Promotional products and business gifts are both time-tested ways of getting your name out there in front of the crowd. Nearly every major company spends time and resources on producing and distributing these items at tradeshows, product showcases, etc.

But, have you thought of the concept through? Is the “gimme” the end of your campaign or is it the beginning? By that I mean, what role does the promotional gift play in your overall strategy, and more specifically what action does it compel the recipient to take? Any marketing effort should not exist in a silo, it should be a part of a larger, more organized campaign, with specific ‘call-to-action’ for the recipient.

It may be true that your coffee mug or key chain or pen is actually a valuable giveaway, and recipients will find use with them, but if you’re spending money on these items, they need to justify “extra value” in your overall marketing plan. If recipients don’t know why your coffee cup is special, they will use it to hold the pens they got from your competitor.

For example, let’s say you’re giving away an item at a trade show. The item should have at least one additional use during the trade show to produce that “extra value.” Perhaps the coffee mug has a paper inside that the recipient can bring back later in the show for a discount or a free drawing.

If you’re at the trade show and giving away items, use a numbering system or some other means to invite the recipient to participate in a focus group. You’ll need someplace to host the focus group–maybe a hospitality suite–but the information you receive from live customer focus groups is invaluable, and can’t be replicated exactly in any other way. If you’re doing well, the focus group will validate your success, and if not, you need to know where you’re falling short.

At this stage of the game, every imprinted item should send the recipient to your Website or social media site. There, you’ll need a promotion that references the trade show or item and will keep them coming back. Here’s the problem: many industries have a trade show or conference that’s once a year. That means you’re not going to engage with your trade show crowd for an entire year after the event? This is where the importance of a strong ‘nurturing campaign’ is demonstrated. A nurturing campaign is a comprehensive marketing effort that moves prospects along the buying process. Therefore, giving someone a pen is not as valuable as giving them a pen, then inviting them to that focus group, then following up with an additional thank-you item.

The item should have some “beyond the booth” appeal. If it’s a pen, the pitch might be “write your own ticket.” Mini soccer balls or footballs could contain an offer to “score.”

Build in a QR code that recipients can scan with their cell phones that take them to additional content like a video or your website.

Make no mistake, people will always smile at you when they receive something for nothing. Promotional items should be viewed as the start of the conversation rather than the end. Promotional items need to be part of a larger plan of customer engagement, not an end unto themselves. Use the promotional item to blend in with your product, your sales pitch, and the personality of your company.


Eric Thomas is Brand Manager at, Australia’s leading provider of promotional products.