I was debating whether or not to write about the promotional products/gifting industry, but I decided that it was timely to do so. 

When I was invited into this industry 30 years ago, it was referred to as “Ad Specialty.” If you think about it, it’s an appropriate name because the advertising or the message a promotional product sends is specialized. An actual product is branded and given away. No other advertising method does this. It wasn’t called “swag,” it was also unfortunately referred to as “trinkets and trash,” which is a terrible name because it slanders an industry and my livelihood. Hearing clients refer to the promotional industry as such, sent shivers down my spine. I knew instinctively that this customer wasn’t serious and I didn’t like the negative connotations that  name conjured up. 

When I opened Red Scarf, I asked myself how I was going to change this attitude towards the industry? How will I differentiate myself from my competitors? I knew I had some work to do. 

For example, one of my observations was the lack of colour and style in the apparel that was offered. I presented coloured denim shirts from one of my fashion vendors, instead of black, blue and green. If I wasn’t excited about selling a product, how on earth could I ask my client to buy it? I stopped trying to be like everyone else. My focus was my client, and I was interested and passionate about the order so I could provide creative solutions using relevant, high quality products. Even in the 1990’s, the customer experience had to be top notch. 

Corporate giveaways and gifting will always be an important component in the marketing sales mix for several reasons. Firstly, it’s a physical takeaway. There should always be a reason that a specific product is selected and given. Products tell a story whether they’re on the high or low end of the scale—they send a message and the recipient gets an instant impression of your company. 

The bottom line is a branded product can make it or break it in a few seconds. Your company will see great returns from their investment or this product will be disposed of in a matter of seconds. And that is being brutally honest. 

Clients need to listen more and trust an industry professional that is knowledgeable, insightful and possesses an understanding of marketing and sales. After all, that’s all we do, day-in and day-out. We are privy to a lot of information to ensure clients look like superstars. 

Relevant, high quality products have a long shelf life. It doesn’t disappear like a commercial. The recipients’ senses are engaged, they brag about it, strive to get another one, wear it, eat it, listen to it, or share it. The product keeps on working. 

In tough economic times, it’s more important than ever to keep your brand top of mind, not scaled back. Make sure your brand is in the hands of your customers and employees. As a communications vice-president of marketing once told me when I started my company, “if you’re not top of mind with me I will forget about you.” I have never forgotten those wise words.

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