Promotional products, branded giveaways, swag, or however you choose to call them—they’re meant for advertising brands, social causes, or events.
Promotional products have become a common marketing tool around the world. Chances are, you have a couple of branded items at home as well (I have at least 10!). But what makes or breaks them?
From all the custom promotional products I’ve got at home—sunglasses, a hoodie, a notebook, a couple of mugs, several pens, and a tote bag—the bag is my favorite. The tote bag is convenient and has a cool minimalist design, and I use it whenever I go grocery shopping. It has lasted me two years, and will probably last two more.
What distinguishes successful promotional items from the ones that get tossed away or stored in the junk drawer is quality, creativity, and practicality. It’s better to create custom promotional products your customers will actually use, and, in the best case scenario, show them off to friends and acquaintances.
Although I might jot down a grocery list in my college notebook with a pen from my local pharmacy, not many will notice it, but they might notice the bag I use for the groceries. That doesn’t mean tote bags are the ultimate promotional products—it just means the brand hit the sweet spot for their target audience—me.
The success of a promotional product depends on your brand’s target audience as well. An embroidered apron might be a good merch idea for a recipe blog, but a slightly odd choice for a tech company. However, it’s the product story that matters—if you can make it work for your brand, go for it! Just remember to keep your core values and identity consistent. For example, if you’re selling eco-friendly, organic products, your merch line should definitely reflect that.
Using a print-on-demand service like Printful allows you to start selling custom promotional products with no minimum. If you’re selling your merch online, you don’t need to keep stock and worry about unsold items. That means more freedom to create a whole line of products, instead of choosing only one or two. To help you figure it out, let’s look at 4 promotional product categories you can explore to boost your brand, event, or social cause.
Custom promotional apparel is a great way to promote your main business and attract new customers. Anyone wearing your brand’s logo on a t-shirt, hoodie, or jacket is a walking billboard for your brand.
The classic t-shirt is an all-time favorite among custom promotional apparel. Think of the concert tee—many fans would be disappointed if their favorite band or artist didn’t sell t-shirts at their gigs. Currently, band merch generates billions of dollars for the music industry every year.
If you decide to create promotional apparel, remember that you want your customers to wear it—instead of merely putting your logo on t-shirts, consider hiring a designer to create a cool design that reflects your brand’s identity. Create apparel you would enjoy wearing!
Take inspiration from Corkie Bolton, the founder of Metalsmith Society—she created a successful merch line to support her Instagram page for jewelers. Every year, she hires a different designer to create a new logo to keep people excited about the merchandise. Corkie started with tees, but now offers other apparel products, accessories, artwork, and homeware as well.
Just like promotional apparel, custom accessories like hats and tote bags can become walking advertisements too. Same rules apply here: create designs that appeal to your target audience and represent your brand’s identity. An eye-catching cap will help you raise brand awareness and promote any event.
Hats and bags are mostly unisex and one-size, so it’s easy and cost-effective to order them in bulk to distribute at trade shows or your organization’s team events. You can also go for beanies, fanny packs, backpacks, laptop sleeves, and other popular accessories.
Whether you’re promoting your brand in a trade show or selling at a fair, take your customers’ needs into account—for example, in California, water bottles and bucket hats will be more practical than umbrellas and beanies.
Take inspiration from Wix and their “Words Matter” workshop merch. They distributed branded notebooks, t-shirts, tote bags, and more. (My pink Wix notebook is sitting on my desk right now!)
If you have a brick and mortar store for your business, consider giving your best customers a gift, for example, for every $50 they spend on your store. That’s how I got that tote bag I mentioned!
Posters offer vast marketing possibilities for events, social causes, and sales. Make sure they’re creative and unique to stand out among others. Hang posters in strategic locations to attract the right people to your event. For example, if you’re promoting an art show, artistic cafés and shops will be perfect for your posters.
Creating artwork to promote your business can be tricky. To sell posters and canvas prints as part of your merch line, you have to make sure your target audience wants to hang your artwork on their walls. That means, you need to find the perfect balance between art and branding. If you need help with the artwork, consider hiring a graphic designer. Even though it requires a bigger investment, the benefits will outweigh the costs.
Another great idea for promotional artwork is custom stickers. Stickers can be used for promoting events, venues, shows, and much more. They don’t require much effort on the customer’s side, but they’re a low-cost way to spread your brand name. If you create stickers with an attention-grabbing design or slogan, they might end up on laptops, phone cases, and planners—and raise awareness for your brand or idea.
The District of Clothing “Trust Black Women” sticker is a great example of promoting an idea through sticker designs. They offer t-shirts, sweaters, caps, and other products with the slogan as well.
No matter what industry you’re in, mugs are a timeless promo classic. Even though they might not offer as much visibility as apparel and accessories, they’re a great reminder of your brand for your existing customers. With a cool design they can become a bestseller on your merchandise store.
You can choose simple mugs with your brand name or logo, experiment with slogans or meaningful quotes, or go all out with a trendy design. Do what feels right for your brand. If the mug is instagrammable, it might attract new customers for your brand.
There are a lot of possibilities for household merchandise—from embroidered aprons, to custom pillowcases, and bean bags. Bean bag chairs are also a good idea for conferences and trade shows—they represent your brand and offer your customers a comfy seat at the same time. Choose products that fit your niche—your customers will appreciate it.
The best promotional items are the ones people want to use, wear, carry around, take photos of, and promote to their friends.
Remember to keep up with the latest trends and stay true to your brand’s identity—figure out what designs and products will work for you and your brand.
Well thought-out promotional products will help boost your brand visibility and reach new customers, so go ahead and start designing!
Grēte is a Content Writer and Editor at Printful. After finishing a Master's degree in Creative Writing, she keeps expanding her knowledge in copywriting, translating, and editing.
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