Tchotchkes, trinkets, trash, and swag, you’ve probably heard all of the different names for branded merchandise in the industry, most of which can come across as negative and often synonymous with junk.  When I first moved into this industry I will admit that I had a similar mindset.  When I thought of promotional items, I thought of super cheap pens that usually broke, sticky note pads with so much branding that you didn’t have room to write anything on them, throw away conference bags or finally, products that were so heavily branded that you felt like a walking billboard for a random brand. I assumed that most of these items would either be trashed or leveraged for yard-work or household chores.  As a marketer there is something about the image of someone grumpily mowing the yard in a branded shirt that is covered in grass stains that used to make me question the approach. That being said, if we fast forward to the present, I now understand that although the negative perception exists and is probably pretty common, we have a unique opportunity to drive a paradigm shift and elevate our industry.

Pile of cheap looking promotional products

Source: Eric Lundbohm

As I have become more familiar with the industry, I have learned that branded merchandise has the potential to be so much more than landfill and truly has the ability to create connections between brands and recipients, and when done right they can truly drive brand love.

Now, what does done right mean?  For me, this means applying strategy to this category of marketing just like you would other categories such as online display, email, or SEM.  Rather than just picking the cheapest products to have something to give people for brand recognition, you can identify the purpose of the campaign and then identify products that would excite people and cause them to pause and have a “WOW!” moment. If we think about the broader campaign strategy, goals and desired outcomes we could then identify treasures over tchotchkes and work towards creating that emotional connection between your brand and the recipient.

To provide a real world example, we recently attended a trade show and since it was our first time to attend this particular trade show we set out to accomplish 2 goals. First and foremost we wanted to drive awareness of our brand and stand out from other attendees.  Secondly, we aimed to, when possible, drive consideration.  We knew that just pulling some branded items from our storage closet of goodies wasn’t going to be enough to meet these goals, so we instead brainstormed strategies to stand out and make some real connections.  We were looking for the “WOW factor”, or what we call Brand Love moments!

We like to think of ourselves as being innovative and disruptors in our industry, so we really wanted to make sure this way of thinking was represented in the campaign as well.   As we brainstormed, we identified the need to reach out pre-show to kickoff connections and that we also wanted to create a buzz during the show to help build excitement, and ultimately meet our primary goal of driving awareness.   To accomplish this, we decided to send an email campaign that introduced us, promoted our speaking engagement at the show, and offered attendees a free personalized YETI tumbler that they could pick up from us at our booth at the show.

A free personalized YETI… yes, you read that correctly.  Although it was a higher price point, being Austinites (birthplace of YETI) we knew the power of the YETI brand and the buzz potential we could create by choosing the tumbler over other less expensive products.  As expected, the response to a personalized YETI was great and the campaign allowed us to make connections at the show when they came to pick up their YETI. In addition, it created a lot of buzz, to the point that we had people walking up to learn more and asking how they could receive a YETI of their own.                                                                                                                                                                Customized YETI

In addition to the pre-show strategy, we wanted to ensure that during the show we had some good options for attendees as well.  We partnered with ChicoBag (you can learn more about this awesome group from our recent blog post) to create a bag that people could use during and arguably more importantly after that show.   We selected ChicoBag because of their retail appeal, but also because of their strong mission to reduce waste associated with single use bags.  This also tied in well with our message at the show of the importance of responsibly sourced products.

When we handed out the bags, the response was great, people loved the bags and the story behind the bags.  As attendees wore the bag it was also a great opportunity for us to drive more awareness and buzz with our brand.  So although the price point was higher than your average trade show item for the bags and the tumblers, the response was so positive that it more than justified the costs.

Black "be boundless" ChicoBag

One last note on this campaign that I would like to mention is the approach we took to branding.  You’ll notice in the pictures above that our company logo wasn’t prominently featured or included at all and this was believe it or not intentional!  For the YETIs our goal was to drive awareness and create something of value that people can use.  Although I’m sure some would respond to a Boundless branded YETI we believe the take rate was MUCH higher due to the highly personalized nature of the tumblers.  For us, getting them to our booth for a quick chat to kick off connections is what we were targeting and why we opted to give them a personalized YETI.  In addition, for the bag there was a similar sentiment.  We wanted to provide something people would be excited to use.  For this product we featured our logo on the inside which would be visible when they had it stored but then when wearing it we featured our “be boundless” tagline.  We wanted to avoid the walking billboard approach and we believe this approach is what helped drive the success of the campaign.

If you think about the example above, I believe it exemplifies the opportunity we have to elevate this industry.  As you think about your next campaign I would encourage you to proactively consider how branded merchandise can play into your strategy versus after you finalize your concept think, “oh yeah, let’s add some swag.”  In addition, work with your branded merchandise partners to find products that wow, differentiate you, and drive brand love moments. If we all start to take more of this approach I believe we can begin to shift the perception of this industry and move from tchotchkes to treasures.

Author: Tiffany Price bio

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