The catalogs are already piling up and what we are seeing is a general lack of new items for the 2013 promotional products season. Of the major brands so far Leed's, Gemline and Bic have not announced any new products on their respective websites. Sweda has already released their new catalog online. None of the other major players have done any updating at this point.
The major news from the year is that Columbia jumped shipped from Sanmar and is now with Tri-Mountain. That is an interesting marriage as they do directly compete against one another in some segments. In more important news we are back in action after a long hiatus. We expect to resume nearly daily updates as the calendar turns from December to January and at that point hope that we can review dozens of new items from Gemline and Leed's.
Over the years we have reviewed a ton of different trinkets. For awhile the focus was on the ever popular eco-friendly items. That started to change when they totally fell out of favor. This was the result of two things, the high price of recycled materials and in general the ugly nature of many of the items. Several ASI suppliers have come along with new twists on the old idea.
The Evolve brand has been around for years and was most prominently known for the Infinity line of tumblers. They featured bland colored plastics that would break down in time at the landfill. They were expensive and because they were not dishwasher safe people tended to stay away from them. Prime Line came along this year and they know the skinny on what sells. They kept it simple and they released the Evolve Squeeze Water Bottle which is a very simple concept in principle. This promotional water bottle holds over 20 ounces, has the plain white body which makes it easy twists for almost anyone to place a logo, and biodegrades at the landfill.
To be honest Prime Line doesn't put out a ton of information on what makes the item biodegradable. Whenever I hear of the term biodegradable I think of burlap sacks like when we were kids. I then think there is no way I want to drink out of something like that but Prime and the other suppliers insist they are using FDA approved materials. On average they are expecting the bottle to break down in about 1 to 5 years when exposed to microbes in compost or at the landfill. In the United States the FTC sets the standard for the terminology. They rank the degree to which something is biodegradable as well as testing the claims to make sure it actually occurs.
With Earth Day coming up we felt it would be nice to review this Evolve Bottle. After about 5 days of sitting in the fridge there was no discernible taste of any kind to the water. That's a good thing as sometimes plastics can transfer odors or flavors. The bottle was lightweight, the logo lasted our five wash test in the dishwasher on the top rack, and the kids loved it. It fits comfortably in wire bottle bike holders as well.
To read more about biodegradable plastics you can follow the link to the article. We expect to see more and more of these products as they are good for Earth Day promotions while also being responsible in that their use can result in a positive outcome at the landfill if disposed of properly.
We are finally seeing the major manufacturers come around to the idea of providing unique names for each of their products. Prior to 2012 what we repeatedly saw was boring and generic names being used to describe thousands of trinkets. Sadly there are still some suppliers doing this today. We won't mention any names but we will say Logomark!
With that ugliness out of the way I was down in Orlando last week for the ASI show. For the most part there were the usual new product introductions. There was nothing as exciting as the Clean Bottle which some of you may have seen on a popular show tonight. But what we did see is some of the more budget oriented brands releasing items in their range like The Athena Laminated Tote which Bullet was showing proudly. One of the problems with polypro totes that had become the rage just two or three years ago is that they get messy easily. Once soiled they were very hard to clean and ended up in the trash. The lamination process provides a coating that keeps liquids from being absorbed and therefore blocks stains. When a mess is made it can easily be wiped off the material. Better yet the item is fully recyclable and if you are wondering what that term means take a look at the bottom of the bag. There will be a code which matches up with your local recycling facility. When you're done using the bag just dump it in the appropriate bin and you're done.
Watching ABC's hit television show tonight I couldn't help but notice the industry is really lacking that "hot" product like the water bottle that screws off on both ends. Over the last year I have watched that show many a night and noted how many of the products introduced on the program would have a great home in this industry. Unfortunately most are patented and at that point the only way they are going to cross over to the promo products business is via the licensing channel which is a difficult nut to crack. It would be nice to see product development teams at major outfits like Leed's or Norwood actually drive some new products to market versus just copying what others have already produced. Then again with margins still being squeezed and business not at the same pace as this time last year most are probably happy.
New Years Eve has come and gone and the first of the resolutions are already being broken. All over the country gym memberships will begin to lapse in the coming weeks as eager members slowly slump back towards their couches. Soon enough the days will be noticeably longer and another sure sign the next season is upon us is the introduction of new totes from the major promotional products suppliers.
A category that had fallen into disrepair prior to the last economic bust is finally getting needed attention once again. Up through last year suppliers were most focused on providing customers in this hemisphere with goods in a higher price range. That's all ended now as price points are being driven through the floor and with cinch bags having run their course attention goes back to totes. They tend to be more rugged being made from polycanvas and more puncture resistant. Leading the pack is the Hemisphere Meeting Tote from Leed's which was introduced today at the PPAI show in Las Vegas. The tote is made from 600 denier materials making it durable and resistant to punctures from pens and other objects while maintaining light weight and some breath-ability. Like so many other promotional products it is available in a wide variety of colors and Leed's typically releases more colors during the year. In total they now have about 80 totes in the line of which 40 were released after July 2011.
Gemline has followed suit and has released and revamped their entire line over the winter. A quick check of the numbers shows that about 40% of the line has been refreshed. In some cases colors have been the only change but there are over 150 clearance items on their site in addition to about 150 new products. This is a clear indication that the industry had a good year in 2011 and put money into development with a passive acknowledgement to the slowing conditions in 2012. What do we expect to see? Mergers and acquisition activity pick up on the distributor side as a year of haves and have nots bears fruit. Expect a middle of the year price increase from most suppliers with the excuse being higher supply costs and the introduction of new colors and some new products.
The past year has been a good one for many distributors and suppliers but the year sputtered to a close. Honest suppliers are reporting sharp sales drops in the October to December period versus 2010 and the same is expected in 2012. Tighten up the budget and sharpen the pencil because it is going to be a bumpy ride this year.
One of the most seasonal of all trade-show giveaways tends to be the flashlight. They are extremely popular from late in August right through early January before they fade back into obscurity by the time the sun gets higher in the sky. Right now is the time to actively get these into the hands of your clients and there are some new offerings coming to the market.
Weight has become a major issue with anything that is metal or heavier plastic. As shipping rates continue to go through the roof suppliers are looking for ways to reduce the overall freight footprint. Sweda has again managed to pull this off while maintaining some sense of style with the Push Button Mini Barrel Flashlight which is a short version of earlier releases. With only about a 2" height they are able to pack 100 per box. A normal sized order may encompass one or two boxes which even if they are spanning multiple zones will only run around $50. That is advantageous to anyone on a budget and can help to make the promotional event a success.
We are noticing this trend continues across the board but Sweda so far seems to be hammering it the hardest. In total they have released about one hundred products since January with size being a major distinguishing factor among the brands. Leed's just released a new catalog with hundreds of new items many of which are going to cost a small fortune to ship including ceramic items which have a high break rate. Others are developing products that will fold down or break apart so that they are easy to ship. To read more about the new products from Sweda you can check out their website which also includes their new holiday gift catalog.
There was major news today out of Prime in Conneticut as they announced that they would be carrying another retail brand. We will have more to follow on that in the days ahead. So far retail branding has been at bet hit or miss in the promo products industry. It remains to be seen how well this whole situation will work out.
We have all seen these types of grandiose plans play. A new manager comes in with all of the best ideas and thinks that everything can be change dto meet their new expectation. Rarely do those managers end up succeeding but before we get to that let's take a look at the scenarios that are most often seen.
Scenario #1: We want no less than one
billion new customers, a revenue increase of $3 gazillian bajillion dollars and
media hits on the front page of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the
Wall Street Journal. A major industry player has done it with the Aura Ceramic Mug which although it looks great with the earth tone on tone look will never fully succeed because it is already doomed to low stock. This same company has run into this a bunch of times with other items and they don't seem to ever learn.
Scenario #2: We only have a $100/month
budget for advertising and marketing.
Scenario #3: It's been three months and
we haven't seen any results. What are you doing wrong?
These are three scenarios that marketers frequently experience under the umbrella of one client: visions of too much grandeur with too little budget and an unrealistic timeline. And this can all be avoided.
AdAge.com's recent article, "Your Ad Agency's First Task: Educate Your Clients" urges agencies to approach new clients and their projects with honesty - especially when it comes to what can be done within a set budget and, feasibly, what the results should be. I would like to expand this suggestion beyond the agency, though. Not every business uses an agency for it's marketing needs. Not every business uses a freelancer, even. What every business does do, though, is market itself, and whether you use an agency, a freelancer or your own internal team of specialists, you should be aware of a few things:
1. Set great - yet realistic! -
expectations. If you use an agency, they should be honest about whether or not they can reach the goals you have set, or at least educate you as to what they believe they will be able to achieve. A freelancer should do the same.
If you are managing your own marketing activities, do some research. By how much should website traffic increase with a pay-per-click campaign? With a search engine optimized foundation of titles, meta-tags and keywords? What is the typical return on a direct mail piece? Or a mass email broadcast? While every industry generates a different return on
different media channels, at least you'll have a ballpark figure of what you'd like to accomplish.
You will also want to talk to other business owners or marketing directors in your industry to see what trends they have identified in their own results.
2. You gotta spend money to make money. You don't gotta spend A LOT of money, per se, but you do gotta spend some. And you gotta spend it right.
The-bigger-the-budget-the-bigger-the-return is often true...but not always true. It's more like the-smarter-the-budget-the-bigger-the-return. Maybe you have a big budget that you want to pour into print advertising. But is print advertising the right channel for your brand and its message? What can a print ad accomplish anyway? Is is what you are hoping to accomplish? Aligning your budget and media spend with your objectives is key to generating a positive financial return.
Understand your media channels and what they are best used for. Understand your target audience and where they are physically located (i.e. online, outside, etc.). Your ad agency or freelancer will (or at least should!) do this for you. It is a complicated component of setting up a marketing plan - but an important component that the success of your marketing plan hinges on.
3. You must give it time! Three-months, six-months, sometimes even a year is not enough time to start generating the results you want. It takes time for your outreach to gain traction, and even longer for it to make magic.
Yes, individual activities will generate immediate results. An email broadcast, for example, will always be opened by a percentage of its recipients. A smaller percentage of those recipients will click-through the email to your website or landing page. And an even smaller percentage will act based on the email, whether "acting" is making a purchase or signing up for a free consultation or downloading a White Paper.
But the way these rates grow and change over the course of three-, six or 12 months is what's really important. No one outreach effort will have results indicative of the overall results of your entire integrated marketing plan.
Statistics on each of your marketing activities are valuable if you know how to see the forest from the trees, for lack of a better cliche. Use them to "tweak" your marketing plan as needed. Don't be discouraged if, in the first few months, you're not seeing impressive results. Be discouraged if you're not seeing them after a year or longer.
When your business is educated about what expectations are realistic within its budget and how long it should take to achieve them, you'll be more satisfied with your agency, freelancer, or in-house team.
There can be no doubt after the release of one important data point of economic data after another. The economy of the United States and many other countries has slipped either back into a recession or are right on the brink. Consumer spending declined for the first time since the end of the last recession in June and manufacturing is hitting lows not seen since the tail end of the last downturn. Consumers and manufacturing account for about 82% of the GDP and when they are both on the decline so will the larger metric follow in later periods.
This is bad news in the promotional products industry as we had just started to see a decent bump in the last 10 months. That bump became more of a wild ride in the last 2 months as sales have begun to slide very quickly. A majority of suppliers that anonymously responded to a recent survey indicated they are trimming sales growth plans for the remained of the year. While not a bad idea for distributors a key to success will be bundling. Leeds is providing a perfect opportunity by releasing the Rotate Memory Gift Set 8GB which includes everything needed for a proper executive gift. The pen is solid brass construction, the card holder is made from aluminum and the drive itself is one of the normal rotate versions that have been around for five or more years. All three are put into a box for ease of gifting. Thinking ahead Leeds has made the 4 and 8GB versions available already while eliminating the less sought after 512mb size. If purchased as individual pieces the client would pay almost 40% more versus the set. By combining the three biggest holiday gift items in one package they may have hit the ball clean out of the park so long as they can keep inventory in stock.
For those running on a slightly tighter budget or shipping over long distances they have another package for you. By removing the aluminum business card holder they reduce the weight while decreasing the size of the box. They also added a pen available in 4 colors set against a single colored - stainless steel- USB drive. The result is the Rockford Memory Gift Set 1GB which as you would expect includes the drive and a pen. For well under $9 a distributor can give away a pen and USB drive with laser engraving all in a convenient gift box. With color options that would make Rockford himself happy this set comes in at the value price point.
Can't find what you want bundled by your supplier? Make your own bundle kits by sourcing locally. If you like a Leeds padfolio but don't want to pay the premium for their pens pick one up from Hub Pen or Senator and do the insert yourself. In some cases they may even be obliged to do the inserting for you if the order is extremely large and profitable. Worst case you can factor in the cost of insertion locally as well as the increase in shipping costs to and from the location. You will often find customers will pay a premium just so they don't have to do the work on their end.
About a month ago we wrote about the problems Grasshopper had with customer service after a major outage. At the time the company had experienced a total outage that prevented customers from being able to access voice-mails or even use their phones. The solution took almost two days to implement and in the meantime customers lost thousands of dollars in business. These types of stories occur in every industry almost every day but few understand how to properly capture the opportunity these bad times present.
After a flood that was caused by a leaking underground pipe one marketing agency came up with the idea of giving their customers a gift. For about four days their business was totally offline. Power was cut as were the phone lines when heavy construction cranes were brought in to fix the problem. How did the company handle it? They decided to send out the Cabo Water Bag with Carabiner which had just been released by Bullet Line. They also sent along a pre-printed card that explained what happened in clear and concise terms. They also played on words while highlighting the features in the bag by saying things like "collapses just like our business" and "holds a flood of water." Customers appreciated the information and confidence was restored.
Whenever these issues crop up it is always interesting to see how similar situations are handled in other countries. In Australia there have been a series of major blunders in the last 24 months some larger than others. Their version of Smartcompany magazine discusses the largest Australian marketing blunders in recent years. What is often interesting to look at is the fact that many of these issues are actually the result of the inability to appropriately translate meaning. What may fly in one country may well not work in another. Grasshopper luckily didn't have to go through any of these issues as their client base was mostly in the United States.
Last week one of the first and one of the largest providers of both virtual and hard line PBX services experienced a massive outage. In this instance thousands of users lost all ability to receive calls on any lines or to receive messages. Worse any callers received the equivalent of no dial tone. Some even reported a disconnection notice which instantly makes me people think your company has closed down for good.
The founders of Grasshopper have come forward and are discussing the issues in a blog post on their site. The worst part of the situation reported by customers was the lack of information. In their discussion Grasshopper has admitted to some serious failings and discusses the problems in detail. Most importantly in a future outage or service disruption Grasshopper has indicated they will provide a lot more information as needed. But will they be able to get their customers to forgive them? Chances are they have already lost a good deal of customers that no longer trust the service. Others are probably trying out similar services before making a possible change and still more are probably running dual systems just in case. But what can they do to keep existing customers aside of giving them many free months? One suggestion is to give them something for their trouble, perhaps a promotional gift that says thank you for sticking with us during out trouble.
They would have to monitor costs in that type of situation as choosing the wrong gift may end up costing just as much as giving multiple free months. How you might ask? Shipping costs have gone through the roof so choosing an inexpensive but large item will break the bank in shipping. A promotional tote or something like the Yogi Drawstring Backpack can be rolled up into a tiny package that would cost less than a few dollars to ship. They could put their logo on the bag along with a cute message telling their customers they are sorry. Give them something they will use for a summer and then hand off to their kids and the $10 spent would go a long way. Giving a partial credit for a few days of lost service will do nothing to compensate people for what could be tens of thousands of lost dollars.
The amazing part of all of this is that even a simple problem can mushroom into something much worse both technically and from a public relations standpoint. A relatively minor technical problem at Grasshopper became a PR nightmare as the hours ticked by with the company unable to locate the problem. It still may become a financial nightmare as there may not be any way of recovering. The news on the economy is pretty terrible and that isn't going to help cheer people up any time soon. To read more about the grasshopper outage you can check out the article written as it unfolded last week.