is: Do you know how to appropriately advise your customer on how to message people who want to receive the message?”

Not being familiar with high-tech promotional items won’t disqualify you from selling to the high-tech industry. In fact, many companies in the market aren’t necessarily looking for the same kinds of high-tech products that they happen to sell or utilize themselves.

“If we went to a bar, what am I going to sell to them? Bottle openers? Coasters? That’s all equipment that they need on a day-to-day basis to run their bar, not necessarily what they want to do to message the community and bring in more business,” Emmer says. “There’s confusion there. And in the high-tech industry, that confusion runs rampant.”

Emmer says it’s understandable that newbies within the promotional products industry incorrectly assume that high-tech companies want nothing but high-tech ad specialties. “We have a tendency to try to pigeonhole based on the work that the client does,” he says.

It’s worth the effort, though, to get to know what high-tech clients want and how they buy because it’s a sector that’s growing rapidly. In fact, the technology market accounted for nearly $1 billion in distributor revenues last year, or 4.4% of all industry sales.

Here’s a guide from the experts as to what works – and just as important, what doesn’t work – within the high-tech market.

Think Low-Tech
In the same way that bars and restaurants aren’t just looking for coasters when running promotional campaigns, and automotive companies may not seek out car-related items, Emmer says high-tech companies typically look for promotional products that aren’t part of the same industry they’re in.

“Do we only show automotive-related products to people who are in the automotive industry? No – they’ve got automotive products all over the place; they’re looking for something to break out. They’re looking for something that might be interesting to a brand-new driver,” he says. “So, the fact that they happen to be in an industry that we label as high-tech doesn’t eliminate their needs to deliver a message to a specific group of people. And if they find that delivering that message requires a hard object as opposed to an email, then they have the exact same considerations as any other business.”

As such, Emmer has found that high-tech companies may look at high-tech promotional items such as USB drives and tablet cases as competition rather than complements to their brand.

“They turn around and say, ‘Well, why don’t we just give away our own products?’” he says. “So in a case like that, it’s: What are you trying to accomplish? Who are you trying to reach with your message? Let’s see if we can find a promotional solution to reach that goal.”

Practical Always Wins
In other words, what works for high-tech clients are the same things that can work for any company running a marketing campaign: practical items that connect with an audience. “We see many of those in-the-center-of-technology companies using lots of conventional promotional specialty advertising items to deliver their messages,” Emmer says.

Bethany Brevard, co-owner of Proforma Professional Business Solutions (asi/300094), found that some of her most tech-focused customers prefer more traditional promotional items for marketing purposes.

One of Brevard’s clients is a computer software company that hosted a 36-hour “hack-a-thon” at Stanford University, during which computer programmers, designers and creators came together to create apps, solve problems and even design small robots.

“These were college kids, so for that event, which could be considered a recruiting event, we did 500 backpacks, and we co-branded with our company’s logo and the company that does the hacking,” Brevard says.

Inside each backpack from Top 40 supplier Gemline (asi/56070), Proforma Business Solutions included a toiletry kit and a hoodie. “It was going to be cold inside, so we did a really thin T-shirt zipper hoodie,” she says.

While the hundreds of aspiring “hackers” undoubtedly love high-tech products, Brevard knows they also value the practicality of backpacks and toiletries, both of which are always coveted on college campuses.

Kaeser & Blair has taken the same approach in its sales to Google, one of the largest high-tech clients today. “In the past few years, we have done tote bags, polo shirts, ice scrapers and some flip-flops that leave the Google logo in the sand,” Emmer says.

The ice scraper was used as a recruiting tool. Along with the Google logo, it included a catchy saying: If you worked from home, you wouldn’t be out in the cold scraping your windows right now.

“It was what we would probably refer to as a conventional promotional product as opposed to a high-tech promotional product,” Emmer says, “yet it was used by the quintessential, most high-tech company in the world.”

The moral of the story: Don’t assume high-tech companies need high-tech promotional items to fill their needs, because they probably don’t.

“Much of what we use in the promotional industry to carry messages such as chargers or power cords or anything connected with smartphones, or the carriers that we put our tablet computers in, and on and on – these are the very same products that the high-tech companies actually manufacture and/or sell,” Emmer says.

Know Your Target Demographics
Craig Nadel, president and CEO of Top 40 distributor Jack Nadel International (asi/279600), reminds distributors that marketing within the tech industry isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition, even within individual companies. “A big tech company – a Facebook, a Google or an Apple – they have a lot of different departments, and some departments have different needs,” he says. “You have to look at the demographic.”

To that end, Nadel notes that each department tends to target different demographics. “For example, we do a lot of business with a well-known tech company, and the business they get is mostly through recruiting people, so they go to college campuses and they try to get promising computer science majors to join them rather than join another company,” he says. “So, they give away backpacks, phone covers and trendy wearables because they’re going to 20-year-olds and probably more men than women.”

The key here is that tech companies tend to be targeting demographics that skew younger – and this is true for both promotional and recruiting purposes. “For what’s probably our largest tech company client,” Nadel says, “most of the business they do is for their recruiting arm, so they like anything that appeals to the computer science major. It’s not so terribly different: You still need a backpack. You still want to have a hoodie, things like that. We still sell a lot of $2 sunglasses because it’s a pretty good value product.”

And like any other sale, Nadel reminds distributors that it’s important to learn about the region in which these products will be used. “Obviously, people who work for tech companies tend to be techier and tend to be more comfortable with cellphones and backpacks to carry tablets and things like that, but they still want a jacket if they live in an area where it’s cold,” he says. “I would say demographics and who they are is much more important than whether they’re a tech company.”

Add Some Creativity
Just because high-tech companies may gravitate toward more traditional items doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for creative ways to present them to their intended audience.

“Technology companies tend to buy items that speak to their customers,” Brevard says. “Whether it’s a tech item like a battery pack or a T-shirt with a funny tech joke, the item is usually really creative and speaks geek talk.”

Brevard has come up with a creative way to deliver those tees, along with a number of other items such as buttons, stickers, hoodies, Snuggies and computer backpacks, for a client that sells proprietary software to IT departments across the country.

“They have online games that their customers can play – training games on how to use their products – and customers can get points for playing those games,” she says. “End-users can earn points by tweeting, posting, taking training sessions, speaking at events – many different ways. And then, they redeem those points on our e-commerce platform.”

The site has been up and running for nearly four years, and Proforma Business Solutions has made tweaks along the way based on the products that customers – most of whom are men in the 24-35 age range – are choosing with their points. “Some things that you would think have gone over well didn’t. We did a Bluetooth mouse; it didn’t go over well,” she says. “So, we changed from more tech thing to sometimes silly, fun items. One of the low-end items is kind of like a Nerf gun that shoots darts. That’s a really popular item. A lot of these offices are trying to be fun, like it’s all about riding scooters around the office and things like that.”

The “geek” T-shirts have proven to be the most popular, generating a large portion of the $50,000-$75,000 in revenue per year brought in by the e-commerce site. “There are four to five T-shirts with different sayings. One says, ‘I’m here because you broke something,’” Brevard says. “T-shirts are in the lower-to-middle range of points. They’re T-shirts that are very driven toward that market.”

If users want to save up their points, they can purchase items like a stylish backpack from Leed's (asi/66887). “You have to have a lot of points for those, but they’re really nice high-end backpacks,” Brevard says. “There are a lot of fun items for them to choose from.”

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