"A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is.
It is what consumers tell each other it is."
- Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, business and financial software specialists
To fully comprehend how effective the use of promotional products truly is within the field of successful brand marketing, we need to assess the power and context of the other (and more traditional) channels of advertising that currently coexist in a world dominated by our socio-digital revolution.
The impact, successful or otherwise, of any channel or media form of brand marketing is heavily reliant upon:
- Elements core to each channel
- How consumers from different demographics engage with and react to those elements, and
- How those different channel-driven approaches, including promotional products, attempt to drive the brand forward to success.
That's exactly what this article will discuss.
All-round marketing expert Seth Godin once said, "Marketing is a contest for people's attention." The guy's right, of course. However, the whole concept of marketing your brand has grown exponentially, thanks to this socio-digital revolution, into a monstrous technological giant, striding around the consciousness of consumers, telling them this and telling them that, usually breathing fire for effect. It may still be a contest, but it's a ruthless, competitive one at that.
The offering of a promotional product of some description, and thus influencing its recipient, is one of the oldest forms of brand marketing. Way back in 1789, a certain George Washington celebrated his newly-crowned U.S. presidency by handing out commemorative coat buttons to mark the auspicious occasion, and, at the same time, successfully branding himself and his achievement.
Today, the U.S. promotional products industry is worth a cool $23 billion, and growing quite happily at 3% p.a. Let's look at some more numbers. Annual expenditure on promotional products for a top Fortune 500 company like Pfizer is around $85 million, with General Motors and AT&T not far behind. Serious investment, year-in, year-out. So why? The answer is dead simple - promotional products really do work. And why do they work so well? Because they influence you, as a customer, and you influence others.
When used in conjunction with other marketing methods:
This "principle of reciprocity," as highlighted by Robert Cialdini in his best-selling book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion," is a further facet to understanding the simple power of promotional products when used in the right way, as part of a wider marketing strategy, across all the possible channels that exist in our social media-dominated world. As Cialdini states, "There is no human society that doesn't subscribe to the rule [of reciprocity]." Society is the key word here, because only decent people are a true member of such a community.
Remember lastly, however, getting a consumer's attention is one thing. You actually keeping it is quite another. Let's begin:
Your Advertising Channel Choices
Sunday, February 5, 2017 Super Bowl LI (the U.S.'s most watched television event all year, every year) New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons Viewed by nearly 112 million (Lady Gaga, star of the half-time show, got more than the football players, at 117.5 million) Cost of a 30-second commercial: $5.5 million Yes, just 30 seconds to market your brand to the nation.All things considered, that's still a mighty large audience of potential brand consumers all gathered around their TV sets at the same time. If ever there was a clear example of the advertising power of television, the Super Bowl is it. You see it, you hear it, and, if the story's good enough, you feel it too.
Using the combination of text, images, video and sound, the world of advertising and brand marketing was forever changed by the invention of TV, and its presence will linger a long time yet. Probably up until another sense is incorporated into the mix. Today's TV reaches even larger mass, targeted audiences than ever before, ensuring greater numbers make instant decisions about which brand is the best, and which product they should purchase.
- Mass, targeted audiences
- Different mediums (video/audio)
- Fuels different emotions
- Captive nature of TV
- TV more powerful than other forms of traditional advertising media
- High cost (audience-dependent)
- Authenticity / credibility
- Modification difficult
- Can be avoided by audience
The establishment of radio as an advertising channel occurred back in the 1920s, when, because of the costs involved in equipment improvement and performers' pay, stations sought other sources of revenue. In August, 1922, the very first radio ad (for a real estate developer) was aired in New York City. Within 5 years, radio had become big business - the first nationwide radio network was formed, called the National Broadcasting Company (NBC, to you and me), with the very first national broadcast being of our old friend, the Super Bowl, in 1927.
Radio advertising is a very intimate affair. Many listeners do so alone, either at home, while driving or jogging, for example. A radio listener will develop a much closer and stronger relationship with the medium than the TV channel their favorite show appears on, identifying with the music and the on-air personalities. Add in the fact that radio ads are seriously cheaper than their TV counterparts, and quicker to produce and then edit, and their appeal, especially to smaller businesses and brands, is clear.
Radio ads currently account for around 6.9% of all annual media advertising expenditure, and that is projected to reach a total of nearly $19 billion in the U.S. by 2020. When you consider that 92% of listeners continue to listen when their show is interrupted by advertising (probably because they're actively doing something), then you can understand why, in our technological age, the radio still is moving forward.
Heard the phrase "Generation X"? Don't look now, but you may be one of its merry band, just like me. Sandwiched between the infamous Baby Boomers and the rapidly-becoming infamous Millennials, Gen Xers admit to being heavily influenced by radio commercials, rating them more influential than print-based advertising, such as newspapers and magazines. A study by MarketingCharts.com reveals that the Gen X demographic is more influenced by radio, social media ads, and promotional products, than ever, and less so when it comes to TV ads, email campaigns, and online consumer reviews. Now there's food for thought.
- More targeted demographic audiences
- Quick production
- Intimacy and contact
- Cost-effective when compared to more popular forms of advertising
- Not location-specific
- Branding opportunities through the radio station itself
- High risk of distraction
- Limited impact
- Audience not captive
Always a golden opportunity to distribute promotional products to potential customers, Event Marketing (known by a whole host of other titles, such as Engagement Marketing, Experiential Marketing, Live Marketing, and so on) is a proven strategy for bringing the brand and the consumer together in what is described as Consumer Engagement. Potential customers are given the opportunity to participate in a brand's evolution, and to see, touch and experience the brand face-to-face, with the aim of building a relationship between the two, with the inspired consumer then sharing the event with others, predominantly via social media. It allows the company in question to directly meet those potential customers, as well as potential influencers.
Let's hit some big numbers regarding such events. Did you know...?
- 84% of consumers who purchase a branded product at an event... repurchase the same after the event.
- 60% of brand marketers use these events specifically to meet and greet their clientele, and
- 58% believe an event improves a consumer's experience of a brand.
- Connect with consumers face-to face
- Connect with influencers face-to face
- Experience current industry trends
- Find possible business solutions
- Not all consumer feedback in public is positive
- Not all consumer ideas can be incorporated into the brand
- Balance of consumer ideas vs. your brand vision
Regardless of what some may feel about the proverbial junk mail arriving in the mailbox, it's sent simply because it works. Think about it. How many emails arrive in your inbox each day? Guaranteed, it's going to be more than you actually care to read. So, you don't. However, that doesn't stop them arriving. This fact became blatantly apparent when direct mail first started appearing on a mass scale. You may simply dispatch whatever you consider to be trash to the nearest receptacle, but some read it first, and then make the decision as to whether it's worth keeping for those special offers, money-off coupons and such like.
Direct mail, just like it's younger and trendy digital nephew, has one big bonus over other marketing channels - targeting. Not just to demographics, but to its actual addressees. Companies who engage in direct mail shots aren't stupid. They know they first need to bypass the wastebasket to get their brand message across. However, they also understand that opening an envelope, and discovering its contents is a much more personal connection than clicking open an email.
Ever been asked for proof of address? The person asking isn't doing so to get your email here - they want to know where you legally live in the real world, not in cyberspace. That's because our postal addresses have an air of trust, of legitimacy - it's our home, not just where our laptop happens to be. Direct mail works because it's so personal.
- Person-specific targeting
- Physical delivery makes it more personal than just an email account inbox
- Tactile nature of delivery
- Wealth of information, eg. a catalogue, that can be kept
- East to track, allowing companies to get highly accurate ROI figures
- The junk mail tag
- Not as cost-effective as email
We live in our socio-digital revolutionary world, where free stuff offered up online is commonplace - download this software, grab this great audio book or print out this 10%-off voucher for the cinema, all for free. Therefore, deciding how best to leverage our marketing spend using any of the above-mentioned channels for what we give away to consumers, we need to look at what our free stuff actually is. Above all, promotional products must be:
- Relevant, and most importantly
An excellent 2012 study, conducted by the British Promotional Merchandising Association, of promotional product recipients found the following:
- Promotional product ROI is generally better than that of radio or outdoor advertising, eg. billboards, and equal to TV and printed advertising.
- 66% could recall the brand name within 12 months of receipt.
- 87% kept their product for over a year.
- 79% likely to become a customer.
- 56% thought more of a brand after receiving the product.
An impression, in the sphere of online marketing, is simply when an ad is fetched from its source, and pops up on a webpage in your browser, regardless if it is then clicked on or not. Because these are countable, advertising fees can then be charged. However, most fees are based on the number of clicks, in the same way. Promotional products, by their very nature, get a serious amount of impressions, made either on the recipient or on others who witness its use. So just how cost-effective are these products when looked at using the impressions analysis?
First, let's look at the average cost per impression (CPI) of other advertising channels, using data from Nielsen Media, experts in what people watch, listen to and buy:
- National magazine ad: $0.033 CPI
- Newspaper ad: $0.013 CPI
- TV ad (prime time): $0.019 CPI
- TV ad (cable): $0.007 CPI
- TV ad (syndicated): $0.006 CPI
- Radio ad: $0.005 CPI
According to a study by Advertising Speciality Institute, the average CPI of promotional products is lower than all of the above - at $0.004.
So, taking into account such cost-effectiveness, how fully do promotional products engage the customer (apart from the fact they're free)? The power of cinema, TV, YouTube, you name it (if you watch it on a screen), is undisputed - the combination of audio and visual media fully engages two of our senses. The promotional product, however, can engage all five of our senses at once, through its feel, its look, its sound, its taste, and its smell.
As proclaimed in our title, the use of promotional products, when used to complement other strategies, duly multiplies the marketing impact and leverages those all-important marketing dollars. So just how does it do this? Here are a number of examples of various scenarios:
- Your company is exhibiting at a trade show. By giving away a promotional branded item to those who have visited your exhibit, you have leveraged your tradeshow expenditure because those potential customers will see that item between 10 and 100 times over the next 6 months.
- Your company sponsors an event. There are thousands in attendance who see your printed banners and hear your brand name. You can leverage your event sponsorship spend by giving away a branded item that attendees will see again and again in the coming months.
- Your company sales reps (a big expense for most businesses) hit the road to meet new customers. Leverage that cost by giving them a variety of branded items to leave with the client, reminding them of the visit many times over.
- Your company attends an industry convention. Leverage the cost of your attendance with a branded item that lets the others in your field know exactly who you are. This may well open up the possibility of "Brandscaping" (partnering with other companies to mutually promote your brands together, increasing demand).
"We have that marketing event next month. What brand item can we give away to get more out of that event?"
"Our reps will be pushing this promotion next month. What brand item will help us leverage our time and money spent on that promotion?" or
"We're mailing that promotional flyer next month. How can we leverage that direct mail spend with a promotional item?"
All successful marketing comes down to great creativity. But just how creative can you get with promotional products? Here are some inspired examples:
Brussels Airlines were trying to raise passenger awareness of pickpockets operating in airports. Their creative approach to this issue? Members of staff slipped rubbers hands (yes, rubber hands) into the unattended luggage of distracted passengers. Emblazoned on each rubber hand was the following message: "This hand just slipped into your bag. Beware of Pickpockets" along with the airline's logo. You can pretty much guarantee that, upon the hand's discovery, those passengers were a little more alert than before.
Alzheimers New Zealand's promotional product came in the form of a functioning pencil eraser. However, it had been hollowed out and fitted with a fully-functional USB drive, and featured the following message: "Alzheimer's Erases Your Memories. Save Them." On the other side, their logo and website info. Very clever, and truly inspired. The product was so popular it won the Cannes International Silver Design Lion back in 2010.
Pet food manufacturer, Iams, once handed out Frisbees in the shape of barbell weights, with the words "Strong Dogs" and the company logo imprinted on them. Now, just imagine you're walking through the park with your own dog and you see another leaping for, and successfully catching in its teeth, what looks like one of those metal weights for working out....
- Low CPI of product
- Person-specific targeting
- Full engagement
- More brand-memorable than other advertising channels
- Shipping Costs (if applicable)
- Storage Costs (if items are to be used over time)
- Difficult to track actual ROI
- Can be difficult to find exact items that work well with your brand's logo, eg. colors and dimensions
Just last week, if we ever needed proof of the huge amounts of good cold cash that companies are prepared to throw at their corporate advertising budgets, there it came - Facebook's quarterly profit had risen by a massive 71% from last year, driven by mobile video ad sales, and, in turn, driving its share price to yet another record high.
From its low CPI to its high engagement level for recipients, from its person-specific targeting to its clear brand recognition value, the use of promotional products all adds up to a highly cost-effective marketing strategy when used in conjunction with more expensive and traditional ones, certainly for medium to small businesses.
All of the traditional advertising channels that have been discussed above carry advantages over others; yet, in terms of real value-for-money advertising, promotional products, when used creatively in marketing, can certainly get your message, along with your brand, right to where you want it.
What are your thoughts about using promotional products within brand marketing? Are you actively contemplating the idea or are you a diehard advertising speciality item fan? If so, why? Please feel free to share your thoughts with your fellow readers.