April 19, 2016 By Suzanne Robertson

Glance around your office, home or car. You’ll probably find at least one promotional item.

Those pens, mugs and other branded products represent marketing outreach from a company trying to elevate their brand and capture additional business.

As a small business owner, it’s a good idea to explore promotional products and determine if they fit into your overall marketing strategy. In a recent survey, 58% of respondents reported that they keep a promotional product anywhere from one year to more than four years. Even if the recipient uses the item only once per week, that’s a minimum of 52 impressions made over the course of a year with the possibility of more than 208 during a five-year window.[1]

Here are some things to think about before you start swag shopping.

Know Your Audience

Who are you trying to reach? Do you want to connect with new consumers or current customers? The same items might work for both but drill down and outline who you want to influence before you start looking at options. If your customers are moms with young children, a coffee cup or tote bag is probably more appropriate than a mouse pad. A flash drive or luggage tag could be a great fit for business professionals. Reusable water bottles generally work for everyone these days.

Focus on the Goals

Determine if you simply want to increase brand awareness and get your name out there or if you have a specific call to action in mind. Your goals can help determine which product will work best for your business and what messaging to include on the item. If you put your phone number on the product, do you have the appropriate staff to pick up calls? If you’re driving customers to your website, is your site optimized for mobile? 


It’s not a good idea to produce a promotional product “just because”. The more useful and relevant to your particular business and audience, the better. Giving customers a frisbee if you own a nail salon is probably not a great fit. But passing out that same item to parents at the park if you operate a preschool could be very effective.

Embrace Creativity

Although a branded pen is a great idea to get your name out there, be sure to check out many options before you decide on one product. Karen Smith owns Fireworx Promotions and helps create customized promotional items for both small businesses and large corporations. From bobble heads promoting a video game release to t-shirts advertising a new company, she comes up with creative ideas that support marketing efforts. Her advice is to embrace creativity but don’t shun the power of “ordinary” items. “Some of the most effective campaigns I’ve worked on have been typical products like pens and water bottles. But they’ve been given to a very targeted audience, like trade show attendees, and hit the mark.”

Logo or not?

You probably think that promotional items should feature your logo. However, personalizing a product for a client can be a great move. Putting clients name on a pen, water bottle or piece of apparel can encourage use. Others might ask them where they got the item, expanding your reach.

Keep Cost in Mind

Smith points out that there are many ways to keep costs down. First, if you’re looking for large quantities, work with a reputable promotion company or individual promotional product representatives. These companies belong to industry associations and organizations that offer discounts and other perks that you won’t receive if you’re ordering items directly. Also, be mindful of just how many promotional items you need. You don’t want to end up with boxes and boxes of left over product.

[1] Source: PPAI Study: Effectiveness of Promotional Products As An Advertising Medium