What you should know about promo items

Can you count the number of pens you have in your desk drawer? How many of those are stamped with a brand logo? Better yet, can you recall the brand names on the pens? Promotional items rain from the ceilings of any conference, sometimes they’re literally shot from cannons into crowds! Branded gifts have even been given a newly coined term to keep up with the slang of times. For those who haven’t heard, ‘swag’ is the popular phrase being used to describe these strategic give-aways.

Solid swag to be used at a trade show, conference, or any activity by your sales and marketing team, can set you apart from the crowds and differentiate yourself from your competitors who are attempting to cut through the marketing noise to get their brand noticed. After all, that’s the goal of promotional items. They are marketing tools to communicate with your target audience, in an effort to get them to better understand your brand and take the next desired steps toward engaging with you. More specifically, they can help:

• Raise or improve your brand awareness

• Generate leads or maintain customer loyalty

• Increase sales and referrals

• Develop B2B Relationships

Here are a few stats to put the importance of promotional items into perspective for you:

• Results from a study found that 83 percent of American consumers like receiving a promotional product with an advertising message.

• In fact, 48 percent surveyed would like to receive promotional items more often.

• Results from this study found that 56 percent of recipients said their impression of the company improved after receiving a branded item.

• L.J. Market Research found 52% of participants given a promotional item, ultimately did business with that company.

• Here’s one more for you – Findings show that 89 percent of consumers can recall the advertiser of a promotional product they’d received in the last two years.

So, now that you understand their importance, how can you effectively utilize promotional items as a part of your marketing strategy, while successfully cutting through all of the pens, key-chains, and gimmicky items?  What’s the difference between giving your consumers something that provides them value, but also something clever enough that they can remember you by?  Don’t worry, we’ve got all the answers for you, including some insight on dishing out some serious swag, whether it be at an event or just on the fly.


Many companies jump straight to ordering the traditional pens and key chains. Why? Because it’s easy and affordable. Pens are no doubt popular promotional items, and we aren’t denying their potential to be effective, however, we think your company can be a bit more creative, which in return will help you stand out from your competitors! Selecting a successful promotional item requires putting in some serious thought and research into what item(s) you should invest into. Put on your big ol’ marketing cap and develop a strategy that provides purpose and best aligns with your brand message to your target audience. Here are a few important factors to consider:

1. Who is your target audience?  (Although this may sound like a no-brainer, be sure to select a promotional item that is relevant to your target audience and reflects their interests.)

2. When and where will the promotional item be distributed?  (Are you utilizing a promotional item for a trade show or event? If so, what type of people will be in attendance? Is there a specific theme to the event? Utilize the event to your advantage by incorporating your specific promotional item based on these factors. Aside from trade shows and events, you may be using your promotional item for activities such as public relation purposes or a new product introduction. Consider every detail of the activity and tailor the choice of the item based on your overall strategy and these factors.)

3. Does your promotional item add value? (Can consumers incorporate it into their daily lives? Is it functional? Can the product be used repeatedly, allowing for maximum exposure?)

4. How would you describe the quality of the item you have selected? (You’re hoping to gain a return on investment with your promotional items, right? Well then, be willing to allocate a proper budget to them. If you are assuming your audience will get good daily-use of your product, make sure its quality is up to par to provide this. This is especially true if you are deciding to stick with a pen. (Let’s be frank, nobody likes a cheap-quality pen, but everybody owns a good-quality, go-to pen in which they secretly refuse to let anyone borrow in fear of losing it. It’s their favorite pen and better yet, they got it for free. If you’re choosing a pen as your promotional item, we strongly advise selecting a pen that represents the latter)


Power Banks (Portable phone chargers)

Portable phone chargers have taken over the reign of the USB flash drive as far as electronic freebies are concerned.  Why? Because everyone with a mobile device at some point in time can (or will need to) utilize a power bank. These are a fantastic idea simply because of how useful they are immediately upon receiving. Not only that, but months down the road nearly every single day, it could potentially be charging your future customer’s mobile device. 


Drinkware, such as water bottles, incorporate well into the lives of most target markets. Drinkware can be used at the office, at home, while at the gym, during travel, and even outdoors, which enables brand recognition to a wide audience. The key here is making your water bottle unique.  When in doubt, choose BPA-free. Go a step further by creating a water bottle that is so attractive and of such high quality that people may have even purchased it, before knowing it was free.

Eco-friendly tote bags are a perfect option because they can be used as reusable shopping bags, beach bags, school bags, and so much more. Who knows? - Your bag could end up being the bag your audience stores the promo items they receive from your competitors.

Seasonal Items
Seasonal items provide immediate value as they can be utilized whether it be at a conference walking around, or when audiences leave and hit the streets, park, or nearby beach. Ponder on it for a moment, most conference and event goers are typically out of town on a business trip. Who doesn’t enjoy a good business trip that contains a few extracurricular activities? Incorporating your give-away into this part of their trip is a sure-fire way of them remembering you! Plus, just because they are seasonal doesn’t mean they won’t be used in the future! Remember to think creative, but think basic. If you are preparing promotional items for an event in the dead of winter in Minneapolis, for example, sunglasses probably aren’t the brightest idea. 


Clothing is another tried and true option for promo items. It can be a shaky platform to stand on if not done tastefully though. Putting your logo in GIANT letters is a good way for it to end up in the trash, especially if people are unfamiliar or unsure of your brand. The best thing to do in this situation is to use a catchy slogan, remember those ‘Make 7-Up Yours’ shirts? Ask yourself “Would I wear this in public if I didn’t work for this company?”

Luggage Tags
Luggage tags are a great option for both immediate and long-term use. The majority of attendees at events and conferences have traveled interstate to be there. This means they more than likely have luggage with them, so use this opportunity to your advantage. Good quality branded luggage tags are extremely affordable, so be sure to not cut corners and select the best possible quality.  By doing this, your luggage tag will likely stay on their suitcase for their next travel journey and for future travel journeys to come.


1. Create a Green Impact: When in doubt, always choose a promotional item that is safe for the environment.

2. Customize when possible: Go a step further than just adding your logo to your promo item. Remember, you want people to remember you and a great way of achieving this is by thinking outside of the box. Consider including a clever design or graphic that gets your audience to laugh, trigger emotions, and share with others. Check out some of our favorite examples below:

Insert Pictures

Colgate mixed it up by giving away ice cream and cotton candy, the sticks were in the shape of a toothbrush with “Don’t Forget” on them. (Image Credit: http://adsoftheworld.com/media/dm/colgate_dont_forget_icecream)

‘Friends of Cancer Patients’ took a grave approach at spreading awareness of skin cancer by handing out coffin shaped towels to beach goers. (Image credit:  https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog/13-most-creative-promotional-products/)

3.     Personalize specifically for the event and audience

Sometimes it’s best to ditch the generic tried-and-true items altogether and think strategically about what type of item could best represent your brand. For example, if you are a kitchenware company, consider distributing free recipe cards or branded pizza cutters. Are you promoting an alcohol brand? How about providing branded wine coolers – They are cheap and effective! 


Measuring ROI on promotional items can be a difficult and sometimes impossible task. Many companies calculate promo item expenses as an advertising expenditure as they are often used more for brand awareness than immediate and noticeable sales. A commonly used tactic is to create QR codes or unique URLs specific to your promotional item. Adding CTAs to your promotional items can also be an effective way to measure their success. Dunkin’ Donuts for example provides 99-cent refills for those who bring in a particular tumbler. These tumblers provide a specific written CTA which prompts those who own the tumbler to visit their local store for a 99-cent refill. Whatever method you choose to measure your ROI, if your swag items provide value and evoke emotion, there’s no doubt people will be talking about them (and your brand) and putting both to good use.

10twelve can help your company with promotion items. Consult with us today.