Giveaways, Not Throwaways: Reimagining Promotional Items

The market for promotional products—swag, knick-knacks, trinkets, and leave-behinds—amounted to an astounding $25 billion in 2022. This number serves as a testament to the immense market for branded tchotchkes to promote goods and services. They can be a powerful selling tool, after all. That is, of course, when done right. Otherwise, they become nothing more than throwaways and a waste of good money.

The purpose of getting a promotional product in someone’s hands is to generate interest, awareness, and a favorable impression of your business. The problem is, most of the tchotchkes coming from brands don’t seem like much of an investment or incentivize whatever action the brands want recipients to take. And with people keeping promotional products for an average of five months, which does provide impressions, there’s also the sustainability aspect to consider. 3d Jigsaw Puzzle

Giveaways, Not Throwaways: Reimagining Promotional Items

A recent study found that four out of five people are likely to choose a brand with a positive approach to environmental sustainability. So, tchotchkes may be delivering the wrong message when not useful, relevant, or valuable in some way, shape, or form. Serious thought must go into whatever it is you plan to give away. The question then becomes, how do you come up with an object that’s so exciting and valuable that it causes recipients to reach back out to you? Start here:

With the exception of pens, key chains are probably one of the most overused items given away by businesses—so much so that they’ve become cliched. Fidget spinners, magnetic calendars, personalized notepads, erasers, mini flashlights, and stress balls also add no real value to building brand awareness. These tchotchkes might come emblazoned with your logo, and some may even offer solid impressions, but their ubiquity can make it feel as if little thought was given. Besides, many people find these items tacky, useless, and cheap.

Harsh words, no doubt, but for good reason: Promotional giveaways should be relevant to your brand. That’s why free product samples or free service trials can go a much longer way in driving interest and awareness, if not sales. Providing samples of food and beauty products delivers 20% and 30% higher conversion rates, respectively. If not that, then get creative with your offerings—and never scrimp on quality. One survey found that roughly 72% of consumers correlate the quality of promotional products with the reputation of a brand. If that reputation is a good one, expect consumers to respect and trust what you’re bringing to market.

When choosing promotional products to give away, consider how the item might add to your brand story. “Start by framing the problem in reverse by envisioning the solution,” suggests Dan Conner, general partner and founder of Ascend Venture Capital. “The ideal outcome is that the recipient is charmed enough to keep the item in a prominent place—say, on their desk. Once it’s there, your trusty tchotchke attracts enough attention to trigger a conversation among passersby. At that moment, the story of your company is aired, the ultimate in remote customer development.”

For example, in an effort to promote one of its portfolio companies, Ascend Venture Capital distributed model kits to build a DeLorean, paired with a narrative about the company. This fresh approach transitions from some throwaway giveaway to an engaging storytelling opportunity, fostering deeper connections between the company and potential stakeholders through memorable interactions. Brainstorm, eliminate, test, and adapt based on the target consumer, what you want to trigger, and the story you hope to achieve from whatever it is you’re giving away.

As with any marketing initiative, you’ll want to measure the return on investment of any promotional merch. However, some companies struggle with arriving at the right metrics for this type of promotion. Again, it all comes back to the goal. What are you hoping to achieve, beyond the storytelling element, by giving away that tchotchke? Are you looking to grow awareness? Are you using this as an opportunity to generate leads? Improving sales is certainly an acceptable goal, as well. Once you’ve defined the goal, it becomes that much easier to choose the right metrics to measure the impact.

Driving brand awareness may lead you to track brand impressions, brand search volume, website traffic, and social media engagement (e.g., followers, likes, shares, retweets, etc.). Generating leads, on the other hand, may require you to measure demos booked, connection requests accepted, new email subscribers, and time to conversion. One caveat with subscribers, though: Only use if getting the giveaway didn’t require the exchange of an email address. The metric can become skewed otherwise. For a sales goal, it’s a matter of tracking conversion rates, average deal size, total revenue, and the like.

Giveaways, Not Throwaways: Reimagining Promotional Items

Shoe Packaging Boxes With brands spending so much money on promotional products, you’d think that more thought and attention would go into what they’re putting out there. That’s not always the case, however. Good enough just isn’t good enough these days. Branded merchandise can end up in landfills, which is just a waste and doesn’t provide the impact you’re looking for. Put just as much creativity into branded items as you would any other marketing initiative, think about the type of story that you hope to tell about your brand, and then measure and adjust from there. That’s the key to making the most out of promotional wares.