Branding All-Stars

Your sales mindset isn’t “one-and-done.” Help clients reinforce and boost their brands with giveaways, and you’ll forge long-lasting ties and multiple deals.

We went looking for branding standouts and the ways in which they use ad specialties.

It goes much further than handing out a mug or a magnet with a simple advertising message on it. The product has to complement the cause or image of the customer’s brand.
Which companies are getting it right? Here are some examples of those who’ve “got game.”

Establish a Reputation

Promotional product companies have to connect clients with effective giveaways. But that task is also incumbent on industry practitioners trying to get clients in the first place, says David Blaise, co-founder of Blaise Drake & Company and author of The Power of Promotional Products.

Blaise has been a seller in the industry since 1988, and started his consulting business in Wyomissing, PA, in 2001. When prospecting for clients, he advises targeting an industry, finding the appropriate contacts/buyers and taking time to consider several aspects of what will get and keep their attention.

Sound familiar? “Generally, you should send prospective clients items of high perceived value,” says Blaise. “If you have to think twice about sending a $10 item, or something more expensive, then maybe you shouldn’t send anything at all. Don’t send something cheap. But do think it through and spend your money on likely prospects.”

Show that you’re a branding all-star, and you can make a client one, too, by targeting specific industries with products that will be seen during the working day. “If you’re trying to get to executives, use desk items,” says Blaise. “If it’s farmers, caps and keychains are better. We work with a lot of people targeting the nursing industry. Nurses need pens, and lose them often, so we send colorful branded pens on lanyards.”

Matching products to specific clients is a prescription for success.

Be Consistent

The Cooley Group went through an extensive process to re-brand itself a couple years ago. Now, Jeana Nicotera, brand consultant for the company’s sales office in Utica NY, uses her own experience in overhauling Cooley Group’s brand to help sell to customers.

Nicotera preaches about consistency across the brand. “I can help other companies become consistent because I have so much experience doing it with our own company,” she says. “When we did a discovery phase of who we were, we decided to change our logo, colors, fonts, our literature, our website, everything. Even our titles. We’re all in sales, but most people have the title ‘brand consultant.’ Our website used to be very e-commerce, but now we want you to pick up the phone and have a discussion with your brand consultant.”

A good brand consultant asks a client the right questions. “The answers are in the questions you ask,” she says. “Once you determine what they want to be and what the brand should do, it’s all about consistency after that. I will help companies police their brand – make sure everybody’s business cards look the same, everything is on the same paper stock and ensure that the brand is fulfilling its promise.”

Nicotera says The Cooley Group’s own transformation, and the fact that she uses experience in self-overhaul as a selling tool, is very convincing. “I think doing that connects with clients,” she says. “We’re very big on self-promotion.”

When the new looks were revealed internally to staff, on what was called “Brand Day,” employees were given new company button-down shirts, polos, briefcases, notepads, M&Ms and a long list of promotional products. And now, on a quarterly basis, Cooley Group brands hip and innovative giveaways with their own logos – most recently on things like earbuds and iWallets (thin money cases that fit on the back of cell phones).

“When we go to certain trade shows, we only bring products that have our own brand on them,” says Nicotera. “At a recent Chamber of Commerce trade show, we won Best Booth. People said it demonstrates that we talk the talk and walk the walk.”

Be Socially Conscious

Whether or not a company’s brand is overtly connected to eco-friendly practices, it pays off in the long run to incorporate green promotional products, says Bill Litton, president of Independent Ad Specialties (asi/230891). He can remember when offerings were slim – maybe a pencil or a yo-yo that was made of recyclable material. But now there are literally thousands of items available that are organic, sustainable and biodegradable, or that generally appeal to consumers who care about the environment.

“Big businesses, as well as government agencies at all levels, see the value of recyclable products,” he says. “If you dovetail earth consciousness with the message you are trying to get out, you can generate a very powerful goodwill effort.”

And that, Litton believes, can be worth more in return business than the actual cost of the merchandise.

Eco-friendly branding is a very big source of corporate business. And it’s also an integral part of programs run by nonprofits, municipalities and government sources, according to Breezie Soward, founder/owner of Ecoimprint (asi/185831) in Fort Worth, TX.

Ecoimprint works with Texas municipalities on branding a wide variety of recycling issues. Reusable bags that are handed out to residents and at city-sponsored events are a large part of the effort.

Soward’s company also recently worked with the City of Dallas on a major waste-aversion campaign. Such programs help divert trash, electronics, etc., from winding up in landfills. They had a variety of different T-shirts to give out to adults, and got creative when it came to making kids aware of the program.

“The city has a mascot – a chipmunk named Romeo – that is used to promote the program,” says Soward. “So we used Romeo to create a story line in a custom-made coloring book. We gave it out at the state fair and other events. It had Romeo showing off different ways to recycle, and it was pretty popular.”

Ecoimprint also has Indian tribes as clients, and one issue Native Americans have been struggling with is diabetes. For a health-related program, giveaway T-shirts had slogans like “Peace, Love & Fitness.” Soward suggested other fitness-oriented items like water bottles and pedometers, too.

She says discussions about the pedometers focused on how much to spend for each one. “You can pay $2 for pedometers, and you get what you pay for,” she says, which is a reflection on your brand that can make or break a branding effort. “Or you can get really good products for $15 to $20.”

Ecoimprint wound up getting an order that included 500 of the less-expensive ones and about 75 of the higher-end ones. “We gave those to the people we knew were more active in fitness programs,” Soward says.

Those active fitness people also got count-the-miles and food-intake journals to keep track of their walks and their calories.

Make Sure the Product Fits

Shoplet Promos is an e-commerce site based in New York City. The company has been on the forefront of online sales since it was founded in 1994. However, Shoplet doesn’t ignore customer interaction and has an active inside sales team, says David Capano, senior vice president of sales.

“We talk with our clients and we know it’s important to understand the demographics of their audience,” says Capano. “In conjunction with their budget, that’s at the forefront of our mind when we help select products to promote their business.”

When branding a company’s logo across a basic T-shirt, care should be taken in what sizes are ordered. “If your product or service caters to kids, you should probably order more child medium tees than adult XLs,” he says. “Of course, a youth-based company should also consider that their paying customers are, most likely, the parents of their audience.” So ordering a few adult-sized tees is also smart.

Whether apparel or other products, the interests of the target sector is just as important as age when it comes to deciding on which items best fit a brand’s image and message.

“A 55-year-old insurance broker and a 22-year-old app developer are interested in very different things,” Capano says. “For the product to fit the brand, you have to know if you want to be trendy or conservative. That app developer might think a plain black T-shirt is the greatest thing. But the insurance broker may want some golf balls instead.”

Maintain Quality

For the past 10 years, Vladimir Gendelman has helped customers create high-quality products. But he recalls one of those clients who had their own ideas about what was right or wrong, and what details were worth spending a little more money on to get the job done correctly.

In that one instance, Gendelman, founder and CEO of Company Folders (asi/287795) in Detroit, acquiesced to the client’s demand for sub-par quality. But he learned from the experience and has since changed his business practice.

It started when a painting company in New York City needed presentation folders in order to put a bid in to one of Donald Trump’s construction companies. They settled on a 9-by-12-inch gatefold folder, which opened to show three pocketed sides. The folders looked great, but the supplied logo design was lacking.

Gendelman offered to redesign the logo, for a fee, but the client refused. That was that. But when they turned in their logo file, it was low-resolution. If they used that file it would show up fuzzy on the folders.

“She didn’t have access to vector files,” says Gendelman. “So then I offered to redraw the logo, at a pretty low price – $75 to $100.” It was a $5,000 job overall, but the client said no to spending a few extra bucks to get the logo done in high resolution.

When the folders were printed, the logo was washed out. The Donald’s company’s response: “You’re not hired.”

Since then, Gendelman has changed his policy. He will re-do customer logos at no charge, sometimes even if they don’t ask for it. “I want the customers to have a great product,” he says, “and I want to be proud of the things we produce. Some customers don’t understand the difference between high-res and low-res.”

But if they’re happy with the result, they’ll become repeat customers and send back referrals.