Are you wasting your money on promotional marketing?

Photo Courtesy of Xperience PromotionsThis article has to start with a shout out to Bobbie Shrivastav, of Benekiva. As part of a long twitter conversation, amoungst some of the brightest in the industry, the topic of promotional marketing came up, and Bobbie asked me to write an article on this subject.I have been involved in the promotional marketing industry for over 20 years now. Some here will refer to this as SWAG, but I hope by the end of this article you will remove this word from your lexicon.

SWAG is Stuff We All Get.  It is the “logoed stuff” that is handed out at trade shows and given away to top clients, but if it is truly Stuff We All Get. . . then where is its value?

The reason to utilize promotional marketing is to enable reach and recall by those you wish to influence when you are not in the room. Does what you give away to your clients and prospects have these qualities?

  1. Is it valuable to those receiving it?
  2. Does it communicate the value of your brand effectively?
  3. Will it enable a call to action by those receiving it, either now or in the future?

If it does not accomplish these three things, you have wasted time, effort, and money.

Let me give you an example of a failure in promotional marketing that happened over a decade ago. A client insisted on this promotion, I advised against it, but they went ahead with it anyway. It was for a national construction company that was attending a major show in Vegas. They wanted to differentiate themselves and had me create yardsticks with their logo, website, and the phrase, “Do your current suppliers measure up?”

It was memorable, on brand, on message but lacked one key thing, beyond the show floor, no one ever saw these ever again. The supplier handed out thousands of these yardsticks, and at the exit to the trade show floor, and at the security gate of the airport, thousands of these were in the garbage cans.


They were too big. No one could put them in their suitcases, or carry them home with them on the plane, and therefore they were abandoned.

There are over 750,000 promotional marketing items available, and ninety-eight percent or more of them are wrong for your current campaign, brand, or client.

They are not seen as valuable and therefore are either thrown away or given to children and grandchildren, and neither of these options provides you with any return on your investment.

Another problem people face is the thought that they need to give away product in quantity, instead of quality.

If you give away something cheap, that breaks easily and is perceived as poor quality by your customer… THAT IS HOW YOU WILL BE PERCEIVED.

Too many people give away cheap pens or other items because they feel that they need to give away quantity, and that is probably the worst thing you can do. 

If you have a budget or $2000.00, then you are much better off giving away four hundred $5.00 items or two hundred $10.00 items than 2000 $1.00 items. What you give away will have a higher perceived value to those receiving them and will more likely stay with them longer adding to both increased reach and recall.

The third piece of advice I can give is that placing your logo on everything you give away can cheapen things.

Here is an example. For years, I had a client who gave away Mont Blanc pens. These pens retailed for $850.00 US. When he signed a contract with a client, which was always for a significant amount, he gave the pen to the person to sign the contract and then told them to keep it. His logo was nowhere on the pen, but every single client knew who they had received it from and cherished it.

Your clients do not want to be walking billboards for you. Consequently, subtlety of branding is key. Making something elegant enables it to be received as a valued gift and utilized more often. The more it is used, the more opportunities there are for the client to remember you.

I urge everyone reading this to ask themselves these questions when designing and implementing a promotional marketing campaign:

  1. Does this represent my brand well?
  2. Am I proud to give this away?
  3. Will my clients find this valuable to them?
  4. How does this piece help my customers remember me and contact me when needed?
  5. Do I KNOW this is safe to give away to my customers, and can I get documentation to prove this?

How can we help you communicate effectively and become more trustworthy to those you wish to influence?

Photo Courtesy of Xperience Promotions


About Ben Baker

Ben Baker wants to help you engage, retain, and grow your most valuable asset … your employees. He provides workshops and consulting to enable staff to understand, codify, and communicate their value effectively internally and externally and Retain Employees Through Leadership. The author of Powerful Personal Brands: A Hands-On Guide to Understanding Yours and the host of the IHEART Radio syndicated show, he writes extensively on leadership, brand, and internal communication strategy.

2 thoughts on “Are you wasting your money on promotional marketing?”

  1. Great article. I can’t tell you how many shows I’ve been to over the years and sadly, about 90% of what get’s handed to me ends up getting tossed. It’s seemed like a good idea at the time but as soon as I got it home (if i get it that far), out it goes. The last few years I’ve been better at just not picking these things up.

    Here’s an idea I picked up from the “Sell or Die podcast” (Jeffrey Gitomer or Jennifer Gluckow) … if you have a $2000 budget, instead of spending $5 on an item with your logo that will be tossed, spend $50-60 (or more) for an item with your prospects or clients logo on it. It’s something they will keep (it has their logo on it) and chances are they will think of you every time they use it. You will get a lot more bang for your buck and the ROI will be much greater.

  2. Glenn,

    Thanks for the comment. Promotional marketing is all about understanding your clients and what they value. It is not about you, but rather how you want people to feel about you. The only way you can do that is to make them feel special. If you don’t, then why give a gift at all?



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