Promotional Products: A Smart Marketer’s Secret Weapon
By Kim R. Todora
Did you know promotional products are one of the oldest forms of advertising? In fact, the first known use of promotional items in the U.S. dates all the way back to George Washington’s presidential election in 1789. Fast forward to more than 200 years later, and what was once considered the most simplistic of marketing tools has become the industry’s most versatile form of advertising — which is ultimately where its power lies.
Many advertisers understand that promotional products are essential to building brand loyalty and awareness, with 65 percent citing promotional products as highly effective in reaching consumers and contributing to brand recall, according to a study by Promotional Products Association International (PPAI). Eighty-eight percent of marketers recommend using promotional products, because 82 percent of consumers have a more favorable perception of a brand after receiving a promotional item.
A $24.7 billion-dollar industry, promotional products are designed for staying power, and industry research has proven their influence as an effective advertising medium. They are built to leverage the greatest reach, drive recall and resonate to engage the best reaction among consumers, relative to any other advertising vehicle. Not only cultivating positive reactions, 81 percent of consumers keep promotional products for over a year, and 53 percent use these products at least once a week — meaning they are seen as useful. No other advertising media have a shelf life of 365 days or more and garner a response of “thank you” when received by target consumers. What’s more, promotional products are the only sensory medium that gives the customer a tangible memory of a relationship to the brand.
While it is the oldest form of advertising, the promotional products industry has also proven to be the most fluid and the most meaningful. Take Starbucks’ recent U.S. Sign Language store opening, for example. The coffee shop took elements of its store design and offerings and reinvented them to be more effective for those who are deaf. This included special green aprons featuring "Starbucks" spelled out with ASL fingerspelling imagery and "I Sign" pins to designate employees who know ASL. This approach to promotional products combined with purpose strengthened the overall impact of the launch in a way that no other form of advertising could.
With new technologies regularly being integrated into promotional marketing strategies, this is a pivotal time for the medium, as it continues to progress with consumers’ changing lifestyles, interests and purchasing behaviors. For instance, branded online pop-up stores are cropping up, as marketers turn the traditional pop-up shop tactic on its head. Brick-and-mortar retailers are now bringing consumers limited-time items in the form of online pop-up stores, where they can purchase exclusive promotional products without having to leave the comfort of their homes. Companies such as KFC, Taco Bell and McDonald’s have all tapped into this promotional strategy to transcend their original product offering and provide consumers with a sense of identity and community.
Another recent case of industry innovation is seen through the introduction of near-field communication into the advertising medium, which has allowed consumers to delve deeper, view customized rich media, receive targeted special offers, share experiences and make a purchase — all through their smartphones. Perhaps one of the most interesting examples of this was Tommy Hilfiger’s implementation of smart chip technology in certain products, allowing consumers to connect the clothing to a mobile app in which wearers can rack up points and redeem them for exclusive rewards and VIP experiences. As consumers, it’s difficult to resist a brand that brings an experience directly to the screen of our cell phones. With intelligent packaging and products, marketers are able to forge a strong connection between the online and brick-and-mortar sectors of the retail industry.
What’s next? According to Paul Bellantone, CAE, PPAI President & CEO, promotional products are truly the only advertising medium that reaches all five senses, plus a sixth — the sense of ownership for consumers — which is why it’s equally important that advertisers and marketers put as much budget, thought, design and strategy into creating successful promotional marketing campaigns as they do with other forms of advertising.
With its inherent practicality and flexibility, it’s apparent that the promotional products industry knows no bounds, and will continue to evolve along with the modern-day consumer.
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