April 07, 2009
How To

How to Increase Sales by Choosing the Best Promotional Product for Your Campaign – 5 Steps

SUMMARY: Promotional products motivate people to take action. The right incentive might encourage them to meet with a sales representative, try a new product, or attend a trade show booth.

We spoke to a few experts about how they’ve boosted leads and sales by choosing the right promotional products to relay a message. Check out our how-to for five steps to success, including examples of effective campaigns.
Big brands consider promotional products a significant part of the marketing mix, even when budgets are tight. Xerox, for example, always includes them in its annual budget, says Beth Ann Kilberg-Walsh, Manager, Marketing Communications at Xerox Corp.

Promotional products are important, especially during tough economic times, she says, because that’s when companies need people to take action. “We’re all so serious these days ... you have to create some type of fun … a little bit of enticement just to make the person act,” says Kilberg-Walsh. “Everybody wants to win something; everybody wants to get something.”

Marketers need to be more strategic about how they launch campaigns involving promotional products. They should watch what they spend, whom they target, and how they maximize the ROI.

Promotional Product Campaign Made Simple: 5 Steps

o Step #1. Define the objective

If the objective is to increase sales by 20%, determine that figure up front in order to track success later on.

Also, decide whether the objective is branding-oriented or strategic to ensure that you choose the right promotional product for the campaign.

o Step #2. Define the budget

If the objective is to generate $50,000 in your new business, don’t spend $70,000 on the promotional product campaign. Try to at least double the return on investment.

o Step #3. Consider the variables

Consider these variables when choosing the most relevant promotional product for a target audience:

--> Variable #1. The Target Audience

Promotional products must make sense for the target audience.

Once you’ve defined the demographics of the target, ask yourself: How do they spend their time? Where do they work: at a desk, on the move or both? What would be useful or novel to them? What has worked at reaching them in the past?

Here are some promotional products that appeal to just about every audience:

-Magnets. They’re functional, versatile, and easy to find when needed.

“It’s not a big item to carry at a [trade] show,” says Ron Lehner, President of Total Automotive, a wholesale automotive parts company. “When [attendees] get back, they slap it on a filing cabinet and, six months later, they start thinking about our company and remember it’s on the magnet.”

-Bags. They’re hot commodities, especially reusable grocery bags, because so many people use them.

-T-shirts, pens, hats, calendars, key chains, mugs, etc.

Other promotional products appeal to very specific audiences. USB flash drives, for example, appeal to techie audiences.

--> Variable #2. The Message

What do you want to convey? Is it the value proposition or specific benefits for the target audience?

--> Variable #3. The Promotional Product

The hardest part is finding the appropriate three-dimensional manifestation of a message.

If the message is about keeping clients’ Web applications secure, the best promotional product might be a USB flash drive with a biometric strip.

If the message is about connecting clients with opportunity, the best promotional product might be a NERF football. Xerox used a Rubik’s Cube to symbolize putting the pieces of a puzzle together.

TIP: Make promotional products part of a strategic, integrated marketing plan to get measurable results.

Here are a few examples of companies successfully using promotional products to get messages to the target audience.

--> Example #1

Target Audience: Automotive body shops and new car dealers

Message: Lehner wanted to increase the chances of his target audience buying a hinge kit, so he demonstrated to them how to install hinge kits he designed for GM trucks.

Promotional Product: A low-budget instructional video about how to use the hinge kits burned onto a business-card-sized CD, which Lehner gave out at trade shows.

Result: About 50% of Total Automotive’s online leads came from the mini-CD during the months following the trade shows. “When they watch the video, they’re pretty much on board,” Lehner says. “They want to start stocking them and buying the kits.”

-->Example #2

Target Audience: Attorneys who file patent applications for US companies in foreign countries

Message: A law firm specializing in trademark and patents wanted to communicate the savings it could provide. The firm saved clients an average of about $100,000 per year in patent fees.

Promotional Product: A fake $100 bill shaped like a man. The $100-bill-man had a zipper that, when opened, revealed a business card with a phone number, the name of a representative, and a personalized URL. It arrived via direct mail.

When recipients went to the personalized websites, they were greeted with their name and an online calculator that showed how much money they would save with the law firm’s services.

Result: About 11% of the recipients responded by calling the phone number or visiting the personalized website.

o Step #4. Start with small tests

Lehner says that the best advice he could give to other marketers is to start out small and test to see what works. Then, when you find something that works, run with it.

o Step #5. Measure success

Create an online registration form that Web visitors must fill out to get newsletters or special product information. Lehner used this method to determine how many leads came from the mini-CD he gave out at trade shows.

“How did you hear about Total Automotive, Inc.?” is a required field on the company’s registration form. Registrants can choose from the answers provided or select “other” and write their own.

Create and distribute an email address unique to the promotion. It channels responses to one place, making it easier to measure the number of responses generated.

Examples of Successful Promotional Product Campaigns

Consider these successful campaigns from the 2008 Promotional Products Association International Pyramid Award winners.

--> B-to-B Example

Objective: 3M wanted to increase respirator sales and build brand awareness about its complete line of 3M disposable respirator products

Target Audience: A list of 800 distributors who were selling some but not all 3M respirator products

Strategy: An eight-part direct-mail campaign that spanned about 17 months. Each direct-mail piece contained a sample respirator and a related promotional product. A clear piggy bank, for example, delivered the message, “We want you to breathe through your nose, not pay through the nose.”

Promotional Products: A keychain, a pair of Elvis sunglasses, and an embroidered hat were used in conjunction with the sample respirators. Each had a unique message that tied it to the sample respirator.

Results: 20% sales increase of 3M’s entire respirator line following the launch of the promotional product campaign.

--> B-to-C Example

Objective: Arby’s wanted to keep customers coming back

Target Audience: Arby’s current customer base

Strategy: Arby’s created a loyalty coupon program that allowed customers to sign up and get a card with a removable bar-coded keychain tag. Anyone presenting the tag got an automatic discount. Each tag exhibited the company’s message, “I’m thinking Arby’s.”

Promotional Product: A discount card with removable keychain tag

Results: An Arby’s in the target area reported a 25% increase in sales directly attributed to use of the discount cards.

Useful links related to this article

Past Sherpa article related to this topic:

Research on the $16.9 Billion Promo Products Industry: Why T-Shirts & Pens Can Outdo TV & Internet:

Useful resources from PPAI:

-Fact sheet:

-Top 10 Buyers:

-Business Gift Study:

-DFW Airport Study:

-Integrated Marketing Study:


XMPie – partners in creating personalized micro sites for Xerox:

Roberts Communications Inc. – partners in developing creative and messaging for Xerox:

Scott & Associates Inc. – promotional marketing agency partnered with Total Automotive:



Total Automotive:


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