Each year – and in some cases, every season – there’s something different on the agenda to promote. One year it’s Christmas promos. The next it’s gifts for kids. A summer trade show also demands a giveaway. Then, suddenly, auto loans need to be promoted.
With 35% of her business coming from credit unions and other financial firms, Sara Brubaker says it’s an endless – albeit lucrative and stimulating – challenge to find new products that will not only satisfy her financial customers, but keep them inspired to order new and additional products year after year.
“I just keep pouring things at them all the time,” says Brubaker, president of Executive Promotions (asi/190931), a distributor firm based in Prairie Home, MO.
Indeed, financial-sector clients tend to present a wealth of opportunities to ad specialty distributors because they’re a re-order machine. That has translated to increased business from the market in recent years. As the third-biggest buyer of promotional products (behind only health care and education), clients from the financial market accounted for 10% of all distributor revenues last year. That translates to more than $2 billion annually that distributor attain from this sector – and that number has grown significantly in recent years.
Following the financial crisis in 2008-2009, banks and insurance companies severely cut back their marketing spending and promotional products were certainly impacted. However, the market’s share of distributor revenues has gradually increased since 2010 and at 10% is at its highest point in the past four years.
So, what can distributors do to capitalize on the big opportunity that financial clients provide? Here are some strategies and tactics to use.
Think banks want a simple pen with a one-color logo imprinted across the barrel? Not so much. These days, financial companies – mortgage lenders, private equity firms, banks, credit unions and others are demanding some of the hottest, most progressive products distributors can come up with. Items like high-end bags, tech products, mobile chargers and new-age electronics have become popular in this sector.
And though some may certainly stick to the tried and true, “this is an appealing market segment because there is lots of need in [financial] organizations both internally and externally,” says Jason Robbins, CEO of ePromos Promotional Products Inc. (asi/188515), based in New York.
Breaking into the industry, say Robbins and other experts, is easiest from the ground up, since larger financial outfits often have established vendors and procurement processes in place that can be impenetrable for newcomers. For large Wall Street firms, for example, “they want to see distributors that do $10 million in sales or more,” Robbins says. “Some of these firms have two- to five-year contracts, and some of them have exclusives,” he adds. “Typically they don’t turn over very often.”
That said, local banks and financial businesses operate differently and can be a gateway into the financial arena for smaller distributors new to that marketplace. “Small, local businesses and franchise offices do have their own budgets and don’t require the whole RFP process to become an authorized vendor,” Robbins says.
Plan Ahead & Get Educated
For some distributors, piggybacking or leveraging services related to promotional products can be helpful as well. That doesn’t mean distributors should “bombard” bank contacts with emails or pick off branches or their execs “piecemeal” in the hopes of gaining a few orders, says Dan Craig, managing director of Top 40 distributor Accolade Promotion Group (asi/102905), based in Toronto.
But it does mean targeting the market strategically. As both a printing company and a distributor, “we had been doing business cards, brochures, folders and envelopes” for various financial companies and accountants, says Judi Brown, co-owner of Lakewood, WA-based distributorship Tacoma Trophy (asi/205008), who says financial firms make up 35% of her business. “Then as they got to know us better,” Tacoma Trophy was able to persuade the same clients to purchase promotional products from them as well, emphasizing the convenience of one-stop shopping for printing and promotional needs.
Along those lines, Brown suggests that distributors consider the environment in which most financial firms work – one in which client trust is not easily gained, and often not easily given. “Take your time in letting them get to know you,” Brown says.
For many firms, gaining the trust of clients is a difficult sales endeavor. “My advice would be to realize that that’s the mindset that they work in,” Brown adds. To gain financial business, then, distributors will need to not only learn all they can about a financial firm’s business, but project that impression as well via thoughtful promotional ideas, innovative product samples, and a sense of how a distributor can be a firm’s marketing partner.
Financial Market Share
10% Financial-sector clients account for 10% of overall distributor revenues, totaling more than $2 billion annually.
How? For starters, says Jess Ray, distributors can act as consultants, not necessarily for the financial services realm, but for the ad specialty marketplace. For example, Ray, owner of Indianapolis-based Ray Marketing (asi/588003), says many of the insurance companies he supplies products to take a blanket approach to buying products. Often “they’re trying to supply all their clients, which is a wide variety, with two or three items.”
Customization is a concept he’s had to educate customers about in order to help them realize that customized or targeted promotional items can be more powerful, even if it means spending slightly more on the front end. Half the battle in persuading financial firms to take that product expansion leap, Ray continues, is to inundate them with samples. The tactile sales approach, particularly in this sector, does much to convince them that product changes can be a good thing.
Promote High-Perceived Value Products
While a lack of vision may be driving some buying decisions among financial customers, others are simply concerned with how products are perceived by customers, says Linda Neumann, president of San Diego-based Brilliant Marketing Ideas (asi/146083).
Many firms want to find the balance between a promotional product that has high perceived value, but not perceived cost, so that clients aren’t offended by the notion that a bank is spending customers’ money on giveaways, says Neumann, whose company sells promotional products to banks, credit unions and financial management firms.
It’s important to distinguish between the nuance of financial firms, Neumann adds, some of which target clients more, while others focus on internal incentives with employees. To that end they also can vary in their product interests. “Some like the tried and true,” says Neumann, citing banks as clients who gravitate toward traditional items like golf balls and pens. “Others are buying selfie sticks and power banks.”
In that sense, distributors say, different financial firms also have distinctive marketing targets. Credit unions, for example, tend to focus more on customer giveaways, while banks frequently focus on new-client acquisition campaigns. It’s important to assess the tenor of each organization when first working with them – not just the types of clients they’re targeting, but what type of role they want a distributor to play, says Accolade’s Craig. While some know what they want and simply want to place orders, others say “help us understand our customers and align our marketing with who our particular customer is,” Craig says. “It can go across the entire spectrum.” The advantage of financial clients once a distributor figures out their focus, however, is that “it’s very reliable business,” Craig says. “We’re not the one-offs. We tend to be contracted with a lot of our customers.”
As members of local neighborhoods and communities, banks, credit unions and other financial firms often want to connect with area residents in a collaborative, community-focused way, says Brown. This presents many promotional opportunities for distributors to work with their financial clients in recurring and unique ways.
Community festivals are a popular method of reaching out to area residents for credit unions and banks, and are seen almost as a necessary marketing move for many local financial firms, Brown adds. For one company in her Seattle area, community activism is provided through printing the local professional football team’s schedule every fall.
“It helps that Seattle has had a good football team in the last few years,” Brown says. “I hear from my clients that their customers are contacting them saying, ‘when am I going to get my football schedule?’”—a magnetized version of the bank’s business card with the home team’s playoff schedule each year.
More to the point, between community, sporting and industry events, financial firms are rarely without need for promotional products at any time of the year, Brown and others say. For his part, Robbins focuses on annual conferences where the schedule rarely changes from year to year. For example, Credit Suisse posts a list online of their annual conferences worldwide each year from March through December, as well as what each conference is about.
For distributors, then, understanding the scope of their role with financial firms (whether re-order fulfillment provider or marketing consultant) is often the biggest part of what’s needed to lock in their business for years. Still, there can be other concerns. Due to the nature of their work, financial firms are sometimes bottom-line driven and highly aware of margins, says Craig.
And though many claim to want innovative products, they can often get mired in the same traditional items year after year. More innovative promotional tools such as selfie sticks have been popular in recent years with banks and the like, distributors say, but more often “ they like to stick to the products that people know and recognize,” Brown says. “ For the most part, I think this particular group of clients is really mindful of the image they’re projecting with the items they’re giving away.”
Moreover, when pitching product and marketing ideas to financial clients, it’s important to realize that financial firms, such as mortgage companies, are often bound to regulations that limit the value of the promotional items they can provide to customers. Generally the rule is “no more than $100 per recipient, including meals and entertainment,” says Robbins. “This adds up fast, and it’s a huge penalty if the regulation is violated.”
That doesn’t mean they don’t want innovation, but it has to come at a relatively low price point. “From what I hear, they’re very reluctant to do anything that might appear to be breaking those restrictions,” Brown adds. “They know they have lots of people watchingand they don’t want to do anything that’s going to get them into trouble.”– Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For 15 years, one Kansas bank that Sara Brubaker worked with had strived to find just the right promo product for their customers year after year. What made that quest particularly onerous was that these customers were executives at corresponding banks, so the need to impress was huge. What’s more, they encompassed a wide demographic swath – covering genders, races, age groups and other factors that might play a role in what products dazzled them most.
So a few years ago when Brubaker, president of Executive Promotions (asi/190931), a distributorship based in Prairie Home, MO, was called on to help the bank find a unique item that would fit every demographic and also fit the need for a unique gift, she landed on a rare promotional product find.
“I said, ‘I think you ought to do binoculars,’”Brubaker recalls telling the firm’s marketers.
Why promotional binoculars? They had universal appeal with a case that could support a sizeable logo, and would be a promotional product with years of use to come – meaning the bank would leverage marketing power from the gift for years down the road.
“Some took them vacationing, to sports events, bird watching, hunting. Everybody had a reason for wanting them and appreciating them,”Brubaker says.
Besides finding a gift that would be appreciated by a wide audience, Brubaker also found a set of binoculars slightly smaller than the average pair so that they would be more handy to carry around, thus increasing their promotional value and visibility. And though they’re a popular item to own, “it’s not something you think about buying for yourself until you’re some place and you wish you had them,”Brubaker says.
For the bank, it was the perfect item, but it came with a caveat – improve on it for the next promotions. “It gets tougher every year to come up with something new,”Brubaker says of the $35 sets of binoculars her client bought for 120 customers. “I wanted to come up with something different than what they had done before. I said, ‘You haven’t done this. I am telling you, this will be a hit.’”
It was most definitely a hit. “In 16 years that was the best fit,”Brubaker says. “They got more response out of that than anything they’d done in the 15 years before.”