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Eight Common Mistakes of Promotional Marketing

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • How to make your next promotion a success
  • Common promotional marketing pitfalls to avoid

As someone who has ordered his fair share of promotional products, I can tell you firsthand that sometimes promotions work and sometimes they bomb. And, very often, promoters find themselves too caught up in the daily rush of trying to make a profit and satisfy customers to take a moment to analyze the reasons their promotions are not always successful.

Here is a list of what I have found to be the eight deadliest sins (I call them "Promotion Killers") that companies commit when planning and executing a promotion.


1. Ineffective Distribution

Far too often, distribution plans are not followed or fully completed. For example, you order 200 calendars every year to give to your best customers but somehow those calendars never manage to find their way to those customers.

Maybe your support person neglected to notice all those calendars gathering dust in the storage room. Or, maybe, your salespeople forget to grab some on their way out the door to distribute them.

Either way, you end up with an extra 75 calendars in a box at the end of March. That is a waste of time, money, and resources. And the problem can be easily avoided by planning well in advance and following through. Remember, that dumpster behind the building is not one of your customers.

2. Not Allowing Enough Lead Time

Good promotional-products companies can turn around an order very quickly these days—usually within two weeks, and sometimes within a few days if it's a stocked item. However, don't make the mistake of betting your whole promotion on it!

It's much smarter, and a whole lot less risky, to begin your research and planning 90-120 days before an event. Why? Two reasons:

  • First, if you're a high-quantity buyer, you may be able to save tons of money by having your vendor source your product directly from an overseas factory. The catch, however, is that you will need to give them a 90-100 day lead time.
  • Second, you need to account for the very strong possibility that not everything will go as smoothly as planned. For example, your company's artwork may need to be reworked to properly fit on some of the items. If you allow for several weeks of back and forth, you will give yourself enough time to make sure everything is done right.

3. Ignoring What People May Want to Receive

Don't be a creature of habit. Just because you've always given out mugs, T-shirts, or... whatever, doesn't mean that those items will always be your best promotional product spend.

When was the last time you asked your best customers or employees what they would like to receive? Some business owners fall into the trap of saying, "But that is what I like to give out," when their real goals should be to attain better customer response and to increase sales.

4. Not Having Clear Goals for the Product or Promotion

Though promotional products can certainly boost excitement, you need to make sure they also do what you intend for them to do. Therefore, clearly define your expectations so that you will know how successful your promotion actually is.

For example, if your goal was to drive traffic to your booth, did you clearly outline, ahead of time, what volume of traffic you would consider great and the volume you would consider just OK? If your goal was to gain new customers, did you have a specific target number in mind?

Promotional products can be very valuable tools if used correctly. Don't make the mistake of trying to cut wood with a hammer and ending up disappointed with the results.

5. Focusing Only on Price

Remember, promotional products are your ambassadors to the world. The items you hand out at a tradeshow or in person to your best customers will become their lasting impression of your business. You will not be remembered fondly if the product falls apart or the pens you've given out stop writing after two days, for example.

Giving out cheap products is sometimes worse than handing out nothing at all. Don't skimp! That extra $200 could make the difference between a promotion's success and its failure.

6. Giving to the Wrong People

Everyone loves to give out interesting and cool promotional items. Keep in mind, however, that the purpose of those items is to appeal to current and prospective customers, and to entice those customers to drive your business to the next level. Don't choose items that appeal only to people outside of your target market.

A company I know once handed out stuffed penguins at a tradeshow. They were so adorable that people flocked to the company's booth and buyers begged to get extras because they had three kids at home. But as soon as every 8-year-old girl put her penguin next to her pillow, that penguin suddenly became completely invisible to the buyer.

The company is still waiting for one of those young girls to purchase its plumbing supplies.

7. Ineffective Information

The promotional product is important to the recipient, but what is more important to you is that your business's name and information be imprinted for all to see. Ideally, you want that imprint to clearly inform your customers how they can buy something from you.

Many companies list their business name, address, and phone number. Some also include their logo, slogan, or some kind of artwork. But most promotional items are short on space, restricting the amount of information you can display. Therefore, you need to make some smart choices.

For example, why list your phone number if you'd really prefer that the customer go to your website? Does your slogan make sense to someone who is unfamiliar with your business? If you display only your logo, how will customers know how to contact you? Is everything clear and easy to read? Think about the information you are displaying.

And most important, carefully check the proof that you receive from your promotional-products vendor. One wrong digit in the phone number can kill your promotion.

8. Not Dealing With a Reputable Company

Thousands of promotional-products companies are in the marketplace today. If you go online, you can literally spend days searching sites for deals. However, consider a company's credentials when you make your choice. Do a little research, and find out whether the company has a time-tested positive reputation.

A large number of promotional-products companies are extremely price-competitive but aren't invested in quality or customer service. Many don't even have a customer service department.

A good thing to know is whether the company does its own imprinting and whether it has a good quality-control process. Also, find out whether you'll get a real person on the other end of the phone if you have a problem with your order.

A little research beforehand can go a long way toward making your promotion a success.

(Image courtesy of Bigstock, Upset Man.)

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Steve Benidt is director of sales and public relations at Amsterdam Printing, a provider of quality printed business products, where he focuses on assisting small businesses to use promotional materials for marketing. Steve also researches and writes for Amsterdam Printing's Small Business Promotions.

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  • by Lou Lambert Tue Dec 20, 2011 via web

    All very good reminders Steve!
    For years & years we provided '3 month' calendars to our advertising clients and it was an excellent way for a sales rep to make a 'how are you doing' call......but we too would find that many of the reps would not fully avail themselves of this very nice reward. This year with budget crunches we've all but eliminated the program.
    I still find pens (nice pens) very effective as economical giveaways to clients, associates, gate keepers, etc. We deal with many Wal-Marts and the associates there love them. We furnish them with a cheap lanyard and they are good to go and not apt to lose them. I laugh when I go in a store and associates will flash their layards proudly.......
    Change ups are also good. One year we went to a tire pressure reader that was well received. We have to remember that 'hard sell' seldom works. It is nice to just stop buy, say hello and listen to what your clients & potential clients have to say.
    a yankee in Memphis

  • by Steve Benidt Wed Dec 21, 2011 via web

    Thanks for sharing your experience Lou! Much of any successful promotion is trial and error. Good luck with your next one!

  • by Ford Kanzler Wed Dec 21, 2011 via web

    Great post! Suggest another key factor that's not always possible, is having some correlation between the ad specialty item and the brand benefit or marketing message. This can be tough but when it comes together the giveaway can be powerfully effective. I'm sure everyone has seen good examples of this and lots of others that are pretty senseless.

  • by Laurie Buchbilnder Thu Dec 29, 2011 via web

    any comments of promotional advertising speciaties and the best questions to ask potential clients

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