Perception vs. Reality: Retail Products in Branding

Retail products are quickly becoming a staple in the promotional products industry.  We identified that retail trends would play a big role in branded merchandise early on this year, and now we are calling that the trend is one that is going to stick.  It used to be that retail products in the promotional products industry didn’t go much beyond the high-end luggage and watch brands that were given primarily for employee gifts and incentives.  But due to the way that people respond to popular brand names, companies are increasingly opting for these more expensive products for their merchandising.


Why?  There are several reasons, but it all has to do with perception.  Many knockoff brands and look-a-like products are almost indistinguishable from the retail lines, and are comparable in quality as well.  Often the only difference is the logo on the product.  The appeal of a brand name product is less about the product and more about how they are perceived.

The perception of superior quality.

If a product has been sold to the mass consumer market, it’s been more thoroughly vetted right?  Consumer product safety testing and the manufacturer’s reputation ensure that the item is safe and end-users don’t have to worrry about recalls or a product failure.  Tech accessories such as powerbanks are a good example of an item that end-users want safety testing assurance for, and the idea that the product is backed by a well-known brand provides that.

Despite all of the creative, quality promotional products that are out there, our industry is still actively trying to shake off the reputation for pushing “trinkets” or “tchotchkes”.  Those of us in the industry know better, but for a company trying to further their brand, you can see why a retail promotional product would be appealing.  Once again this goes back to perception.

The perception of being “in”.

When a product comes from the retail sector, people assume that the product is in style, with the latest color, design, and functionality.  Bags, luggage, and totes are often considered a fashion accessory, so some companies prefer to buy retail brands for their promotional needs to ensure trendy branding.  Certain brands just have that cool factor.  So your company can become cool by association.  Nike is the perfect example – whether you’re an athlete or not, Nike is an aspirational brand with a broad appeal.

The perception of higher value.

Branded products have a higher perceived value, are more expensive and therefore are often a more impressive gift.  While a plastic unknown pen may be discarded after a few uses, a branded BIC pen is likely to be kept, and used, for at least 9 months.  Recognizable brands, particularly high profile ones with major media investments and endorsements, are especially highly prized items.  The branded golf category is a perfect example of this phenomenon and brands like Callaway, Nike,  and Titleist have entered our space to meet demand.

With perception often trumping reality, put some thought into investing in retail brands for your next promotion.  Sure, the look-a-like products look and feel just the same, but in some instances, a retail product will give you the exposure your brand is looking for.  For certain audiences and industries, it can be the ideal way to set your message apart.  If you are able to provide a branded retail product that is used daily, you will get the ROI in impressions.  Opportunities lie in sales incentive programs, golf events, alumni and donor gifts, holiday gifts, new member perks and more.  When brand recognition is on the line, perception is key, and brand name promos are a sure fire way to make a lasting impression.

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Want to read a real world example of retail branded products making a splash? Read the case study here!

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