With competition and the rate of adoption of successful products continuing to increase industry suppliers are in a mad scramble to provide added value. For years trinkets typically came in three colors blue, black or white. Then came a wave of new products that expanded the color options and touched off a firestorm of competition. Initially this was most common in the less expensive items like pens and plastics. Now it has expanded even to higher end audio and technology products.
Sweda was among the first to bring bright colors to tumblers and even stationary items. But Hit Promotional Products was among the first to add splashes of vibrant colors to speakers, drives, headsets and wraps. Color is everywhere right now in style just look at fashion. With a full spectrum of color in mind the Prism Bluetooth Speaker boasts high fidelity sound that will fill a cubicle or small room, connectivity to most modern Bluetooth devices and a rechargeable battery that will last for up to four hours. An included USB cable is simply snapped into the wall outlet and plugged into the female end on the speaker for charging. For older technology there is a mini-audio cable that fits into the headphone jack for a hard line connection. More importantly the speaker is available in almost ten colors which will surely fit just about any branding need.
Hit has also brought color and branding opportunity to the basic charging and docking cable. For the most part suppliers tried to walk the fine line in providing cables for iPhone users and the basic Android cable. There were usually only two colors available but now here are a multitude of colors with the 5 in 1 Charging Buddy which is basically one USB cable with a fan of up to five other cables. It's a unique design that allows for multiple devices to be charged at the same time providing a high amperage charger is being used. Time will tell how well that system works but it's an interesting concept.
Color will be the new innovation as we will start to see a wider spectrum of technology devices available in a rainbow of colors. This provides increased branding opportunities for marketers and graphic artists and potentially headaches for inventory managers initially. We expect this trend to continue throughout 2014 with increased assortment in umbrellas, tools and chairs.
Whether you are in California or in Florida or anywhere in between you've definitely felt a chill in the air at some point over the past few weeks. That signals a change in the seasons and a change in the promotional products industry as focus moves from hard goods to wearables. There are a bunch of new lines coming to market including Trimark from Leed's which is a Canadian brand moving into the US. Some major brands have exited the market while others are just jumping in to test the waters. Keeping track of who is who is getting difficult.
Through it all there is a brand that has long established itself as a leader in the field of affordable jackets and coats. Customers have consistently voted with their budgets in this industry and that has forced some of the big high end brands to the curb. Some major suppliers have booted recognized retail brands and then turned around and marketed almost identical products shortly thereafter. One of the more prominent examples is the Port Authority Ladies Brushstroke Print Insulated Jacket which looks a lot like the technical prints you now see on the shelves at the local Sports Authority. It is a familiar brush pattern that we now see on army camouflage digital prints. Better yet it looks great with a logo because just about any color will blend in well with the contrasting appearance.
Port Authority has been a stalwart brand for over 20 years. There is no better hallmark of quality and value. Others have gone away entirely while they keep adding new items almost monthly. Heavy duty, all weather coats are hard to come by in the corporate market for less than $100, most of the products from PA are under $50 and time has shown they last. This newest batch of releases is probably the best I have ever seen. They look terrific and Sanmar continues to hit it out of the park with their products. You can pay more for a similar jacket but you don't have to at this stage.
September has reached the midway point and the flood of new products being released for the holiday shopping season is increasing. Unlike 2012 where suppliers were cautious and trying to sell down existing stock this season is featuring multiple catalog launches and now full holiday catalogs. This is a welcome change for distributors and corporate customers.
Top ASI suppliers released very few seasonal products last year because spending had been cut back so severely during the recession. Spending is back to levels seen prior to 2008. Among the first to release their holiday items was Logomark which released over 300 items in a single catalog. Distributors quickly noted most of the items were not new. Some had new colors added, others were the same pen at a different price while very few were freshly released. Logomark is based in California and carries a wide range of promo products while offering the valumark line for price oriented customers.
On the other end there are suppliers that have released genuinely new items. Fresh after the introduction of their Trimark line this July, Polyconcepts has expanded the line of products by almost a hundred just in time for October. Another top 15 supplier Lanco has released a customer accessible holiday catalog that is price coded. CPS Keystone has long been known for quality promotional products and in October is planning on launching almost 75 mugs and pens.
Over the next week we will review some of the newest items that are released and try to provide an indication of where the best value is on distributor sites. Several other suppliers have announced plans for the addition to their lines and this is expected to occur by October 1st. As we get the information we'll post our reviews especially of tech items like the smartphone chargers and battery backups. The economy is really improving and customers are buying. Luckily this fall suppliers are providing valuable alternatives.
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.