13 promotional items that suck (and what to get instead!)
1. Don’t get… paperweights
Google image search “modern office”. What do you see?
Rows and rows of computers and wide open desk space.
What don’t you see? Paper. That’s because nearly half of businesses have gone or are going paperless by end of this year. With scanners and cloud technology and a rapidly growing telecommuting workforce, businesses need to go paperless to stay competitive.
Unfortunately that means a staple of giveaways (hah, a paper pun! But seriously, don’t get those either) are going the way of the dodo.
In a paperless office, what use is a paperweight?
Get this instead: A desk toy!
It can serve the exact same purpose as a paperweight, but it has an awesome extra feature: It’s a toy.
It’s a 50-50 shot that your customer doesn’t have paper and if you give them a plain old paperweight, they’ll get rid of your promotional item and there go your impressions.
However, if you make the item a desk toy, there is suddenly 100% chance of your product being awesome. If they have paper? They have a paperweight and something to idly play with while they’re on the phone. If they don’t have paper? They have something to idly play with while they’re on the phone and it looks awesome on their sweet desk.
2. Don’t get… plain old pens
Pens, while great for signing receipts for things you paid with your credit card, are less and less useful. It’s a similar issue to the paperweights: In an increasingly digital world, do you really want to give your customers a unitasker?
Get this instead: A pen/stylus combo!
Promotional items are really popular at conferences, right? Can you imagine how popular your booth would be if you started handing these babies out?
Less and less people are carrying notebooks with them to conferences. It’s all about laptops and tablets and phones. A pen alone is unhelpful with touchscreens (I’m sure writing on your touchscreen device violates your warranty), but this pen comes with a stylus!
Instead of using your fingers and getting those gross smudges all over your nice phone screen, use the stylus: It gets you into your apps and helps you dominate Candy Crush with the greatest of ease! Uh, your boss is reading this? I mean… helps you dominate that backlog of emails with the greatest of ease!
Yep, good save.
3. Don’t get… plain old pencils
The only thing worse than getting a plain old pen is getting a plain old pencil.
Pens at least work from the get-go: Click them and they write! Ingenious.
With pencils: You have to first track down a pencil sharpener. Who has those these days? Once you track it down, you hope it’s electric, otherwise you’ll be cranking a handle or spinning the pencil and that’s just a lot of time that could be spent on Twitter. Once you finally get it to that perfect point, that perfect point doesn’t last. It dulls or breaks. And don’t even get me started on that eraser…
Get this instead: A mechanical pencil!
(Or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, get this pen/pencil/stylus combo!)
At my old job, I used to work as a researcher. I got hundreds of 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th graders to take surveys about bullying and friendships. (I know there are teachers in the audience or people who know teachers who are nodding in sympathy right now and I thank you.)
These students got a reward for completing the survey: A pretty, unsharpened pencil. Oh joyous day.
Until the day one student discovered our personal stash of mechanical pencils and begged us to let her have a mechanical pencil as a reward instead. We gave it to her and after that, every single student asked us for a mechanical pencil (at small schools, word gets around). We ran out after three hours and had to run to the CVS to grab more.
The moral of this story is: Everyone loves mechanical pencils.
4. Don’t get… letter openers
When’s the last time you actually got a letter you wanted?
The only letters I get nowadays are from AT&T trying to get me to switch from Comcast, Comcast trying to get me to buy cable, and catalogs based on things the previous tenants bought. (The previous tenant in my place was a jewelry-making golf-enthusiast.)
Those all go straight into recycling, unopened.
Which means letter openers are as useless as the paperweights.
Unless they’re shaped like swords. Then they can double as desk toys, and what did we learn about desk toys?
Get this instead: Phone case!
All of our communication is done through email nowadays, and while that has its share of problems (spam, spam, spam, spam), it is a lot more convenient than the mail. And, even better, a lot of emails are answered via smartphones.
How many adults have smartphones? At least 64% of adults in the United States.
And what does everyone need for their smartphones? Cases.
These expensive devices can be very fragile and we want to keep these expensive devices as pretty as possible. Cases provide protection.
Cases also provide a nice big open area for your logo.
To make these even more appealing to your customers, make the design pretty. Everyone loves to show off their case and when asked where they got that fabulous, stylish case, they can proudly say, “I got it from [your business].”
5. Don’t get… anything to do with CDs
Do you see a trend? Much like vinyl, 8-tracks, and cassettes, CD’s are out and can be found at antique stores priced at far more than they’re actually worth.
Your customers will pass up on anything involving those shiny round discs.
Get this: USB Drive!
Admittedly, USB drives are on their way out too. Fewer and fewer tablets are carrying support for them.
However! While business is still done on laptops and desktops, USB drives are like gold. They will be used again and again and again and each time, your logo will be right there. Front and center.
Even better, these drives get passed around the office. That means not just one person is going to see your logo, but also the person they hand the drive too. Your logo becomes a chain letter, but not the kind that gives you bad luck if you stop sending it along.
6. Don’t get… toothbrushes
Do you remember that one house on your block when you went trick or treating? The one house you knew was bad news?
It was totally because they gave you toothbrushes instead of candy.
Unless your business has something to do with dental hygiene, avoid these like the plague. No one likes to be condescended to and the last thing you want to be carrying around at a conference is a toothbrush.
Get this: Food!
You know what would really be useful at a conference? Food. Something to keep your energy up.
This is the most impermanent thing on the list, but the risk is worth it. People will remember your business and booth as a savior.
(And if you’re really worried about your customer’s dental hygiene, then get mints or nuts, as opposed to chocolate or hard candies.)
7. Don’t get fanny packs
Don’t be that guy.
Get this: Drawstring bag!
I know. I know. Some fashion designer has gone and added a thing that looks like a fanny pack to their models. It’s not a fanny pack and the rest of us are not models (though we can dream).
Instead I recommend the drawstring bag.
It’s not the most stylish thing out there, but it’s infinitely more helpful than a fanny pack. It still closes, it’s on your back, and it’s even bigger. You can hide a water bottle, an umbrella, and your wallet in a drawstring bag.
Try hiding all THAT in a fanny pack.
8. Don’t get… a visor
You know what a visor is? A visor is half a hat. What do you have against hats?
You are getting less hat for your money.
You are still ruining your good hair day with a half hat.
Get this: Sunglasses!
You know what will still protect your eyes from the sun, cater to hat-haters, and maintain your good hair day? Sunglasses.
You know what comes in about a million styles? Sunglasses.
You know what everyone can use more of? Sunglasses.
I need a pair in my car, in my bag, at home, at work just in case I forget the ones in my bag… I might have a problem.
9. Don’t get… ponchos
If the only alternative to you getting wet is a garbage bag with holes for your face, then I can see why you’d make the decision.
Wearing wet jeans is one of the worst tactile sensations ever. It’s the physical representation of the word “moist”.
How many of you shuddered reading that? Imagine having to write that. Ugh.
Get this: Umbrella!
You know what will still keep you dry and is a million times better than a poncho? An umbrella.
Hear me out. Yes, it’s more expensive, but you’re not handing out holey garbage bags here. Ponchos are temporary and easily damaged.
If you give away umbrellas, you’re handing your customers a reusable tool.
As long as they’re not in the habit of using umbrellas during hurricane-level winds, your branded umbrella will last them a long, long time.
10. Don’t get… a padfolio
I interviewed for a position and brought a padfolio.
This padfolio was intended to just hold extra copies of my resume and make me look super professional. The padfolio was mistaken for a portfolio. It was not. And that meant I didn’t have portfolio pieces when they were looking for them.
Because denial is a powerful thing, I blame that padfolio.
Padfolios, in and of themselves, are outdated. You see them being carried around conferences, but as we’ve seen above… we’re going digital and pads of paper and pen holders alone are not enough to make a memorable giveaway.
Get this: A tablet case!
This particular tablet case doubles as a padfolio. It still has the pad of paper and the pen holder. But what makes it actually useful is the case part. There are straps there to accommodate almost any size of tablet, as long as it’s smaller than a pad of paper.
Combine that with our above lesson of the stylus/pen combo and you have the most popular giveaway item ever.
11. Don’t get… a regular wallet
Wallets can be deeply personal things. We spend all day carrying these things around. Some people even get wallets as presents for their first job or coming of age… I keep my wallets until they fall to pieces.
I’m not interested in a free wallet unless there’s already money inside.
And I don’t think that’s in your marketing budget.
Get this: A phone wallet!
Phone wallets force you to keep things light. Instead of carrying a wallet around at a concert or at some other fun event where it might get lost or pickpocketed, keep your necessities close. A phone wallet sticks to your phone (or case) and fits wherever your phone goes: Your pocket.
And if your customer already got a case from a rival business, you can use your phone wallet to cover up their branding with yours!
12. Don’t get… headphones
How are your headphones supposed to compete with Beats or Bose?
Newsflash: They can’t.
And by trying to give away subpar headphones, you might run the risk of your customers associating your brand with crap quality.
Get this: Bluetooth speakers!
No lie, this is the most expensive product on the list. But it is well worth the price.
Bluetooth speakers work with any Bluetooth enabled device, which is nearly ubiquitous on smartphones and tablets and becoming more common on laptops. The speakers are fairly durable (they even have waterproof ones now) and they look real sharp sitting on a desk.
There are so many uses for Bluetooth speakers. I currently have one synced to my phone so that my phone’s alarm is much louder in the morning.
For your remote workers, listening to music on a good quality speaker with your logo on it is a very nice indulgence and reminder of how much you care about quality.
13. Don’t get… wall chargers
The back of my desk is a mess of cords and plugs. I am not looking forward to the day I have to untangle that mess. That means when I want to plug in my phone, I absolutely have to find an empty USB port on my computer, which is somehow even more difficult.
Get this: Power bank!
A power bank is a relatively new piece of technology and I have never been this excited about something to plug my phone into.
Power banks have to be charged by normal means. But when your phone is running out of juice, you use one of those handy USB cords to plug your phone into the bank. The bank charges your phone.
No walls or computers necessary.
I KNOW, RIGHT?!