Thursday, February 20, 2014

Don't Waste Your Hard-Earned Cash on Irrelevant Company Swag - Create Gifts Instead

Just about every company that manages to get off the ground for a few years at some point makes the decision to acquire ad specialty items or swag. But many don't take the time to consider the intended effect they are hoping to create with their customers before forking over hundreds of dollars for these promotional products. Instead, with no real strategy at play, a logo that has no business being there, is slapped on a random object and passed out to customers with the hope it will create a sale. I mean just how many company logo branded pens, calendars, koozies or stress balls can you have? Are these things really so compelling that you are immediately going to start buying from the person who sent it to you?

When swag serves no purpose, it truly falls into the category of trinkets and trash (with an emphasis on the trash part). And the trash continues to pollute the world when marketers fail to address the most critical component of a promotional product buy - that the swag must create an emotional connection to the user for it to be effective. When that happens, it's no longer just swag, it becomes a gift.

Think about one of the most successful swag items of all time: the Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt. The Hard Rock Cafe is a themed, rock-n-roll, museum-like experience with memorabilia on display throughout. But at the end of the day it's still just a restaurant. I mean doesn't your local Italian restaurant have Italian-themed pictures and paintings on the wall? So why don't you go buy their t-shirt? You don't buy that t-shirt because more than likely it creates no logical or emotional connection.  

What the Hard Rock Cafe does that makes their promotional product so successful is that it puts the city name underneath the Hard Rock Cafe logo on the t-shirt. And because there is only one Hard Rock Cafe in every city, the location is able to create a meaningful connection to that place. I mean come on, do you really go on vacation to New York City to dine at the Hard Rock Cafe? No, but I bet you want the cool t-shirt that says you went to New York City!

To create gifts of value (not useless swag), you need to be thoughtful. To be thoughtful with any marketing simply means you are able to connect your company, idea or product in a meaningful way to the needs of your prospective customer. Really, that is the magic formula, and it doesn't matter what industry you are in, you can create a connection to your customers with swag and immediately start to earn brand loyalty. But you'll actually have to do some critical thinking first to accomplish this feat. To identify the appropriate promotional product, you must completely understand when your customers want to see you, where they want to spend time with you, and of course, why they want to interact with you. 

When Do Your Customers See You?

Do your customers see you in the morning or afternoon, when it's cold or hot, night or day, etc. - you catch my drift? When you think about the timing of when your customers interact with you, is there swag that can help facilitate that interaction? A common promotional item you see are branded coffee mugs and tumblers. Half the time you see these branded coffee cups, they have some random logo of a manufacturing company or consultancy who has nothing to do with coffee or when people drink coffee - no connection. But say you are trying to promote a morning radio program or T.V. show. I can think of no better giveaway than a coffee mug or tumbler as it immediately helps prompt the recipient to tune in while they enjoy their morning coffee. Timing of course is everything, even with promotional products.

Where Do Your Customers Spend Time With You?

As we previously touched on, are customers spending time with the Hard Rock Cafe in just the restaurant or is it really the city that they're visiting for the first time? The affiliation with each city that the Hard Rock Cafe has is what makes the experience extra unique. So a t-shirt that says you've been to New York City, Chicago or Nashville is extremely appropriate. That's an instant connection. So of course, thinking about the right promotional product must take location into account, and it doesn't just have to be in the geographic definition of location. For instance, would the creator of the latest popular app really make a connection to their customers with branded notepads or t-shirts? Probably not. Those items don't connect to the customer's location. Rather with an app, your customers are of course spending time with you on their phones (think screen cleaners, pens with an end for touch screens, etc.).

Why Do Your Customers Interact With You?

The last and most critical consideration of an effective swag piece is to think about why customers interact with your brand. This can be the trickiest concept to identify but once you clearly understand why your customers interact with you, you'll immediately be able to come up with promotional gifts that help to strengthen that interaction. For my printing business, many of our long-term customers choose to interact with us because we've developed deep personal relationships. When it's personal, you can reflect this relationship in your gifts, and that simply means choosing gifts that you know the customer will personally enjoy (branded golf balls for the golfer, food and gift baskets for the foodie, etc.). It works because you know them on a personal level. However, a brand new customer, one where the relationship hasn't yet developed beyond simple professional interactions, might be turned off by a gift basket as it's a little more personal (I emphasize might as everyone loves free food!). Instead, for the professional-only relationship, you should focus on gifts that reinforce how your business can help them (ex - a personalized Yankee Candle given to businesses by a cleaning company might help to reinforce a cleaner, better smelling environment).

When choosing swag, the careful consideration of the when, where and why of customer interactions can't be understated. So if your next promotional product doesn't cover at least one of these points, don't be disappointed when your customer trashes it! Buying swag can be one of the best ways in the world to promote your business, but like any gift, if you don't thoughtfully spend the time necessary to make it great, it won't be memorable.