To Brand or Not to Brand: The Impact of Unbranded Gifts

The nuances of the promotional products industry tend to be difficult for most people to navigate, with tons of moving parts and partnerships that intersect to make what we do happen—deliver customized products to clients and their target audience. Boundless’ “middle man” role tends to make this even more complicated, so the average person (or recipient) may have trouble understanding how it all works. But in fact, that’s okay. All people really need to understand is, “organization xyz” just gave them an awesome piece of swag that is beautiful and useful, and the spark is ignited—a relationship is formed, or deepened.


What most people don’t think about are the relationships that a distributor like Boundless works hard to create and cultivate on both the supplier and client sides, and the hours of creative thinking and strategy behind each and every piece of swag. From the one-dollar key chain to the high-end Brookstone headphones, each item is carefully curated as a reflection of a larger marketing campaign. We do all this behind the scenes stuff—the stuff no one thinks much about—to help our clients spark moments by delivering the right product to the right person at the right time. This helps clients create meaningful connections with the people they care about most—by delivering a special custom gift.


But it may surprise you to hear that this gift may not always be branded at all. Creating Brand Love oftentimes has to do with an experience, and understanding which kind of experience a customer may appreciate in a certain situation. Times like these may call for a more retail-like product.

In working with my large nonprofit clients, I’ve noticed most of them are seeking products to support an incentive or fundraising program rather than just your typical promo item. This is mostly because these “prizes” act as a thank-you gift for contributing to their cause and encourage supporters to continue fundraising on their behalf. When I first started working on these kinds of programs, one of the things that surprised me most was that many of these items aren’t branded at all. Wait—they don’t have the client’s logo on them? How will people know where it came from? Is a product that isn’t branded still considered a promotional product? The answer is “yes”—sometimes. As with everything, it depends. There are many factors that go into how we decide what product and branding method is best, and depending on the needs of the client and their audience, sometimes that means no branding at all.

Premium Incentives
Source: Power Sales and Advertising

Using a product as a reward or incentive is a bit different than a leave-behind or giveaway. Typically incentive gifts have a higher perceived value and can tend to take on a more retail-like look and feel. In our world, it’s not strange to see trends trickle down from retail to promo, but this is even more prominent with incentive gifts. The more something looks like it’s coming straight off the shelf of a store, the better. In fact, even when given a choice, clients looking for a high-end incentive are more likely to not want the item branded at all.

Branding the overall experience versus just branding the product resonates strongly with clients looking to reward supporters. They’d much rather provide proponents of their cause with a true gift of gratitude over logoed material. There are still ways to incorporate the brand message, however. For example, custom packaging and other marketing print collateral like thank-you notes or copies of organizational newsletters can also add a personal touch when thanking a nonprofit supporter. Custom designed online shopping experiences, another offering from Boundless and our partners, make it easy for supporters to go online, track their fundraising goals, and order gifts, guaranteeing a positive interaction with the brand every time. When the customer logs in, they may see a reminder of how much money they have raised or what their next fiscal goal level is and be driven to raise even more.

Girl with watch

But the online experience described above still needs to be complete with great gifts and incentive prizes. In order to find the perfect product for our clients—those that will represent their brand and help create more Brand Love—we need to cast our net wide. Sometimes, that means going directly to the best wholesalers out there for innovative products. This month, I had the eye-opening experience of traveling to New York City for ToyFair.

Toy Fair NYC
Source: Toy News

ToyFair is located at New York’s Javits Center and is hosted by the Toy Industry Association, which represents more than 900 members, accounting for approximately 90% of the annual U.S. domestic toy market. The show occupies 415k square feet of space filled with every toy or kid-related item you could possibly think of. This particular toy trade show is the 3rd largest in the world (behind Germany and Hong Kong) and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. This is the place where buyers from big box stores like BuyBuyBaby go to do their shopping and where the latest in technology in the toy industry is unveiled. More and more, suppliers and distributors in the promotional products industry are recognizing the importance of being involved in these shows to be on the cutting-edge of product innovation.

I also make annual trips to the Dallas Market Center Gift/Home Market Days. Dallas Market Center is located on a five-million-square-foot campus where you can find the latest in gift, home accents, lighting, jewelry, and gourmet foods—just to name a few. It’s a breathtaking experience like none other, not to mention, a treasure trove of incentive ideas.

Dallas Market Center
Source: Paul Michael Company

The competitive advantage that Boundless has isn’t a product of just our creative team, just our industry expertise, or just our strategic partnerships – rather, it’s the perfect combination of all of these resources. Going to these shows and building a comprehensive brand experience for clients are just a few examples of how Boundless is constantly on the cutting-edge of innovation, and making an impact for our clients. In addition to constantly expanding our product sourcing horizons, we leverage traditional promotional product solutions and incentive partnerships, which in combination have allowed Boundless to exercise a breadth of giving power for our clients that reach beyond the norm, giving way to immeasurable opportunities to create more moments of Brand Love. For us, the potential in promotions truly is boundless.

Michelle Williamson

Let us help you strategize your next incentive program! Contact your Boundless rep or get started with Boundless today at 512.472.9200.

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