“God is the master “brander”. Mankind is God’s logo. There is something about mankind that when you study it or see it, in action or at rest, it points back to that which it was created to reflect: God. Interestingly enough, God also decided to fill the earth with his logo and nothing that is on the planet will go without bearing the effects of an encounter with His brand. That should cause us some pause.”
-Michael Strong, Rap Artist, Theologian, and Author
BRANDED MERCHANDISE BEST BETS
What is branded merchandise?
Branded merchandise, or promotional products, can be a rather broad category. For the sake of this blog I will define and limit both to be anything you put your brand logo or information on. A quick summary of the major general categories could traditionally be called “trash and trinkets” (or give aways), apparel, premium items, and awards and recognition. Now please note this is a traditional view of a corporate branded merchandise program and not necessarily the proper divisions of what we will be looking at. I would say we need to take it a step further to address today’s market and add in any apps, visual downloads, or templates you might give away with the intent to spread your brand by putting your logo, your visible mark, on something. In reality, that’s what branded merchandise is: anything bearing your visible brand mark. I’ll start by talking about the three major traditional categories.
Branded Merchandise Categories
Trash and Trinkets (aka Mass purchased generic logo branded freebies)
Trash and trinkets sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? Who in their right mind would purchase trash to give away? Well, that depends on if it’s labeled trash, or if it just turns out to be trash. Hence the name. Business after business sets up booths or stands loaded up with some materials to sell their products and spread their name. Usually you will find something with their logo. Most the time it’s pretty cheap. How many key chains, pens, cups, bags, or toy thingies have you gotten over the years? How many times did those things break, rip, tear, fall apart, explode or catch on fire (yes, this actually happens) shortly after you got them? How well did that do in making you a lifelong customer? In the branded merchandise world trash an trinkets have their place. They have a place in the home or office too…usually the trash.
This category lasts a bit longer and is especially well received when done right. How many people do you know turning down a free t shirt or some gym shorts? Bandanas and hats fit into this category as well. You might even add cheaper sports apparel like a wrist band or cross over into one of the newer categories of fashion: rubber or plastic bracelets. A few people even venture into cheap necklaces and jewelry.
Premium items are typically grouped into a category because of price. That price typically flows out of quality. Think leather padfolios, name brand apparel like Under Armour, Nike, or Polo Brand clothing, and golf clubs. This can really be anything that would typically cost more than your trash and trinkets and is better quality than a general giveaway t shirt or hat.
THE BEST BET IN BRANDED MERCHANDISE FOR THE FUTURE: MOBILE MEDIA GIVE-AWAYS
I work in a rather large company. Matter of fact I typically work for rather large companies. What I see in common with all of them is that the most successful giveaways are new, interesting, useful, and worthy of pursuing out of interest in the item itself. Now that doesn’t mean it will equal loyal customers on its own. Branding is bigger than promotional items. Promotional items/Branded merchandise serve to spread your story and message. They mark the world around your business and imprint your image in places it will get seen, remembered, and hopefully lead to visits or opportunities to gain a customer. That’s why I think mobile-based giveaways are the best bet for most businesses today. Let me lay out five reasons to look at creating a mobile media give-away as part of your branded merchandise program.
A well designed mobile media give-away is:
- Customizable: It is as unique as you are
- Partnership Gathers data through opt-in partnerships with your customers
- Easily Accessible
- Mobile is the Future
- Service Success Opportunity
BUILDING YOUR BEST BET
Look at who you are and what you do well. Know your story. Then look at the customer that is best served by your business. Remember where they would likely be when they realize they need what you sell. Think of a way to tie in your business realm and build your story into a solution that will likely be with them all (or at least most) of the time: their cell phone or iPad. It doesn’t have to tell your whole story. It can just tell a part that you share a common interest with them. Here are some examples to get your creative juices flowing:
- Shoe and Sports Apparel chain gives out a free health and wellness app to track progress on an exercise program. The logo is on every page of the program and special messages, texts, emails, rewards all speak for you. Every “conversation” speaks in your place. You are an encourager that wants to see them healthy. You tie in rewards that are discounts on the products you sell. You train your staff to interact and encourage. That’s holistic integration.
- Church or Religious Organization gives away a bible study plan or kid’s bible story application. The goal is to promote unity in study, train and equip parents to study with their kids, and keep everyone linked together for upcoming events. You do the same things the shoe and sports apparel does, but with a different product—a bible study for kids. You send out important information about church events or prayer requests in the app.
- Musician gives away a mashup music app where you can act like a DJ by importing your own music files from your phone and integrating them into a playlist. You run contests on your website where fans vote on winners for best playlists with your tracks.
In the examples above, the common pieces will always be present. They are relevant to your story and connect to your customers’ stories. It is now a shared story and will hopefully drive to a shared experience when the customer responds to the app’s reward and comes in to see you. The app should be relevant, fresh, well-designed enough to drive a customer to install, or opt-in, to share information with you as they set up their account.
It should also be well done enough that those who use it will share it with their friends, family, and colleagues who like the same things they like. It should clearly display your logo and provide a way to direct customers to your business. It should also serve a need of some sort whether it be a void in entertainment, a desire to be more healthy, access to education or mentoring, or so on. It is a chance for you to go beyond telling your story into showing that you understand your customer’s need or desire and you have a way to help them attain it. Only apps have a way of building a world to be full of the beauty that comes from who you are. Let them experience your brand and its effects on their digital and physical worlds.
REMEMBER: Your branding program is only as good as your name. Every single experience with your name and business will ultimately shape your customers’ perceptions of your brand. Make sure your staff is ready to join in the campaign and genuinely excited and prepared to engage. You will also want to make sure your product and service lives up to its perceived name. That’s easier said than done.
NOTE: If you incorporate a mobile app into your branding strategy, I would love to hear about how it went from start to finish. As much as I genuinely write these blogs to help you and give you ideas that will make your dreams a success, I love to hear from you about your story and your results. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 I don’t know if there are any legal restrictions on using these examples in your own program. I am just thinking of relevant ideas to get started. Speak with a lawyer and designer as you prepare to take part in building your app.
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