Promote Your Business Using Promotional Products

Question: How can you use your current customer base to increase sales and build your future customer base? Answer: By using the most cost-effective form of advertising, Promotional Products!

By giving Promotional items to current customers you will create long-term relationships with them. You will create new customers by word of mouth advertising from your current customers by handing these out. You will increase sales by using them as a free give away when someone buys a certain product or service and you will also increase return visits from your current customers.

Here is a scenario of how giving a current customer a ” freebie” can do just that. You own an Auto Parts Store, it’s the beginning of the year, and you want to start the new year off with a bang. You tell every customer that comes in to your store that you have a January special ( or any type of special you want to present) on product “X” ( this is a targeted product you offer, it could be a product that is popular, not expensive, or something that could be bought a couple of times throughout the year like a bundle of rags, pack of batteries, auto air fresheners, or even when they spend a certain amount of money on their transaction, you choose). Let your customers know that you are offering a free gift with every transaction made. Now when that customer buys that product, or spends a certain amount, they will receive a free Collapsible Can Coolie that has your business name and logo along with the current NASCAR schedule printed on it. So, what just happened?

First, you got your customer to most likely buy a product or service, or spend a little more money that was not on their original list when they walked in your store. This has created an “up sell” and you accomplished it without pressuring your client.

Second, you just gave away a Promotional Product that is reusable for your customer for the rest of the race season, and in many cases even longer since it is a something they can use besides just during the race season. This means your customer and possibly other potential customers will be seeing your business name and logo every time they use that Can Coolie. This is more “free advertising”.

Third, you have a customer now that is anticipating the idea they might receive another new cool gift on their next visit to your store, and they may even bring in a friend or family member just to get an extra gift for themselves or to give to someone else. This would be a Promotional Product you give away for the “February Special”, Valentines Special, or what ever the occasion you want to present. Customers love to get something for free, especially when they were planning on buying something from your store in the first place. This helps create “repeat business” from your current customers.

Here’s your part two of the above scenario. It’s Sunday morning and your customer is preparing for the big NASCAR race. He or she has the barbecue going, a cold refreshment in their coolie, thanks to you, and their friends have just arrived. One of the guest notices your client is sporting a cool collapsible Can Coolie. That’s when they ask, “Hey, where did you get that, and how can I get one?” Your customer then responds with “I got this at (your business name) for free when I bought (product X or service X)”. What just happened?

Your current customer just gave you free “word of mouth advertising” for your business to a potential new client, who will hopefully stop by your business so they too can get a free collapsible Can Coolie for the next race party. Now you have “up sold” two customers, possibly created more free “word of mouth advertising”, and picked up a new customer who will likely help you gain more new customers down the road. And the process continues on and on. This is only one of many scenarios that could take place with just one Promotional Product you hand out.

This kind of interaction could take place in a park setting, at a ball game, on a fishing expedition, taking a road trip, just working on a car in the garage, or so many other simple scenarios that take place in your customers everyday life. Imagine if you used six to twelve different Promotional items or apparel through out the year for a monthly special. A special gift to celebrate your sixth month, first year, or annual business anniversary date,. A Seasonal “free give away” for the beginning of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall.

You could support your local Little League Baseball Team with hats, High school Football Team with shirts, the towns Women’s College Volleyball Team with season magnetic schedules, or your big time Professional NFL, NBA, or NHL Team with key chains or cups showing their schedules.

You could give a Promotional Product for each holiday through the year, to celebrate New Years Eve handing out a mini pom pom. On Valentines Day try handing out a heart shaped box of candy. St Patrick’s Day is always a perfect time to try beer mug or shot glass.For Easter mini baskets with goodies are always a big hit with the kids. Mother’s Day could be a coffee mug saying Your a #1 mom with us at… Then your logo. Father’s Day can be a big one by handing out a nice tape measure or really cool tool pen. If you really want create a buzz in the community, hand out a BBQ utensil set for Fourth of July. When Halloween rolls around Trick or Treat tote bags are always cooler than mom’s pillow case. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to start handing out next years wall calendars. Then you got your final Holiday ” Freebie” of the year, where you can print “Seasons Greeting or Happy Holidays on so many different cool things to hand out.

Every time you hand out a Promotional Product, you just gave a current or new customer a valid reason to continue to choose your business over your competitor’s business. You have given your business an opportunity to create new customers through “word of mouth advertising” from your current customers. You have created more sales by offering a special that most likely was not on your customers list to buy. What’s really exciting is you will begin to build and maintain a custom base that will look forward to doing business with you for years to come, and maybe even build a friendship or two that will last for years.

Don’t forget that while accomplishing all this, that Promotional Product that you handed out is a very cost-effective form of advertising, a tax write off for your business, and a “thank you” to your customer for their business.

When you sit down to plan your advertising budget for your business this year, think about what a simple promotional give away can do for your business. Be creative and use Promotional items and apparel that do the following;

Will appeal to your customer base? Is it a product that your customer can use more than just once, and is visible to other potential new customers?

Does it fit with what your business has to offer? If you have an auto repair business try a License Plate Frame, Pocket Screw Driver, LED flashlight key chain, or Ice scraper. If you own a Hair Salon, maybe a hair brush, compact mirror, sample sanitizer, or day planner for your client to keep future hair appointments in.

Will your “Freebie” create a buzz with others, like “Hey where did you get that 12 inch Giant Rubber Grip Pen, How can I get one of those Tee shirts or Caps, etc.

Does your “free give away” have all the right information printed on them? Your business name & logo, a phone number or address to find you, your website, and a personalized message to your customer like “A special thanks from… ” “We appreciate your business at… , your #1 with us at… , or ” Happy holidays from… “. A little message can go a long way and be remembered by your customers.

Think about how many Promotional Products you will need to order. How many people visit your store on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. figure out how many are usually return customers and how many are potential new customers. This way when you order for a certain special giveaway like a “January Special” or Holiday, you have enough to hand out through out the entire month. You don’t want to order too many products, but you want to make sure to can cover the entire month or close to. You can always find a way to hand the extras left over from a certain “special” you ran. You can give them to your local schools, boy & girls club, YMCA, shelters, charities, or save them for the next special you run.

Make a plan on how you are going to distribute your Promotional items. Hand them out with every transaction made. Give them away when the customer spends a certain amount of money or buys a certain product. Send one out with every mail order. Donate to local schools, charities, fun raisers, and events, this is a great way to delivery a mass number of “Freebies” very quickly. An example would be rulers or #2 pencils for elementary schools, schools can always use extra school supplies to hand out to their students and parents appreciate your kindness and community involvement.

Always ask your Promotional Merchandise Sales Person to give you ideas and figure out these questions if you need help. If you have an experienced sales Person who knows what they are doing and wants to keep you as a long-term client who continues to re order, then they will be happy to help you.

Just in case you don’t see the big picture about how Promotional Products can help you do more than just advertise your business, here is a little reminder of a GREAT Promo item success story in 1979 the McDonald’s restaurant began using a toy presented as “The Treat of the Week”, offering a different toy each week in a Card Board Lunch Box to help create sales for the kids Happy Meal. McDonald’s has been one of the most successful businesses in the history of promotional merchandise selling over 3.5 Billion Happy Meals to date.

Since 1979 every young child in the WORLD that passes by a McDonald’s with their parents or loved ones demand to stop and get a Happy Meal, usually because they want that toy. Just imagine the word of mouth, up sells, and new customers McDonald has picked up over the years from a simple Promotional Product idea.

Promotional Products – The Perfect Advertising Tools

The pulse of your business lies in customer equity. The more loyal your customers are to your business the higher is the ‘customer equity.’ What does it take to develop and forge a strong relationship with your customers? A top-quality product or service and effective marketing strategies-these are what drive existing and potential customers back to your brand over and over again.

Building Brand Awareness

This is key and promotional products are the most effective relationship drivers yet known. Customized promotional items remind your customers of your brand so that when they need your product or service your brand is the first that comes to their minds rather than your competitors’.

The Cost Of Advertising With Promotional Products

Adding promotional items to your marketing mix does not cost the earth either! Compared to television and print media, not only does advertising with promotional products cost a fraction of the price, but gives longevity to it as well. Custom promo products generate more impressions per item as compared to television ads. Promotional bags generate the highest number of impressions at 1,078 impressions per bag and due to this the average cost-per-impression of a promotional product is 0.005 cents in the US.

Promotional products are available online for as low as under $1 or $2, so businesses can now easily stay within their marketing budget.

Attract & Retain New Customers

Custom promotional items such as promotional bottles, promotional bags and totes, and promotional pens are the bestsellers simply because they are highly useful items. Since they are more likely to be used by recipients rather than being stashed away in a drawer, the visibility of an imprinted company logo or message is more. The more they use these giveaways, the more likely they are to come back to you for your products or services.

Choose Well-Aligned Promotional Products

If you are a medical practitioner, giving away golf items will not work! However, promotional pens, promotional drinkware or even key chains could work well to keep your message on their minds.

There is a host of promotional giveaways available to businesses for their promotional campaigns-all online! From stationery items like promotional notebooks, memo pads, day planners, and sticky notes to promotional apparel like personalized t-shirts, polo shirts, and promotional aprons. The variety is endless so for every promotional event the item must be chosen as part of a well-thought out strategy-aligned with the core business interest or needs of the promotional event.

Why Promotional Products

In addition to the cost factor, promotional products have the added advantage of making their recipients feel valued. Handing out meaningful gifts with your logo on them helps customers to emotionally connect with your brand. Product launches, website launches, offers and discounts are just some opportunities to give away business gifts. Simple thank you gifts to show appreciation are also much appreciated by existing customers.

Custom Promotional items are ideal for bringing back ‘latent’ customers – those who have forgotten about a brand but have been loyal to it in the past.

Some customers turn to other brands over time. Identifying the factors that caused them to turn away and identifying their preferences will help determine how to utilize promos to win them back.

Selling Promotional Products – Ad Specialties

There are marketing and distribution firms that sell promotional products, or ad specialties, everywhere. These include anything you might get as a giveaway, from bobble head dolls to pens to very high tech and innovative products. Since companies will buy quite expensive items to give to customers, and cereal companies, non-profit charities and major credit card companies often give a promotional item away in a mailing, or as an incentive to purchase a specific product, the promotional products market can be quite lucrative for manufacturers that have an in-demand product. If you look into your local phone book for ad specialties or promotional products you will find dozens of companies in most towns. There are also dozens of companies selling promotional products through distributors and manufacturers’ representatives. Small one line companies with innovative products can be very successful in the promotional products market.

Four Sales Approaches

There are four common sales strategies for promotional products, and most companies use all four strategies to maximize their sales.

Trade show attendance

The promotional products industry has several big trade shows where you can set up a booth and potentially meet manufacturers’ representatives and distributors who might sell your product. You can attend one of these first to see what booths are like and what type of promotional materials companies have. You can also look for booths with just a few products that look like they are run by an inventor or small company. Talk to them regarding their experiences and the steps to market they took that were successful. Also discuss whether or not they might want to share a booth at the next show so you can cut costs. Some of the big shows in the industry include:

  • The Motivation Show, Chicago, IL
  • The Promotional Products Expo, every January in Las Vegas

You can learn more about additional trade shows and other industry news by checking out two organizations, the Incentive Marketing Representatives Association, and the Promotional Products Association International.

Trade magazine publicity and advertising

The industry has two major associations: the Promotional Products Association and the Advertising Specialty Association. Both have major trade magazines and both have products listings on their web sites. You can send new promotional product announcements to the magazines (typically no charge), run ads in the magazines, and you can also take out listing in their products directory. The two magazines are listed below:

Using the trade magazines is not as expensive as attending shows, but it also not as effective. You are counting on a small ad or press release getting attention. I do recommend you send out press releases to the magazines but you can’t count on releases and ads alone to generate enough business for you.

Manufacturers’ sales reps

Manufacturers’ representatives carry products from a variety of manufacturers and they sell your product to distributors and large major accounts. You can meet manufactures’ representatives at trade shows, or through magazine publicity, but probably the most cost effective way of reaching reps is through a direct mailing campaign. You may be able find lists of representatives at both the ASI and PPAI web sites. You can also try a Google search for manufacturers’ sales representatives for both Advertising Specialties and Promotional Products.

Once you get a list, you should send out at least a flyer, and possibly a sample to all the representatives on the list. But if you can, you should try to make you rep mailing package as thorough as possible, including

  • Pictures of the product being used
  • Any big sales you may have heard
  • Testimonials or other feedback from satisfied users
  • Materials that the reps and distributors can use for selling the product
  • Price schedules

Reps sell to the distributors which are covered in the next section. There are many, many distributors of promotional products but they all have slightly different sales mixes, one might do embroidered shirts, while others specialize in incentive gifts for employees and another gifts that companies can give to their customers. Manufacturers’ sales representatives are the best way to cut through the clutter and reach the right distributors and customers for your product.


There are many distributors of promotional products and ad specialties in every town. A mid-size city might have 10 distributors and a big city over 100. I feel it is always a good idea for an inventor or small producer to start their marketing campaign by calling on distributors in their town. This helps the inventor learn what features are highlights for the distributor, learn what are the best type of distributors for their product, and also learn how to best promote their product to distributors. Often this type of preliminary work will help the inventor save a considerable amount of money – by focusing the inventor’s efforts and projects and customers where they can have the biggest impact.

You can approach distributors nationwide with a mailing program just like you did above with manufacturers’ sales representatives. You can find a list of distributors or promotional products marketing companies through the ASI and PPAI web sites (see addresses earlier in the article). You can also find the distributors and marketing companies by doing Yellow Page searches both locally and nationally for promotional products, incentive products and advertising specialties.


There are many distributors and manufacturers reps’ – a fact that helps you sell your product – but it also means that there are many levels of commissions are pricing discount that you face. Manufacturers’ sales agents normally take a 10 to 15% commission and distributors often receive a 40% discount.

If you believe you should sell your product for $10.00 to the final consumer, you will receive only $5.10 to $5.40 cents.

Price to end user $10.00

Price to distributor $6.00

Commission to sales rep. $0.60 to $0.90

Money to inventor /manufacturer $5.10 to $5.40

If you want a 50% profit, you need to be able to make your product for $2.55 to $2.70. Be sure to have your pricing in line before starting or you won’t make any money.