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5 Ways to Evolve Your Promo Company

Feel like your branding strategy is a bit behind the times? Refresh your team’s approach with a few digital twists.

Is your marketing department stuck in the Stone Age? Does your company react to branding trends three years too late? Do you and your team lack the digital skills to compete in a modern era? If so, you’re doing yourself and your customers a real disservice.

Instead of poo-pooing technology, it’s time to embrace it. Marketing has evolved through social media, the incredible speed of messaging, on-demand measurements and increased digital platforms. You need to evolve too.

“The technology you’re using now may be OK for the moment, but if a new competitor enters your market or a current one decides to update, you’ll quickly be obsolete,” says Brice Bradshaw, an executive at Marketing Eye, a business consultancy. “The opportunity cost is huge.”

Let’s face it – the promotional products industry is one that’s in flux. On one hand, some firms are clinging to accepted norms where suppliers, distributors and end-buyers operate in a vacuum; other firms, however, are delving head-first into modern marketing tactics, understanding business is changing and knowing a little risk can reap great rewards. Here are five philosophies promo companies are using to stay current and leverage digital possibilities.

#1: Be Socially Curious

Once upon a time, the big players were MySpace, AOL and Friendster – now they’re Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Periscope and Reddit. If you aren’t actively evaluating how each of these can help grow your brand, you’re making a mistake.

“There are new apps and new opportunities to get your message out and you have to look at what those are and determine if they’re right for you,” says Terry McGuire, senior VP of marketing for HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000).

McGuire shares the example of Pinterest. When the service first launched, he and his team spent between six months and a year investigating it and exploring what it could do. In the beginning, HALO used the app regularly, but it soon became obvious it wouldn’t work for the company.

“You have to be curious enough to look for and identify where you think your buyers are or may be,” McGuire says. “That next up-and-coming app may help you achieve your goals.”

Bradshaw agrees that spending time looking into new technology is to your benefit. “The tools we use today will probably be obsolete in six months,” he says. “So if you get stuck in one way, it’s really not efficient marketing. It evolves quickly.”

#2: Stay Auto-Connected

Today, response times need to be fast and someone always has to be available, because that’s what customers expect. Sam Brown, corporate marketing director at BrandVia (asi/145037), calls it the “now generation.” Whoever is contacting you doesn’t particularly care what’s happening in your day, they just want a response now.

Nonstop communication is a fine line, though, says Brandon Brown, VP of marketing at SnugZ USA (asi/88060). He notes that if you’re always available without hesitation, customers may come to expect that – and then the one time you don’t reply right away, some frustration may build toward your company.

That’s why there are auto-responders. Nobody running a small business should have to worry about replying to a message at 2 a.m. on a Saturday. The immediate response auto-message keeps that separation between work and home life while allowing customers to feel cared for.

“If somebody’s reaching out on a social media platform, the idea is they’re expecting a faster response than they would get through a traditional chain of communication,” says Gina Barreca, director of marketing at Vantage Apparel (asi/93390). “It’s important to have something in place to at least acknowledge those inquiries when they come in. A lot of people are using auto-responders to make sure there’s immediate gratification, acknowledging ‘hey, we got your note, we’re on it, we’ll try to be as responsive as possible, and somebody’s going to get back to you.’”

It’s not just about immediate gratification. It may seem like it on the surface, but when you’re able to respond right away in some form, it helps build a customer relationship.

“From a marketing standpoint, it goes back to being there for people and making sure they can trust us with what they need and showing we’re here to support them,” SnugZ’s Brown says. “It enhances the trust level and makes us more personable. A lot of people are just hanging out on social media, so if it’s just a quick chat away, we can be there for them and support them quickly.”

If you decide to go the auto responder route, many platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, provide easy options to do so through their settings menus.

#3: Get Analytical

Communication isn’t the only thing that’s taken a leap into the immediate – metrics have as well. In this new age of marketing, anyone can check the data on any campaign almost the second it starts running. Want to know how many people have seen your ad? Just check the dashboard.

“Technology has truly made reporting real-time, allowing us to pull data on just about any metric within seconds,” says Tej Shah, VP of marketing and e-commerce at Overture Promotions (asi/288473). It’s not the same-old, same-old metrics you used to get – the wealth of information coming from every marketing campaign is significant. “We’re able to drill down and gain insight into much more information than just whether or not someone purchased a product,” Shah says.

Now, marketers can track the entire lifecycle of a client – or even a potential client – throughout their relationship with the company. You can see how many times they look at the website before purchasing a product. You can see what pages and products they check out, and how long they view each. You can see exactly where they decide to turn interest into a purchase, or the moment they click off.

That type of detail extends to all types of marketing – be it an email campaign or social media advertising. McGuire has a system set up at HALO that brings in-depth results for each email project. “Every time we send an email out, within 24 hours we get a full set of metrics that tell us the success rate, the drop-out rate, the link rate, and a variety of other things that help us sharpen the saw for the next email program,” he says.

With social media, it’s now possible to target ads so you know you’re getting impressions from exactly the group of people you want. No more campaigns of 10,000 printed fliers that’ll get impressions, but no one knows from whom. And you couldn’t prove the ROI, either. You’d send out those fliers and never see them again, unless someone specifically says they contacted you because of it.

“Now, you know for sure you’re spending money in a way that targets specific groups of people with certain interests,” SnugZ’s Brown says. “You can also see how they engage with it. It’s really powerful. You can hit people with the message they need. It’s become even more effective with all the data you can achieve now.”

It’s a boon for the campaigns themselves, as well. Analyzing all the data as it comes in shows how well a particular product is doing, and you can adjust the marketing for it in real time.

“If you have an ad running and see you’re getting a really good response and you have a production schedule you’re looking to fill, once it’s filled, you can turn the ad off,” Barreca says. “That’s a huge bonus. With online marketing, overselling doesn’t happen. It’s a lower risk because you can make real-time adjustments on the fly.”

It’s a double-edged sword, though: The immediacy of results and breadth of metrics means marketing team members are expected to do substantially more work – and more detailed work – than they used to.

“From a marketing perspective, your selling skills and your ability to tell a story are extremely important,” Barreca says. “But now we’re taking that creative talent and saying we need you to be creative but we also need you to be analytical. We need you to look at the customer data and figure out how you can reach them and if you’re reaching them effectively. You’re thinking more scientific and more process-oriented. As a marketer now, you’re responsible for creating and crafting basically an entire sales process that can happen without personal interaction.”

#4: Keep It Real

Something these instant metrics tend to show is companies that keep their brand message and marketing authentic often do better in the online world. Modern clients want to know who you are, what the company stands for, and what the people working there are like. They want to know that your values and beliefs follow your company through every aspect of the business. It’s no longer about what you’re selling – it’s about a personal connection.

“We’re selling commodity items,” Brown from SnugZ says. “How can we make the difference for people to really get behind the company and support us, so they know who we really are based on what we share on social? The places that do it really well, they’re telling their story, and the product is an afterthought. They help the consumer relate to them. If you just pitch product on social all the time, you’re not getting a real sense of who that company is.”

But that doesn’t mean pitches and product posts aren’t important – they’re just not as engaging as others. Brown suggests adding videos to the product posts that give a bit more insight, like where it’s being made or how it’s being put together, then mix in posts with culture-focused stories that show off the inner workings of your business and the employees there. And, Brown adds, make everything sharable. “Distributors can take that content and forward it right on to the end-user to help sell that product,” he says.

#5: Prioritize Versatility

Like Barreca says, it’s not enough to just be creative. Today’s marketers need to be able to adapt quickly. They also need to keep a message consistent across all channels – no matter the medium.

“In terms of informing, you can’t do that via an email,” McGuire says. “You have to use some of the other available platforms. You have to be able to link to a more extensive YouTube video as an example, so you can provide detail on product education, features and benefits. There has to be something more than just text, copy and a photo in an email. You have to engage the user by linking to other platforms and providing a unique message.”

David Fiderer, senior director of marketing at Prime Line (asi/79530), agrees and says it’s important to consider how users through the entire sales chain will interact with the content you’re putting out there.

“Our objective is to create a digital experience that works across all devices so our audience can choose where and how they want to engage with us,” Fiderer says. “Providing relevant and engaging content that can be shared all down the line – from us to distributors, from distributors to end-buyers – is an important part of our strategy.”

Remember: It’s not all about you. Part of versatility means catering to what other people want, not just what you want.

“Be relevant,” BrandVia’s Brown says. “You need to talk about what people care about, not what you necessarily want to talk about. Social media, for example, is not a broadcast platform as much as it’s a communications platform, and ideally you want it to be two ways. If I’m shopping, I’ll go to your website. I’m not on your social media to buy a shirt.”