A Sound Investment

You can bank on a plethora of sales opportunities with financial institutions. Representing 7.5% of ad specialty revenues, this market ranks in fourth place.

You can bank on a plethora of sales opportunities with financial institutions. Representing 7.5% of ad specialty revenues, this market ranks in fourth place.

Cardinal rule number one: Know your customer. Retail banks and financial service companies are shifting their focus to their customer. Increased competition and a low-growth, low-margin business environment is forcing banks to find ways to distinguish themselves in an increasingly commoditized world, according to a report, “2015 Retail Banking Trends,” published by Strategy& (formerly Booz & Co.).

“Although most banks have virtually identical products, their customers are obviously distinct, and hence, offer these firms a pathway for differentiation,” the report says. This represents a tremendous opportunity for the promotional product industry, and the finance sector with its reliance on referrals and relationships is one of its top markets. Representing 7.5% of ad specialty revenue, the finance market ranks as number four of the top five markets for ad specialty sales.

“Loan officers, sales reps and agents are seeking a one-to-one connection with potential clients, and promotional products are a good way to intersect and give those prospects an item to keep them top of mind,” says Michelle England, director of branded merchandise at DataSource Inc. (asi/174103).

“Finance is such a big buyer of promotional items because this sector touches upon every business in some way, so branding and differentiation is pivotal,” says Jill Albers, executive director of global sales at Shumsky (asi/326300) and Boost Rewards.  “A lot of other businesses’ marketing efforts are very B-to-B (business to business), but finance is both B-to-B and B-to-C (business to customer).”

Promotional products can encourage someone to open an account, choose a bank or insurance broker and strengthen relationships. They can also be used to show a client that their money is safe in that client’s hands. Here’s how sales reps are showing financial clients why promotional products are a sound investment.

Invest In Your Customer

The financial markets are really about customer service. “When people feel appreciated, via a free gift or a positive experience, they will likely continue to interact with that business entity going forward,” says Bill Mahre, president of ADG Promotional Products (asi/97270"). “This outcome is the essence of promotional products and targeted marketing efforts. Historically, the financial markets have been an aggressive user of promotional items, trying to stay in front of potential and/or current customers going back for years.”

This sector lends itself to customer loyalty. “Financial services aren’t products you buy every day– they’re about long-term relationships,” says England.  “You want to catch them when they need you, and keep the referral positive to hold onto them.”

It’s never too early to solicit new customers in this sector. Many banks and insurance companies are targeting children in order to get them familiar with the brand as well as the concepts of saving money and planning for the future. “They target customers young and early, because unless there’s an issue, they don’t usually change banks,” says Albers. “Products can be used to help educate customers to go through the life cycle with the institution. As the client ages, there are many milestone marketing opportunities, like auto and home purchases, to get the client to engage.”

A community bank client of American Solutions for Business (ASB, asi/120075) partners with their local Head Start program as part of its community outreach and to stay involved with young people. ASB provides a variety of promotional items for this program, including wearables like T-shirts and polos, as well as items like coloring books for parties and events for the kids in the program.

The Head Start partnership has resulted in solid business and repeat orders for ASB. “They order a number of items multiple times a year,” says ASB sales associate, Mike Brewer.

“Don’t just push product. You need to understand the reality of your client’s market.”

Michelle England, DataSource Inc.

Some banks team up with local school districts, particularly grade schools, to provide bank tours. Handouts might include goody bags with rulers, coloring books and piggy banks with the bank’s name and logo. “They want young depositors,” he says. “If they can encourage the kids to start saving in grade school, the hope is that they’ll continue to stay with the bank as they get older.”

Another way banks promote their services to children is via the change machines in bank lobbies, where kids dump their coins in return for a ticket and an update to their passbook. Brewer says some banks allow kids to choose gifts and prizes from a treasure chest, with the better prize choices available to those who save the most money.

Financial companies should attend events that attract customers that might be seeking their services, says DataSource’s England. For example, local events like kindergarten roundups and fairs might attract potential customers that are interested in saving for college. Typically parents pass on banking advice to their kids, so capturing a client when they’re young increases the chances that the relationship with that bank or financial institution will carry on through the generations.

Seek Out Local Or Niche Opportunities

Locally sourcing business opportunities is your best bet when it comes to breaking into finance. “The large corner banks are harder to break into,” says Albers. “They often have contracts with larger institutions.” Also, there can be many gatekeepers.

Laws and regulations for banks and insurers vary from state to state, so it’s important to get in at the local level in order to understand the structure of the institution, such as its size and complexity, ADG’s Mahre advises. “Start at the grassroots level – the local bank – and work your way up,” he says.

Ask for the names of the regional managers and marketing people. In addition, local contacts are important as they want to create concepts and ideas that fit their particular community.

Banks offer a wide variety of products and services, and these institutions are engaging in more targeted marketing. “We’re seeing a trend of finance companies promoting specific lines, or tailoring marketing efforts to the specific needs of different bank customers vs. just promoting the bank’s name and logo,” Mahre says. “For example, one customer might receive materials targeted to retirement, while that same client’s newly married son who is also a customer, might receive information about mortgages.”

National companies may have product lines that are unique or specific to particular regions of the country. For instance, crop insurance is big business in the Midwest. American Solutions for Business provides wearables for insurance agents to wear in the field when they’re pitching insurance to farmers. In addition, ASB offers products for agents to give to the farmers as gifts and incentives. Hats are popular giveaways. “Every farmer I know loves hats, mostly a camo style or baseball hat,” says Brewer. On the higher end, ASB also provides jackets for farmers, typically a rugged, all-weather type.

“Credit unions are often overlooked, but with interest rates where they are, these organizations are growing,” says Albers. “This is a great sector to approach, as they focus on more local initiatives in soliciting customers, making it ideal for promotional products distributors, many of which are local.”

Teaming up with a local charitable group, and sponsoring events like a breast cancer walk sends the message that the company is community oriented, and can garner local press coverage. Sports bottles and T-shirts are ideal promotional products for this type of event, Brewer notes. Or how about first-aid kits as part of a program with a local hospital?

Printpal Promotions & Printing (asi/299946) recently supplied glow-in-the-dark flying discs for a community bank that was trying to attract new business and establish itself as a supportive bank for nonprofits as well, according to President Shelley Concannon. The client, which sponsors many athletic events, had a booth at the finish line of a local run. There was a party afterward, and they wanted their flyers to stand out as it got dark.

Sponsoring local sports teams can also represent a great marketing opportunity. In addition to drawstring bags and backpacks, mini footballs, basketballs and stadium seats for parents are all fun ways to promote the brand locally.

Commercial banking is another niche sector that distributors can target. “These banks are looking to sign up chief financial officers or business owners or whatever title controls the relationship between the business and the bank, and gifting is one way to reach them,” Albers says.

Getting the gift through the secretary is important, so Albers says they are using more creative packaging in an effort to get the prospective C-level client to want to open the gift.

Know Your Customer

Understanding your client’s industry and their client base is fundamental to success, says DataSource’s England. “Don’t just push product. You need to understand the reality of your client’s market.”

For example, if you go into a  Geico office, see if they partner with local events, or if a loan officer has local real estate support. “Find out what they’re trying to accomplish, and then target your recommendations to them,” she says.

One of DataSource’s national auto insurance clients wanted to attract more motorcycle enthusiasts. “We recommended the client attend Harley Davidson events, so we needed to figure out what product would excite this particular type of driver,” says England.

There is a legend among motorcyclists that evil trolls and gnomes can cause mechanical problems and bad luck, and many attach special riding bells to their bikes to ward off these evil spirits. DataSource recommended and provided customized riding bells and informational insert cards for the client to distribute at the Harley shows.  “We engaged a lot of potential customers, and the promotion was very successful,” England says.

DataSource has also had success with a promotion it did for a local mortgage company. “Lots of people hand out business cards, but most people put contact information into their phones and rarely hold onto business cards anymore,” she says.

Instead, DataSource recommended full-color screen imprinting of the client’s business card on quality water bottles, including the agent’s photo and contact information. “People hold onto the water bottles, which gives the agents long-term exposure,” England says. Since then, DataSource has since received two reorders from the same mortgage company.

“The biggest change we are seeing is the shift in how people interact with their financial services,” says ADG’s Mahre. “More is done with mobile devices and portfolio management, so technology items are in demand, even when you think of a simple thing like a stylus pen.”

It’s all about making interactions easy for the customer. Phone holders, chargers and flash drives are fairly inexpensive and functional, and are a good way to promote mobile apps and online services, suggests Brewer.

College campuses are an important focus for banks, in terms of both new accounts as well as job recruiting, says Michael Londe, director of sales at Summit Group (asi/339116). Promotional products are commonly used in these recruitment efforts.

For Summit Group’s clients, typical campus recruiting gifts revolve around mobility and technology. While some clients still favor giving pens and notepads, many of Summit’s clients prefer a tech item such as chargers and cleaning cloths.

“These companies want to convey that their clients can count on them to make good solid business decisions.”

Bill Mahre, ADG Promotional Products

Quality Rules

Product quality and safety is important to the finance industry. “Everyone has their antenna up for good and safe quality products,” says Mahre. There is an emphasis on perceived value, and although this sector doesn’t like to give away junk, they also don’t want to look like they’re wasting resources, he says. “These companies want to convey that their clients can count on them to make good solid business decisions,” so it’s important they select products that reinforce that message.

Shumsky is on the Quality Certification Alliance advisory council, so making sure their products are CPSIA certified is paramount. “We are advocates with all of our clients and everyone we touch, and we take it upon ourselves to make sure all of our product offerings are compliant, and that everything we present is CPSIA-certified,” says Albers.

Top 10 trends in Banking

According to a survey report, published by BAI Banking Strategies (, these are the top trends in retail banking for 2015.

  • Using customer analytics to drive contextual experiences
  • Expedited deployment of digital delivery
  • Mobile-first design
  • Increasing digital and social selling
  • Mass market acceptance of mobile payments
  • Focus on security and authentication
  • Industry consolidation
  • Enhanced customer incentivization
  • Investment in innovation, incubation and uncommon alliances
  • Increased impact of digital disruptors

Case Study

Mutual Fund Rewards “heavy hitters”

Stran & Co. (asi/337725) scored a home run when it implemented a plan to thank and recognize the top salespeople at a mutual fund client. Stran created customized baseball bats and golf balls, personalized with both the customer’s logo and the recipient’s name.

When one of their customers places a large trade, the client sends a personalized baseball bat with the recipient’s name and trade details, as well as their designation as a “Heavy Hitter” or “Genuine Louisville Slugger,” says Howie Turkenkopf, director of marketing at Stran.

The bats are sent to internal sales teams, as well as brokers who resell the mutual fund’s products. “Since mutual funds are often sold through third-party broker-dealers, they like to reward and give incentives to those brokers who sell their product, as long as its within compliance regulations,” he says.

Most financial companies do have strict compliance standards and set limits on gift items, which eliminates some of the higher end offerings one might associate with this sector, he cautions.

Since the program launched a year ago, Stran has produced and shipped over 400 bats and continues to ship 50-75 a month. The personalized golf balls are packaged in golf ball sleeves with each wholesaler’s photo and contact information on demand through Stran’s print and fulfillment partner, so it’s even more targeted and personalized.

“We know the program is successful because of customer feedback, consistent reorders and requests from the buyer to add more personalized items, similar to these, that have a personal touch and greater impact with the end-recipient,” Turkenkopf says.

Stran also developed a holiday micro-site for this client. Their wholesalers (salespeople) can place orders for their customers, who are usually broker-dealers or registered investment advisers who are reselling the client’s mutual funds. “These include food gifts and gifts that can be shared with an entire office. Popcorn tins and chocolates are always popular,” says Turkenkopf.

Stran includes personal notes and messages with each shipment, as requested. The program generates $50,000-$70,000 in revenues, and Stran has been running it for the past four years during the holiday season.

Jean Erickson is a NJ-based contributor to Advantages.