THE BLOG
11/23/2016 02:13 am ET Updated Nov 23, 2017

Celebrity Or Average Joe: Swag Is For Everyone

Did you see the video of Sir Paul McCartney during an NBA game between the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers when the t-shirt cannon began firing tees into the crowd? You'd never know he's a celebrity.

Arms in the air, he cheers to get the cannon operator to shoot some swag in his direction. With the shirt in the air, his eyes light up and he claps while shouting "Come on!" Then he jumps to catch the shirt and, upon not coming up with the prize, is totally bummed that a fellow fan caught it instead. "Aaaaaw!" he says, "It's mine!"

That's the power of promotional products. It doesn't matter if you're an average consumer or rock 'n' roll royalty, everyone loves swag.

Strengthening Connections With Swag
Whether you call it branded merchandise, advertising specialties, promotional products or swag, people love receiving it. Why? Because promotional products are all about making connections.

Think about this: When you receive a promotional product, how do you feel about the company that gave it to you?

As a part of its 2016 Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study, the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) asked 2,000 people that very question. Respondents said that receiving swag made them feel good, grateful, happy, appreciated, awesome, thankful, excited, surprised and even loved. These feelings resonate because this is how we connect with each other and the things we love.

Who doesn't want to connect with their customers on an emotional level so that they feel loved?

Spreading Your Marketing Messages Without Breaking The Bank
Advertising. For many small business owners, it can be a scary proposition. If you've ever looked into buying media, you probably experienced sticker shock. It's EXPENSIVE!

But here's the good news: Promotional products are one of the most influential, enduring and cost-effective ad mediums available.

In fact, ASI's Impressions Study found that promotional products have a lower cost-per-impression than prime-time television ads, national magazine ads and newspaper ads, and a similar CPI to radio and internet advertising--at $.006. You read that right. It's less than a penny per impression.

But here's where promotional products have the edge over the rest. While all of the other forms of advertising are passive, promotional products allow for much more active interaction--such as wearing a promotional t-shirt, drinking out of a branded coffee mug or listening to music on a logoed Bluetooth speaker.

Additionally, promotional products are targeted to the exact market segment you are trying to reach. Consider this: A local pizza restaurant in a college town wants to make delivery reorders easy. So it includes business-card-sized magnets that can be put on the fridge in homes and dorm rooms. Highly visible. Useful. Inexpensive. Very targeted. This kind of audience segmentation is simply not possible with mass-market advertising because, as the name suggests, it is to the masses.

More good news: Promotional products costs are not expected to markedly increase in the next few years, making them a more stable, reliable and innovative way for small businesses to reach customers.

Even more good news: When you look at traditional advertising, it is often out of reach for all but the biggest advertisers. But this isn't true with promotional products. Companies from the smallest local businesses to the largest Fortune 100 companies have the same access to the best branded merchandise the industry has to offer.

Creating Swag That Makes People Swoon
So how can you create swag that celebrities--and your own VIPs--will love? Follow these four tips:

  1. Choose Quality Items. Whether working with the famous or you just want your customers to feel like celebrities, you must have high-quality, well-crafted items with nice workmanship, finishes and details. And, yes, it is possible to have quality on a budget.
  2. Use The Gift To Commemorate An Event Or Create A Memory. Promotional products are unique in that they can be used to commemorate special events. Creating a memory around the experience--whether it is receiving an achievement award or catching a t-shirt at a basketball game--increases the chance the gift will be kept, used and appreciated by recipients. And that's the whole point.
  3. Deliver Or Distribute In A Fun Way. What made the t-shirt giveaway fun enough to get McCartney involved? The t-shirt cannon. It's a game, and everyone wants to play. Think about how you give promotional items: Do you treat them like gifts or giveaways? There's a big difference. Create an experience with how the gift is presented to pique interest.
  4. Work With A Qualified Promotional Consultant. It's tempting to do a quick Google search and order swag online. But photos don't show quality. And if the price is too good to be true, then workmanship, finishes or details were likely sacrificed along the way. A qualified promotional consultant has the experience to know the great products from the average. They often have special pricing arrangements with their top vendors--and can pass that savings along to you. And they probably have a few ideas for products and packaging that you may not have considered.

Most of us don't work with the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Matt Damon or Paul McCartney. But that doesn't mean that each of your customers shouldn't be treated like VIPs. Add a little star treatment to your promotions. Because if celebrities will beg for what you're giving, your customers will too. The bottom line: Swag is fun. And it's for everyone.

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.