Self-Promo Standouts

If you’re simply selling ad specialties, you’re missing a major chance to market your brand.

People claim to be sick of hearing about Kim Kardashian and her famous-for-being-famous family, but let’s face it, there’s a reason why Twitter breaks every so often – their shameless, tacky stunts sure get noticed.

Of course, the Kardashian way won’t work for more appropriately modest sales reps, but the underlying theory of self-promotion holds true. Those who do it well reap the benefits. In a competitive field, salespeople today need to aggressively promote themselves, and the best way to do that isn’t through selfies, but through self-promos.

>>Personal Branding Done Right

“We understand how to help our clients brand themselves because we’ve branded ourselves,” says Jess Sheppard, a products specialist at The Icebox (asi/229395). “We’re fanatics about cool products, and we wouldn’t put our name on anything that didn’t hold up to that standard.”

When done the right way, self-promos can engage new prospects, showcase your marketing expertise, spur orders and remind clients why they should come to you first. To help give you some self-promotion ideas, we’ve collected a variety of clever pieces that industry firms and reps have recently used. Read on to see them, plus learn top tips on how to make your self-promos truly stand out.

Make It Memorable
When he started in the industry in 1982, Cliff Quicksell says self-promos consisted of suppliers offering discounts on pens and other products. The iPROMOTEu (asi/232119) director of marketing estimates that the vast majority of industry firms are still missing a major branding opportunity.

“So much emphasis is placed on cost per impression, but my question is, ‘Does it make people pick up the phone?’” Combining promotional products creatively with unique packaging in a memorable way differentiates and enhances your brand, so that it engages and is relevant to your audience,” says Quicksell.

NY-based Axis Promotions (asi/128263) is one company that puts great emphasis on self-promos, pulling out all the stops with its annual holiday campaign. “Our current clients look forward to this gift every year – it reminds them of our creativity and is our way of thanking them for their continued partnership with Axis. For prospective clients, our goal is to blow them away and get a shot at earning their business,” says Larry Cohen, president of Axis.

The distributor’s 2015 holiday mailer was a stress relief care package centered around the therapeutic benefits of coloring. The tagline: “Life is full of stressful, unpredictable moments. Working with Axis isn’t one of them.”

Axis mailed out more than 1,000 promo kits containing an adult coloring book, a ceramic hand-shaped pencil cup, colored pencils, an eraser, a pencil sharpener, paperclips and a custom Belgian chocolate candy bar. The entire package was designed in-house and placed in a custom four-color process box.

The holiday mailer is one of several self-promo campaigns Axis creates annually. No matter what the budget, the focus is on “clever copy, good design and a useful product,” says Cohen. Axis’ large self-promos usually cost about $50 to $75 per unit, including custom packaging and priority shipping.

8 Self-Promos We Love!

Taglines Matter
A clever tagline can be as important as the product it accompanies, especially if you’re using an inexpensive or more traditional promotional item. “Success doesn’t depend on how much money you spend, otherwise this industry would not be built on the success of millions of inexpensive products,” says Cohen. “A koozie, pen or a keychain could each be an incredible gift if the messaging, packaging and delivery are on point.”

A cool product and tagline are paramount to Jon Borowka, an account relationship manager at Motivators Promotional Products (asi/277780). His ninja stress relievers became a huge hit last December. “People love stress relievers – they can leave them on their desk or throw them around, and some of my vendors do crazy things with them,” says Borowka.

Along with the ninja, Borowka’s self-promo piece included his contact information, business card and Motivators’ 2016 brochure in a box digitally imprinted with the company’s logo. The promo package’s slogan: Chop the Competition. Borowka mailed the package to 100 recipients – about half were recurring clients, and the other half were customers who hadn’t ordered for a while.

A marijuana dispensary client liked the ninja so much he called to ask if he could order a marijuana leaf stress reliever, and sure enough, Borowka was able to make that happen. He considers a self-promo successful if it results in a call or meeting. “The orders will follow,” he says.

Zebra Marketing (asi/365683) senior account manager Kimble Walch regularly does self-promos, either as a “happy” for existing clients or to recruit new business. “I choose items that keep the logo around for a long time, and I love functional,” says Walch.

One of her favorites is a pizza cutter from supplier Mi Line by Fey (asi/71032). She started using the product last year after it occurred to her that she had the same item (a sample) in own her kitchen for the past 10 years. Usefulness and shelf-life alone would make it a great piece for a self- promo campaign.

The pizza cutter carries the Zebra logo and Walch’s contact information, the tagline, “For Cutting Edge Marketing and Promotional Product Ideas,” as well as the line, “In my kitchen since 2005.” She gave out 500 last year.

Much of Walch’s business comes from marketing and advertising agencies. “These companies are big on digital and social media, but they don’t always know how to tap into promotional items,” says Walch, adding self-promos are an ideal way for her to show digital shops how ad specialties can be used as an effective marketing tool.

Room for Creativity
Rather than mailing out self-promo materials, The Icebox promotes itself in-house. Visiting clients are encouraged to step into the company’s retail-inspired self-promo room, designed to give the customer the experience of shopping at their favorite store, says Sheppard.

All of the merchandise is branded with The Icebox logo, and the well-stocked shelves hold a rotating variety of products. “We pride ourselves on being the purveyors of cool,” says Sheppard. Clients receive an Icebox-branded bag that they can fill with fun and unique items to take with them.

“If we see an item flying off the shelf, we know it’s a hit,” says Sheppard, who makes sure the room is restocked weekly. The Icebox tracks sales that are generated from a self-promo through a code within its processing system.

What has The Icebox learned from its tracking? Products “must be functional to generate staying power. And it absolutely must be cool,” Sheppard says.

Millennials – a key target audience for The Icebox – aren’t easily impressed, so promotional items must immediately speak to them and give the impression that your company can provide a differentiator, according to Sheppard. To appeal to millennials, the Icebox recently offered a hot sauce branded with the slogan: “The Hot Sauce to a Bland Industry.” Why did it gain traction? “Not only was it delicious and paired perfectly with tostadas, but it was perfect for our branding,” Sheppard says.

The Icebox branding is also on display throughout the company’s office and showroom. Employees wear Icebox-logoed apparel, drink coffee from promo mugs and click their mouse on branded mouse pads. In addition, The Icebox gives out T-shirts and asks key clients to take photos of themselves in the tees and post them on social media. Sheppard’s favorite feedback came when a client called to say a T-shirt design was so cool their teenager stole it.

Follow Up Is Critical
If your goal is to receive new business, track the self-promo package and call within 24 hours of its receipt, Cohen suggests. The next step? Set expectations and determine what you can do to earn a client’s business. While the gift may open the door, it’s up to you to stay top of mind, Cohen adds.

If Quicksell is sending something to a local prospect or client, he goes to the post office and finds out how long it will take to arrive at its destination, and follows up the day after delivery. Another idea is to have the client sign for the piece, and then follow up once you know it’s been received.

At Axis, each gift is themed, and intended for a specific purpose. The firm designs campaigns that must arrive early in the morning or help set an exact date for a meeting, and some are even personalized down to the monogram of the client.

“If your campaign is truly successful, the client may even call you first,” says Cohen. “There’s no better feeling than when a well-timed gift circumvents the selling process and turns your cold call into a qualified lead.”

Jean Erickson is a contributing writer for Advantages.