Here we answer the basic questions…
1. What are imprinted promotional products?
Useful and/or decorative merchandise adapted to serve as a communications vehicle. The technique: Imprinting them with an organization’s name, message and/or logo. Unlike other media, a promotional product is a physical entity that is retained by the end-user. Thus, for good or ill – its impact on the brand is long-lasting.
2. How are they used?
Because they are high-impact brand recognition products that make a lasting impression, many marketing programs consider logo-imprinted products as essential tools in building brand recognition and affinity. This is especially true for nonprofit marketing and fundraising programs.
When used to induce a person to perform a specific act, like register with an organization or enroll in a program or make a charitable contribution, these imprinted promotional products are called premiums or incentives. While used heavily as a fundraising premium, the most important application for nonprofits is brand-enhancement within the highly competitive Affinity Market.
3. Are they effective?
They are very effective. This is validate by nearly thirty years of research on their impact conducted by universities, marketing consultants, the Direct Marketing Association and and the marketing departments of large corporations. Also indicative of their impact on influencing attitude and behavior is their usage. Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and many other publications use them to encourage subscriptions. Manufacturers of consumer goods use them to encourage purchases. Grocery stores and food producers are heavy users. Colleges and universities use them to encourage campus visits. (Students who enroll are then barraged by imprinted branding products offered by credit card companies, beverage manufacturers, housing units and many other entities competing for their loyalty.)
A massive list of organizations that find these products to be enormously persuasive could be presented here. The better approach to illustrate their power is to suggest the reader consult his or her own experience and observations.
4. Are they used heavily by nonprofits?
The promotional products industry generates sales of $20 billion annually. We estimate that the nonprofit sector invests between $3 and $4 billion in these marketing tools, making it the largest user of logo-imprinted branding products!
Consider our own experience. Although the only company that specializes in serving the nonprofit community nationwide, VisABILITY is a small organization. Even so – in 2005, the company’s 2oth Anniversary Year, (the last time we counted) we had supplied 16,000 nonprofit fundraising and marketing campaigns. (We will do an updated count in 2015. That is our 30th Anniversary Year!)
You may be interested in the ranking of other sectors. Industry records indicate that the second largest user of imprinted branding products is the financial services industry (banks, credit unions, investment services, etc). The ranks of users then includes (in order) manufacturing, insurance, automotive, government (all levels combined), entertainment and sporting events and media – broadcast/print and advertising/public relations agencies.
5. What should nonprofit marketing executives know about the strengths and weaknesses of imprinted branding products?
VisABILITY understands that thousands of studies confirm the effectiveness of imprinted products, as does our own experience. Nevertheless, we want to bring the following to the attention of the nonprofit community. These are considerations we fear much of the research misses or fails to emphasize:
YES – A well-made and properly imprinted branding product will enhance the affinity of its owner and spotlight your brand through repeat impressions as long as it is used.
CAUTION! When used as contributor incentives, branding products are may be weak acquisition incentives. Our experience indicates they usually have modest success in bringing in new contributions and new membership – but those they do motivate are already your core supporters.
YES – They are MOST powerful when used to induce action, to enhance commitment, to be used as personal-branding devices for current constituents who already have an established relationship with your organization. As fundraising premiums they have an admirable record as a donor-retention incentive. Well presented premiums generate renewals from those who might otherwise not contribute again. They have an equally admirable record of producing gift upgrades.
CAUTION! Once it is in the hands of the end-user, the branding product is forever beyond your control. Yet it will affect your brand, for good or for ill, as long as it is used. For this reason the quality of the product and its imprint must reflect the quality of your organization.
Every promotional products factory and salesperson knows dozens of ways to reduce price by reducing quality. The product made and/or imprinted with these shortcuts will look OK at first, then disappoint. The most direct route to products that will eventually undermine your brand….the most expensive way to reduce cost….. the easiest way to dishonor your constituency ….is to shop for price.
YES – Presentation is essential to the impact of any product imprinted with your organization’s graphics.
CAUTION! Selecting a branding product to be imprinted with your graphic is only the beginning. Your vendor can only give you a useful but inert product with a pretty logo. The rest is in your hands. It is up to you to craft the messages that make the item important. The messages that enhance its perceived value. The messages that tie the product to your organization and its mission. The messages that make it become a self-branding item for your supporters.
The product is static; your presentation gives it energy and appeal – and highlights the way the item reflects your constituent’s affinity for your work. It is the ability to reflect affinity that allows the product to become a personal branding item for the owner – declaring his or her commitment to your organization. These are the dynamics that make a well made and properly presented branding product become a powerful contributor incentive and/or a personal billboard with great influence over those already committed to your mission.