By Gordon Glenister, Organiser of Promotional Products Week 2014 and
Director-General of the British Promotional Merchandise Association

The digital age has changed the way consumers work, shop and play and as a result marketing budgets are increasingly focused on internet and mobile marketing, SEO and social media. But, as recent World Cup fever has shown, consumers still love a freebie and the UK, and indeed the world, has been awash with face paint, hand clappers, horns, squeezy footballs and the like. After all, who didn’t see England flags attached to car windows and bunting hanging from trees and balconies? World Cup excitement– and World Cup promotional merchandise - was everywhere.

Today social media plays a big part in the professional and personal lives of many, but the daily influx of tweets, Facebook updates and LinkedIn posts means the subtle marketing messages they contain can often be missed and the hoped-for increase in brand awareness, ‘likes’ or sales fails to materialise. This is where the combination of the old and the new – promotional merchandise and social media – can pay dividends.

Chosen well, a promotional gift will last much longer than a tweet or status update, and can’t be closed with a click of a mouse or simply ignored. Rather it can complement and enhance social media activity by offering a unique opportunity for businesses and brands to not only get their name out there –but also to keep it there. In fact, recent research by the BPMA revealed that 94% of consumers remember the advertiser who gave them a product, or the product advertised, after they have had the item for six months. In addition nearly two-fifths (39%) said they were more likely to use a business that has given them a promotional product when the need for the advertised product or service arises, rather than a similar business that has not given anything.

The key is to choosing the right product for the brand and its target audience, whether this means a branded novelty or commemorative item to tie in with a high profile event such as a major sporting tournament or royal wedding, a useful product for the consumer that can be printed with a hashtag, QR code or web address, or a functional business item such as a branded desk accessory to reinforce a corporate message, contact details or campaign.

A high quality product, which is useful to the recipient, will be kept by them in effect becoming a silent marketing tool that provides ongoing brand awareness. It can help to boost social media followers and online interaction and give customers an opportunity to enthuse about a brand’s generosity and share the promotion across their social networks both personal and professional.

Here are a few examples of what can be achieved and how:

1. To grow a business - why not give away a product to the next 100 Facebook ‘likers’ on a social media page?

2. To engage consumers - offer a free product to people who respond to a question or request a sample via an online or social media channel

3. To reward customers - consider a higher-end gift for specific groups of customers to encourage loyalty to the brand.

There is a wealth of promotional products available for businesses or brands wanting to use them in their marketing campaigns. So picking the right one can be a bit of a minefield.

Here are some of our top tips on sourcing merchandise:

• Define the audience, objectives and budget. What is the campaign hoping to achieve – brand awareness, increase in sales, a rise in followers, engagement with Facebook ‘likers’, a simple thank you to customers?

• Make sure the product is relevant, useful, or topical and ‘of the moment’ to ensure it is retained and not discarded

• Identify the information about the brand that must be communicated – is there a call to action?

• Assess whatinformation would be useful to have from the recipients, if it was possible to obtain it. Look at gathering customer data in exchange for the giveaway.

• Pinpoint what recipients should ideally think about the company or brand after the event or promotion is finished. Will the chosen product deliver this?
• Set out the branding and delivery requirements

• Ask for proof of the supplier’s ethical, environmental and compliance policies and accreditation

• Establish whether the supplier is a member of the British Promotional Merchandise Association for peace of mind

Promotional Products Week takes place during the 15th – 19th September and is being run by the British Promotional Merchandise Association (BPMA). It will include activity from its 600 plus members including open days, events and hospitality, new product launches and special offers, as well as the BPMA Student Design Innovation Awards, which are run in conjunction with Brunel University.