Making the right impression with your promotional products

Do you want a new reusable water bottle? Sure. How about a coupon off your next purchase? Yes. What about a free USB drive?  Absolutely, I’ll take that too. Sunglasses? A koozie? A beach bag? Yes, yes, and yes. To a college student, young professional, or really anybody for that matter, we all love free stuff. And this free stuff, to those who are the ones giving it away, is part of a clever advertising strategy known as promotional products.

Companies spend a lot of time, money, and effort in deciding which items will carry their brands and best resonate with the consumer. Regarding their own business, companies must ask: What is the best item to invest in? Where will the item be distributed? What is our promotional budget? Then in regards to the consumer, companies must ask: Who is the target audience? Do we want them to use our product once or respectively? Do we want consumers to use the product publicly or privately?

Promotional Objectives

While there can be many goals of a promotional plan, usually the first and foremost is building or increasing brand recognition. And the key to doing such? Repetition. By showcasing your brand’s name, logo, or slogan, promotional items are great at repeatedly exposing consumers to your brand on a daily basis. In situations where companies are new to the market, promotions can be pivotal in not only reaching the consumer, but telling the market who they are and what they have to offer.

When thinking of an item received in the past two years, 76.2% of consumers can recall 3 key pieces of information about the advertiser or product.

Other objectives of promotional plans are: Creating interest – helping customers recognize they have a need to purchase. Provide information – when a product is so novel, information is needed to help explain what the product it. Or, when in a competing market, information can help distinguish a product from a competitor’s. Stimulate Demand – promotions can help drive customers to make an initial purchase, buy sooner, or buy more. And finally, reinforcing the brand – promotions such as regular incentives can lead to a regular and loyal customer base.

Check out the excerpt below from an infographic on harnessing the power brand recognition:

brand-recognition-infographic-halo cropped


When looking to establish or expand a customer base, your target audience should be the center of consideration. This should be a determining factor in all decisions, from what events you attend, to what promotional items you purchase. Questions you should ask yourself to help you prepare are:

  • Who will you be talking to? Administration, upper level management, consumers?
  • What are their habits? Work environment? Hobbies? Interest?
  • What items would fit into their environment?
  • What messages do you want to send to them with your item?
  • What are their demographics?
  • What communication are they receiving from this item?
  • Where are they from?
  • Where is the event located?

Answering these questions can help you pick a giveaway item that reflects your brand and attracts the target market you seek.


Looking for promotional items can sometimes be a dark hole. There are so many to options to choose from for all different prices. Use your budget as a way to narrow down your choices. This formula is a simple way to look at it.

Budget # of needed items × (y=price per unit)

$1000 ≥ 500 items × (y)                      Therefore: y ≤ $2.00 per unit

So, if you need 500 giveaway items for a year’s worth of events and you have a $1000 budget for the year. You would need to consider items that cost no more than $2.00 per unit.

In addition to this, make sure that what money you put into buying your promotional items are exceeded in the value given back, whether that be monetary or image. If you aren’t getting a ROI on your giveaways then consider whether the promotional strategy you have is working and adjust accordingly. You may ask how do you measure this? Remember when you host events to see if your website traffic, sales, or brand recognition increase during and shortly after this time.

In the process of selecting promotional items, it is often advertised that buying items in bulk will reduce cost, however, giving up quality for quantity can cost you more in the long run. First, cheap products signal to your customers that you may cut corners to save money for yourself – a damaging reputation for your audience to form when you are trying to attract new customers. Secondly, people tend to throw away cheap products – items that end up in the trash are a missed opportunity at continual exposure with the consumer who picked up your product, and to whom they would expose your brand to in their use of such product.

In her article, “The 12 Dumbest Things to do with Giveaways”, Candy Adams says, “if your attendees throw your giveaways in the garbage, you could just as easily avoid the middle man and toss the money you spent on them in the trash yourself.”

Creativity and Customization

Think twice about buying items that are overly used, such as stress balls, pens. Being creative in your promotional items will not only grab the attention of your audience, but will also ensure that your items are being used rather than tossed.

When researching creative promotions I found an article on where young entrepreneurs commented on what they thought the coolest giveaways encompassed. A reoccurring theme among the answers was establishing a unique and relevant giveaway item. John Hall shared he offered Coffee Cereal to people, a brand many were unfamiliar with. And Thursday Bram commented that instead of giving out tangible items she goes for digital downloads like an eBook.

However, you don’t have to think in big and bulky or super expensive terms to find creative promotional products. Simple items, such as hair ties with your logo on it, can be a fun and versatile giveaway. What person with longer hair doesn’t need another hair tie? However, don’t let your creativity run too wild. The item should make sense with yours and your event’s target market. Bringing hair ties to events where people aren’t likely to have long locks and use hair ties is a waste of money and your time.


Remember to keep your audience’s habits in mind as you are brainstorming potential giveaway items, what you chose to giveaway should make sense for your audience to integrate your item into their daily routine. For example, if you are a software company, giving away staplers or padfolios might not be the best options since it is most likely your audience will be working mainly from and at computers. Instead think – USB sticks, free trials of new software, stylus pens, or cloths that can be used to clean screens. If you are a gym, you may want to give away earphones printed with your logo. Not only with the consumer use such a product at minimum on a weekly basis, but every time they do wear the headphones your logo will always be in view.

Also keep in mind trends in marketing, or trends surrounding your audience, For example, millennial’s love to customize, but customizable items can get expensive. So look for a medium ground. My favorite example of this is a thank you giveaway that the Cape Fear Valley Blood Donor Center gave to blood donors. The giveaway was a Koozie, but not just any logo stamped insulator. To make it unique they purchased a Koozie with insulated ice packs. However, it was the design that was the best part. Going with a nautical theme for the campaign, one side was the tagline, “Life’s Roughest Storms Need Anchors” and then the anchor on the other side was the individual’s blood type. A simple and effective item in their strategy to promote giving blood and to give a personalized thanks you to the donors.


If your company is seriously thinking about considering a promotional plan, it is advised that the plan for the coming year should be enacted in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year. The plan should follow a schedule that would allow targeted distribution opportunities at places and events such as: trade shows, conferences, fundraisers, a purchase or participation exchange, checkout or welcome areas, contests, holidays, and customer appreciation giveaways.

What are your favorite creative promotional items? What promotional strategies have you found that works well? Let us know in a comment below.

– Savannah Valade & Caroline Robinson

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