It’s Not That Simple

Please, no more studies showing how promotional products are more powerful than digital advertising.

Coming from a company that is in the business of promotional products and apparel, this statement might be surprising. It runs counter to what you will see in any impressions study or infographics and ad maps posted by many promotional distributors. But, as a company that prides itself on understanding the big picture of marketing and advertising (and that regularly uses physical and digital tools together for client campaigns), it would be disingenuous for us to rattle off numbers highlighting how promotional products are the best and most cost-effective ad medium as if you’ll suddenly shut down your AdWords account or cancel all your boosted and promoted social media content.

Now… are promotional products and apparel effective ad mediums? Absolutely! As the examples below illustrate, promotional products are the perfect tool for the job in certain situations. But, as someone who pairs brands with awesome swag for a living, I believe the true power and value of these items lies beyond Cost Per Impression (CPI) or reach and recall metrics most frequently used in traditional and digital advertising. The true value of promotional product marketing is rooted in its emotional response, brand ambassador effect, and versatility, and these values can be amplified with complimentary digital ad mediums.

  1. Emotional Response

Promotional products and branded apparel have a nearly unrivaled ability to make your audience feel good about your brand. The 2017 PPAI Consumer Study found 82% of people who received a promotional product or piece of branded apparel had a more favorable impression of the advertiser after receiving the product.  What’s important here is who you can target for that emotional response. For example, promotional products are the ideal medium for marketing to your internal customers. There are no practical AdWords campaigns, and few practical viral video or social campaigns, that can be run to increase job satisfaction or employee retention.

But, from speaking to employees at the companies that trust us with their brand (or that use our Brand-Driven Technology Solutions to simplify employee gifting and rewards), we know first-hand how much they love the investment their employers make on swag to say “thank you”, “welcome aboard”, “job well done”, or to celebrate company or individual milestones. On a consumer side, it’s not hard to find instances of people going crazy in person or on social media to claim a free logo’d product.

From small products like can coolers or t-shirts, to luxury tech items and jackets, promotional products are appreciated, highly valued, and get regular use however and to whomever they are distributed. Which leads to the second true value of promotional marketing…

  1. Brand Ambassador Effect

A few years ago, significant focus was placed on social media brand ambassador and influencer campaigns. The idea of leveraging the following of major outside influencers and your client base to implicitly or explicitly endorse your products seems sound. In fact, recent figures published by AdWeek suggests influencer marketing continues to be a successful tactic to drive offer redemption and retail store traffic on Instagram.

The downside? Social influencer campaigns can be tough to develop, often require tools to manage and monitor, and are frequently transactional in nature (which makes them great for retail, but tougher for the B2B community). This is where promotional products can shine, either as an in-person campaign, using your existing social platforms, or using both in tandem. When someone receives a quality product or piece of apparel with your brand, it will usually be put to good use, making your name more familiar to the person who received the product, as well as the sphere beyond them. There are a lot of figures out there about the number of impressions different promotional products will generate, but one case history can show the real-life impact more significantly than any isolated metrics.

In 2013, Sujan Patel, founder of the digital marketing agency Single Grain, wrote a blog post about how they devoted their marketing budget to giving out t-shirts to employees, friends, customers, and their social media sphere via a social campaign that boiled down to “Hey, want a free t-shirt?”. The result was a $500K increase in business that could be directly attributed to their t-shirt campaign. Team members wearing shirts would be asked “What’s Single Grain?”, providing an opportunity for a quick elevator pitch that frequently turned into a follow-up conversation or deal. Friends and followers wore the t-shirts to work at their own jobs, sparking interest and referrals from major tech companies. And, because of the local saturation of the Single Grain name, Sujan found prospective clients were entering the pipeline more interested and intrigued, making it easier to close new deals.

A couple years later, Sujan posted an update that his t-shirt campaign ultimately led to around $980K in additional revenue, and that when he sold Single Grain and moved to a new company, the very first thing he did was launch a similar campaign.

This kind of grass-roots marketing can be adopted by almost any business, requires no extra tools, and is not limited to a specific media channel or demographic. Every organization has a stable of influencers and ambassadors ready to be activated between their workforce, social media followers, and existing client base, and when you work with an expert to determine the right product, design, and distribution for your audience (that’s where we come in!), good things will usually happen.

  1. Versatility

There are a lot of things digital marketing does very well. In the B2C world, it’s difficult to match the expanded reach and instant gratification paid search advertising can offer. In B2B environments, there is real value to using digital tools to identify new leads, make them familiar with your product, and bring them into your funnel with engaging content.

By the same token, there are things digital marketing doesn’t do, or doesn’t do well by itself. Paid search does not provide a tangible experience for your clients after a meeting. It doesn’t generate a captive audience at a tradeshow or event to foster real conversations. It doesn’t say “job well done” to your sales team or push them to go the extra mile.

Promotional products are an amazing medium because they are so versatile, personal, and can be deployed in so many ways. They’re the icing on the cake to close a big-ticket purchase. They’re the sales aid that drives a message home (and keeps working after the appointment). They’re the way you show your workforce and current clients you care about them, while also exposing your brand to a wider audience. Products can be distributed in person, or to larger audiences when used in conjunction with your existing social media and digital marketing platforms. No matter how the products are deployed, promotional products are a tool that, like last month’s blog suggests, provide real-world engagement in an increasingly digital environment. And, when you partner with a promotional expert that understands the bigger picture and has the technology tools and distribution expertise needed to execute on large-scale campaigns, the result may be beyond your wildest imagination.

The fact is, promotional products and digital marketing have their own strengths, to the point that it’s hard to compare them head to head and pointless to try to pit them against each other. As I’ve tried to illustrate, the best corporate marketers and agencies like Identity Works use all the available tools in their toolbox in a complementary fashion to build on the strengths of each channel. If you want the “traditional media” metrics of promotional marketing, feel free to drop me a line, but if you focus instead on the intangible qualities of this tangible medium, you (and your audience) will be significantly more pleased with the result.

This month’s blog article was written by Matt Gonzales, Merchandising and QuickBrand® Manager for Identity Works.


Photo Source: Hancock, JD. Batman vs. Superman (203/365), photograph, viewed June 2017,