promotional products work

Why Do Those Darn Promotional Products Work So Well?

Folks treat promotional products like that drunken Uncle at holiday dinners no one wants to invite, but everyone enjoys. They’re pigeon-holed as a necessary evil–some gaudy SWAG that businesses HAVE TO GIVEAWAY, but no one really wants to be bothered with. Case in point: the forgotten pen, the holey T-shirt, the awkward-fitting baseball cap.

Yet the promotional products industry rakes in $15 billion annually. Fortune 500 companies such as Pfizer, General Motors and AT&T spend $85, $80 and $58 million respectively on these giveaways. And if you go to your closet right now you’ll find at least one item that has the branded logo of a company. Since George Washington gave out commemorative coat buttons in 1789 to celebrate his presidency, promotional products have been the oldest form of brand advertising companies have used.

We know promotional products work (If you don’t know they work read this). But as a would-be start up success you need to be concerned with WHY they work. Why? Because when you understand the why of promotional products you can strategically harness their power to increase your revenue without breaking the bank.

You Get You Give

Have you ever been out with friends and run a little short on cash? What happens when your BFF picks up the tab? You immediately start thinking of ways to pay him or her back don’t you? Or what happens when you walk into a store and they give you a “no obligation,” coupon. Do you throw it away? Or do you spend it on something. Or what do you think your customers think about your product if you have a free version available for download? Do you think your customers would be more inclined to pay for an upgrade? All these questions center around one basic human instinct–if we get something we feel compelled to give something.

Robert Cialdini (you remember him–from our influence series) calls this phenomenon the principal of reciprocity. Evolutionary speaking, the idea of reciprocity means that when we give nothing is lost. We give and people receive and then they give and others receive. Such magic was a boon to society built on scarcity of goods and buoyed such concepts of trade, aid and offerings. Evolution has ingrained in our brains that when we get something we should also give something.

Paying Our Debts

The law of reciprocity says that people respond to each other in similar ways. If someone loans you $20 to pay a light bill, then you’ll give them $20 to pay a gas bill. If someone gives you a free pen, then you might sign up for their 99-cent subscription service. From philosophy to religion, from anthropology to psychology the idea of an “eye for an eye,” or “paying one’s debt,” is so hardwired into our brains that we are literally unable to fight against it.

Even in the age of “freemium,” where Internet software companies dole out free products, games, social media etc., we still feel obligated to contribute–content, expertise, skill, talent even our presence–to reciprocate the free access.

“There is no human society that doesn’t subscribe to the rule [of reciprocity],” writes Cialdini in his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”

Promotional Products Feed Reciprocity

So when you show up to that networking event and you give a water bottle emblazoned with your logo to the runner you make an impression in their mind. It’s such an impression that research shows he or she will likely buy your product. But you can’t give just anything. (Read our post on picking the right promotional item.)

In the social media age in which consumers expect free stuff all the time you have to choose promotional products that will illicit the reciprocity response. These products should be:

  • Useful
  • Attractive
  • Enjoyable
  • Relevant

Reciprocity can work in two ways–on the consumer that receives the gift as well as the consumer that uses the gift and shares it with his or her network.

For the consumer that receives the gift–a functional promotional product could convince them to convert to buying something.

For the consumer that uses the gift–the more relevant your promotional product the more likely the would-be consumer will use it, the more likely other potential customers will see it. Remember what we learned from Neal Sales-Griffin and his startup the Starter League? Promotional products aren’t just about the person you’re giving them to–they also influence the people in their networks. Promotional products can provide that word-of-mouth marketing boost, that social lift you’re looking for to put you over the top in conversions.

So we can’t say it enough already. Use promotional products. They work. And now you know why.

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