September 20th, 2018 BY Douglas Lober

The ROI of Branded Promotional Products

If you’re struggling to get more clients and customers to your door, it’s time to sit down and make a better plan for that marketing budget. Many small businesses wisely set aside money for advertising purposes, but then aren’t quite sure what to do with it. If that’s you, good news:

We’ve got the inside scoop on what promotional products actually do for your business, and we’re here to share it with you today. With these facts in hand, you can make the best plan for your business and your marketing budget.

Whip out that notepad and pencil on your desk (which may very well have come from another company, btw!) and get ready to take the notes you need to succeed.

What Are Promotional Items?

First and foremost, let’s take a quick trip down Definition Lane.

A comprehensive definition from Wikipedia explains that “Promotional merchandise is products branded with a logo or slogan and distributed at little or no cost to promote a brand, corporate identity, or event.” (1)

Business Dictionary points out that “These items usually carry the name and address of the firm, as well as information on the products and services, and serve as reminders. Also called advertising novelty or advertising specialty.” (2)

The world’s favorite free encyclopedia adds that promo items “are given away or sold at a loss to promote a company, corporate image, brand, or event.” This is an important point, because many businesses go into promotional product marketing thinking they’ll immediately get their money back, and they are disappointed to discover they may not right away … though with the right campaign, they certainly will long-term.

Instead, promo products help you brand your company, achieve greater market penetration, grow product and service recognition, and foster relationships with a wide variety of people, including:

  • Clients and customers
  • Prospects and leads
  • Vendors and suppliers
  • Business partners
  • Investors
  • Shareholders
  • Employees and contractors

Below we’ll discuss how to calculate the conversion rate of your promotional products, but for now, simply keep in mind that you needn’t see immediate ROI from such products for them to prove worthwhile.

Popularity of Promotional Items by Type

While promotional items may have the same name, logo and brand colors stamped on them, that doesn’t mean they’re all created equal. In fact, some items receive much more love than others. Whereas a client, customer or prospect might hang onto a pen for a few weeks until they lose it, many people treasure tee shirts and bags. In fact, we have exact figures on this from a 2016 study. (3)

Clothing heads the list, with 58 percent of Americans owning tee shirts and 50 percent owning outerwear. Drinkware and bags are neck-in-neck, with drinkware actually beating outerwear at 53 percent and bags ringing in at 50 percent. Writing instruments also get a nice, round 50 percent.

Since we can reasonably assume every U.S. dweller has received at least one promotional item in their life, this means roughly half the population hangs onto such items.

Other items to consider:

  • USB drives at 45 percent
  • Caps and headwear at 41 percent
  • Desk accessories at 41 percent
  • Polo shirts at 33 percent
  • Health and safety items at 30 percent
  • Umbrellas at 25 percent

For obvious reasons, if you’re just starting your promo items journey, you’ll want to start with some of the most-kept items. That way, even if your campaign isn’t as successful as you originally hoped, you at least have longevity on your side.

The Exposure Behind the Numbers

Why do these numbers matter? Because the length of time that people hang onto your item factors hugely into the success of that item.

A promotional gift is all about exposure; the more eyeballs land on it, the more your brand penetrates the market. It reminds owners that you did them a service, and they’re likelier to call you again sometime. It tells friends and family that this is a brand worth paying attention to. It flashes your logo to strangers out in the world, familiarizing them with your business before they even need your product or service.

Plus, those items get more views than you might think possible. (4) For example, check out these impressions-per-dollar figures:

  • 1,000 for bags
  • 500 for writing utensils
  • 333 for calendars
  • 200 for shirts
  • 125 for office accessories

That’s not small potatoes. Even better, bags get almost 6,000 impressions in their lifetime. That’s a bunch of eyeballs every time your client or customer heads to the grocery store, packs up for a picnic or brings in a potluck dish to work.

Calculating Conversion Rate

Now, no one’s saying that calculating conversion rate is a straightforward process. It takes time, effort and careful control of variables, not all of which is possible in the fast-paced day-to-day. Even online marketing, where you can easily grab and analyze data, proves a challenging environment in which to analyze your efforts – and when your products go out into the world, never to be heard from again, it’s even harder to measure their results.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though. The most important factor in getting a good read on which of your promotional materials work is a controlled environment.

As with any other scientific process, you must isolate variables to determine what works. That means before you run a promotional product campaign at a tradeshow, customer loyalty program or even a company picnic, make sure you’re not simultaneously making other changes. That means:

  • Holding off on web redesigns or adjustments to your email marketing approach
  • Running the same ads you always run online or in other media
  • Giving out a specified number of promotional items, ideally only one
  • Not running other promotions, such as seasonal discounts or coupons

Again, a busy business doesn’t always have control over flux, but do your best to even out all other variables when you run a promotional campaign. Then check your metrics: email inquiries, phone calls, signups, sales, etc. If you notice a bump from your recent tradeshow or event – especially if you can compare it to a similar campaign at a tradeshow last year – you’ll have a lot of great intel with which to work.

If you’re ready for a deeper dive, we highly recommend this in-depth look at marketing campaign analysis. (3)

The Secret: Quality Products

If you associate promotional items with all the junky swag you bring home from conferences and trade shows, you’re not alone. Many people find themselves inundated with calendars that don’t hold together, pens that break, shirts that fall apart or shrink horribly after a wash, and other items that neither serve nor appeal to most of us.

Before you embark on a promo campaign, make a commitment to avoiding this mistake. Not only does it save you money – items that don’t work don’t stick around for very long – but it’s better for the environment. Since clients and customers love an environmental stance, you’re doing yourself an extra favor. Not only do you get longevity, you get green points as well.

Now that you know more about marketing with promotional products, we’re betting you feel a little more confident in running your own campaigns. However, if you ever get stuck or want help, you can always feel free to get in touch, and our friendly team will point you in the right direction. As you embark on this new journey, may we just say:

Bon voyage!