Promotional Items Can Be Effective

March 2, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — In its grand opening campaign, the new Meijer Credit Union branch in Rockford handed visitors grocery list and post-it pads, chip clips, foam coolers and calendars bearing its brand.

At an archery trade show, Burr and Co. Insurance’s Jeffrey DeRegnaucourt gives prospective clients first-aid kits emblazoned with his company’s logo as he explains its insurance programs for archers.

CPR Inc., a technology firm, hands out branded gummy worms.

As a robust and versatile form of advertising, promotional products like these are many times a gift that keeps on giving.

The average person keeps a promotional product for six months, said Jan Hall of Advertising In Motion LLC, whose company was responsible for the Meijer and Burr promotions. A pen goes through an average of eight people’s hands in its lifetime. A coffee cup, depending on its placement, can register eight to 10 impressions an hour — or minute, she said.

Sometimes, in cases such as the Remex Corp. mouse pad, Old Kent Bank’s leather cash envelope or Sagestone Consulting’s coffee cup, the promotions outlast the brand they’re marketing.

“People love to get something. They love it when you say thank you,” Hall said. “And there is a lot of logo wear out there.”

“It is very cost-effective,” said Paul Schweitzer, president of CompleteSource. “If used properly they have a very high rate of retention. People respond to them, they like them, they stay around if used properly.

“I think it’s the best form of advertising out there,” he said. “But there is a budget point for just about everything out there. It’s a marketing tool.”

Schweitzer explained that he often has customers express a desire to give promotional products away, but with little forethought.

“They say, ‘We want to give away something.’ I ask, ‘Why do you want to give it away?’” he said.

“You have to have quantifiable goals. You want to give away a mug? Why do you want to and how are you going to measure that?”

Schweitzer said that whereas other media can measure a message’s impact, promotional printing has traditionally overlooked those metrics. While newspapers, television and outdoor advertising will have ratings, subscriber demographics and traffic counts in hand, many promotional printing distributors will just flip open a catalog to show off T-shirts and stress balls.

Often the biggest problem, Schweitzer said, is that salespeople don’t ask the client about their needs.

“We try to learn what the company’s goals are and what their target market is,” Hall said. “If I’m going to the health fair and I’m trying to attract someone who is 60 years old, I’m going to need a different product than if I’m trying to attract younger people.”

Burr and Co. is a perfect example, she said. The first-aid kit is useful for the market it is trying to reach: archery supply companies. As most are either bow hunters or archery competitors, the product is useful. Not only will it be kept and continue to register impressions, but it also implies that the company cares about its clients’ — or potential clients’ — health and well-being.

Plus, there is a natural connection between the necessity for both the first-aid kit and insurance.

Some products may register a strong impact, Hall said, but that impact may not be positive.

“There are lots of crazy products,” she said. “But a lot of times they have batteries or they break, and then it negatively impacts your image. ‘Oh, yeah. They were the people who had the thing that didn’t work.’”

CompleteSource is hoping that a heavy investment in technology will help distinguish itself from other distributors.

“If you haven’t invested in the software and have the ability to work online, you’re gradually going to lose ground,” Schweitzer said.

His company has developed software to host online stores for its clients. With that, CompleteSource can then fill the order directly.

Some companies are using the store for pseudo retail purposes. One client has its employees order uniforms and company clothing through the site. Another client, WGVU-TV, uses the site for fulfillment of its Kid Club packages.

“They were buying low quantities and buying regularly the products that went into these packs,” Schweitzer said. “Why pay so much for such a small quantity? Order a large quantity, we’ll warehouse it and fulfill the orders for you.”

Promotional Impact has found its niche within high-end promotions.

“Our approach is uniqueness,” said President Karen Scarpino. “Very rarely do we have a client that wants to give something that they’ve already seen given away.”

The boutique firm has attracted several large corporate accounts through customized promotional products.

“These are innovative, forward-thinking companies. When they invest in a product, it’s really an incentive of some kind,” she said. “They really want someone to be pleased about what they’re receiving. So our creativity is always being pushed to the extreme.

“Every year we’re looking at doing things better, creating that ‘wow factor’ all over again. Then we have to beat it the next year.”

As clients develop new products, the firm custom designs promotional products and its packaging. One office furniture maker wanted a blanket that matched a design. Another company wanted a candy dispenser, but since there wasn’t one on the market that was “high-tech” enough to match its image, needed one custom made.

Some manufacturers prefer key chains created from the exact mold of a new product; others have asked for a replica of a new logo.

“We can’t just show them a catalog and say, ‘Here’s our product line,’” Scarpino said.

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