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When Times Get Tough...

Use These 5 Ideas to Sell More Promo

8/19/2022 | Steve Woodburn, The Only Constant is Change

It’s the perfect storm of challenges for us as salespeople as we slide into the second half of the year. 

Let’s start with the logjams strangling most major U.S. ports, which in turn lead to the inventory shortages we see not only in our industry, but businesses in every category. Add to that a serious labor shortage, reduced ad spend on social media platforms like Meta (Facebook/Instagram) and Alphabet (Google) as well as in the traditional media of radio, TV & newspapers. Let’s not forget gas prices are much higher than just a year ago and did I mention we may or may not already be in a recession (depends on your definition) and the possibility of a labor strike by UPS drivers and warehouse workers which looms on the horizon? 

As the cherry on top for our business specifically, a recent Wall Street journal article notes CEO’s are tightening their budgets for the rocky road ahead, which includes eliminating or reducing promotional product spend.

I’ve been a part of this industry for 36 years and have faced all the challenges above at various times, as have many of you. In times like these, customers need hard data to back up their purchases of branded merch. Facts matter.  As do case histories, statistics, and any other information to make the case for branded items as an essential part of the marketing mix.

Here are five things you can do to help ensure your customers understand the long-term value of our offerings.

Be a journalist: Ask a lot of open-ended questions, especially with prospects and new customers, to understand how promotional products can blend with their business. Ask questions that make your customers think and if you need some ideas, this post with 50 sales questions can be a good start. The answers customers offer will lead you to present ideas and products that truly tie in with their brand, their theme, and their customers’ needs. 

Wow them with Stats: There are so many statistics and facts from PPAI and ASI studies showing the value of promotional products. Here are just a few to help sway those who look at branded items with disdain:

  • 3 out of 4 people keep a promotional product they receive that’s useful.
  • 88% of recipients use logoed products that support a brand or cause they know and like (a great stat for non-profits).
  • 83% say promotional products make an experience more enjoyable. For companies that have events or participate in trade shows and meetings, this is gold!
  • 62% of consumers receiving promo from companies they aren’t familiar with will go online to learn more about that brand.

Don’t go cheap: 72% of those who receive a promotional product equate the quality of a product with the reputation of the company whose name is on it. In other words, cheap products that fall apart or don’t work will leave the recipient with the impression the company that gave it to them is also cheap and unreliable. Make sure to source products from reputable suppliers and don’t let your customers fall into the trap of buying cheap just to have something to give away. 

Show how promo connects people: The pandemic pushed millions to work from home and while most enjoy the flexibility this offers, it’s also taken away the interaction people got from working in an office. Creative promo product kits with useful items sent to employees’ homes help bridge that gap. The same is true for companies who no longer have face-to-face interactions with their clients and want to stay top-of-mind.  It’s also a great direct mail tool to use when prospecting for new customers.

Use trends to support your recommendations: Offer products that fit with generational needs and desires i.e. sustainable products, useful items, lifestyle oriented, etc. Keep in mind what baby boomers find useful may be totally different from what a Gen Z recipient will. Understanding the top product categories and how they can be effectively used to promote to employees and customers of different age groups is key. The top 5 Product categories, according to PPAI, are:

  • Wearables (29%)
  • Health & Beauty Aids (17%)
  • Technology (14%)
  • Food & Beverage (9%)
  • Travel/Bags (7%)

The time has come for us as an industry to step up and show companies promotional products are an investment in their brand, not a line item to cut when times get hard. To do this, you must show the value you bring as a product counselor and an advocate for their company. 

Difficult economic times are challenging, so be sure to think as your customers would and show them why an investment in the right branded merch will give them a return on their investment that other forms of advertising cannot. 

Don’t just sell them a product, sell them an experience to go with it!


After several decades on-the-radio as a DJ, news anchor and traffic reporter, Steve Woodburn MAS, stumbled, as most do, into the world of promotional products. He spent 29 years on the distributor side and five as a supplier, which gives him a unique perspective on this crazy business and life in general. He currently creates and writes content for industry websites, is writing and hosting a new podcast for PromoCorner called ProFiles and is the Chief Adventurer of Marvelous Moosey Adventures LLC.
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