| September 14, 2022
By now, you might have seen the Fast Company article about killing off “cheap conference swag.” You might have also seen responses from leaders in our industry, like commonsku, PPAI and ASI.
In case you missed it: In-person conferences are back, which Fast Company cites as a return of cheap, branded swag that — more often than not — ends up in the trash. Author Elizabeth Segran acknowledges a post-pandemic reset could offer a turn of events, with more businesses seeking unique alternatives tied to charitable giving or simply providing more sustainably made products. But is the best solution no product at all?
To say this lit a fire in the world of promo and branding is an understatement, and for good reason. In the responses linked above, you’ll see a shared sentiment: Of course we want our merch to be meaningful, create a connection and have a long shelf-life. Why else are we in this business?
“We can be both pro-promo and pro-planet,” ASI’s Tim Andrews argues. Our people work hard and build careers on carefully selecting products that represent their clients, PPAI’s Dale Denham shares.
In the words of commonsku’s Bobby Lehew, it’s “a tale of two industries” — one that, yes, was full of stress balls and logoed pens, and another being led by agencies that “make sustainability actually beautiful, combining incredible design with sustainable sourcing, all while absolutely nailing brand objectives through strategic intent.”
It seems we all agree: The era of cheap swag needs to go. It’s time to continue the momentum behind smart, sustainable and strategic promo.
So here’s the other piece of the conversation we need to address when we talk about merch: intentional branding.
The September issue of PS Magazine explores an industry shift that’s been happening for a while. Print distributors and their supplier partners know they need — and want — to be an extension of their client’s team. They’re digging in to clients’ brands and offering solutions that stick.
Take, for example, Thumbprint’s “What’s Your Vibe?” campaign, shared in Brand Chain President Greg Gill’s message. The self-promotional campaign reached out to customers with a “vibe” based on their needs. Each vibe (bold, engaged, kind) corresponded with a business discipline (marketing, HR, operations, supply chain) that best suited the customer, along with branded merch options that could help their business. Conversations sparked from there.
Thumbprint put a tight focus on each vibe’s message and kept their own logo to a minimum, creating a product people would want to hang on to. “We wanted to show recipients that branded products don’t have to be predestined for the landfill. When they’re functional, relatable and steal-worthy, they can have such a long shelf life,” Gill writes.
We’re seeing this trend with national brands, too. In “Branding for the Next Generation,” we interviewed Jessica Gibbons-Rauch, marketing manager at ZOOMcatalog, who’s grown to love Aldi enough to buy their merch. “Aldi created this environment and this following,” she says. “And they do it through social media. It gets people excited about the brand, especially with millennials, Gen Z, even the Alpha generation — they're looking for that human connection. Branding needs to have a human element. It can't just be robotic.”
Brittany Wright, sales support specialist at Printable Promotions and interviewed in the same feature, agrees. “Brands would do well to figure out how to make their logo wearable and consumable for people, not just at the company picnic,” she says.
Branded products that are created with intention, connect with the user and align to a client’s goals are the future of our industry — whether they’re promo products, printed campaigns, digital advertising or something in between. It’s an exciting time to be part of this journey, and within Brand Chain there’s an opportunity for everyone to get on board.
Have thoughts on this trend? Other ways you’re seeing our industry hit it out of the park with branded campaigns? We want to hear it – start a thread in the Brand Chain Community and tell us more. Or better yet, take it a step further and join us in-person at Brand Together (Oct. 10-12). This is just the beginning of the conversation, and we want you in on it.
Kristin Frankiewicz is the editor-in-chief of Brand Chain’s PS Magazine.
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