Monday, September 30, 2013

Are You Black Or Blue?

Teaching art at the elementary level requires quick change of grade levels in a matter of minutes, therefore I always kept a basket on the table with scissors, a sharpie, pencil and a crayon because usually one of those things would be needed for class. My K-1 kids were always asking “what I can use to write my name on the back of my paper? Labeling the paper with a specific “tool” was not a reason to impose a “rule” so I’d often reply “as long as I can read it, and it’s on the back of your paper-make yourself happy.”

Writing instruments top the list every year for the most kept and useful promotional piece. According to Advertising Specialty Institutes’ annual global research for 2012, 50% of consumers have a branded writing instrument. Women are more likely to own a branded piece at 52% edging out men. While writing instruments performed high across all age brackets, those 55 and older had the most regard for receiving a writing instrument coming in at 56%.

Given all of the choices for promotional writing instruments I have at my fingertips, I too have my favorites, but tend to rotate among several. What do I prefer? For me a pen just needs to write smoothly and be easy to hold. I prefer a wider body without a grip, sleek color combinations like the ones with a contrasting trim pop. My retractable sharpies are great, they are bold and the click to apply over removing the cap makes work easy. Dual functions such as highlighters, USB combo’s or the new stylus tips are very hot with our clients; also the wax highlighters because the ink does not dry out. Clearly choice is important.

However, what mystifies me is debate over black versus blue ink. We have some clients in professions like law that prefer blue ink because it’s easier to identify the original document over the copy signed in blue ink. However many of my clients worry about the color of the ink on 1,000 pens that they plan to give away! We’ve had to start searching again based on ink color for a low cost mass distribution.  I’ve asked before, “What if 900 of the folks you are giving this pen to prefer the black ink, when you really want the ink to be blue? In response I usually hear “but I prefer blue and I think other people do too.” I recently asked some of our face book friends to weigh on this issue; here are some of their replies:

Jim says: “Black for everything except... Blue for letter (hand written notes) writing... Red for correcting...”

Bekki said: “Business - blue - so I know what is original. Personally- anything color for fun, not black.”

Who won? No one…for every black ink preference there was a vote for blue to counter.

Whether you like black or blue ink, rest assured there are choices in gels, roller balls and ball point tips. Some suppliers offer options for re-fill cartridges even on their most economical pens. Do you have a favorite name brand? We probably carry it; just ask. While there are many suppliers that offer pens, we have selected a few core groups that focus on just writing instruments or offer well known name brand pieces associated with quality. Why? Think about it if all you focus on is a writing instrument one would tend to think that supplier has identified the most requested and appreciated aspects for quality, construction, color, design and price at every price point.

As we move into the holidays, pens will be given as signature executive pieces by some of our clients. Given the statistics provided by ASI, a pen will continue to be a smart choice for branded gifts. However, keep in mind that while I will collaborate with you to align with your goals and objectives for writing instruments, may never understand why the ink color matters. Keep the debates going by replying to this blog post! I am enjoying your responses and collecting your data for client feedback; but beware my raw notes might be in crayon.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Volunteering: What’s In It for Your Business?

Volunteering might be the best or the worst thing you’ve ever done for your business because it might be building or destroying your brand simultaneously.

Have you ever heard the saying “give a busy person something to do and it will get done”? I’ve been volunteering as long as I can remember; in my youth and now in my professional life. Volunteering as an adult has a different set of challenges and expectations that are not always simple or “neat”. Depending on who you ask, you’d find differing opinions on whether volunteering is an asset or a distraction; for me it depends on what you hope to gain.

Perhaps carving out time away from work when hits ones pocketbook or one’s perceived ability to get ahead at work is what keeps some individuals from volunteering? However, as a “career volunteer” I’ve learned that the benefits long out way the sacrifices volunteers make when creatively sharing their most valued asset; time.

Still a non-believer, how about some examples?

  1. Have you ever hired or recommended an individual for employment based on your knowledge of how engaged they were as a volunteer?

I’ve recommended or hired folks based on my perceptions of their engagement as a volunteer. When we started the business, I reached out to a variety of contacts, many of which were folks I’d known only as a volunteer.  My response was often, “O, I know how hard you will work for free, so I have no problem recommending you to someone that might need your services”.

  1. Has there been a time when you could connect a client to an organization, agency or business that would benefit their goals and objectives as a result of someone you’d met via a civic group or other type of non profit organization?

‘Ya know… that’s called NETWORKING- when you can connect dots, you add value to your contacts. How often do you hear the phrase, “call Jane, she knows everyone.” Networking is still alive and thriving in organizations like local chambers of commerce and civic clubs because those are groups that share an interest in relationships and seek ways to cultivate strong roots within their community.

  1. What about “sneaky learning”?

As a teacher I deemed sneaky learning as the process of acquiring knowledge when you did not even plan to “learn”. Over the years I’ve heard rotary speakers on a variety of topics. By listening to these speakers, I’ve unintentionally left meetings a little smarter about my local and global community. Gathering different and relevant perspectives helps to focus ones vision and direction; it might even make them a more creative problem solver. Recently I was tasked with a project at work that initially seemed overwhelming, but when I thought the message this organization was seeking to define in a product I realized their message had been conveyed by several speakers I’d heard in the past year. My creativity kicked in, easily finding products that conveyed their message.

  1. Brand Ambassadors- for all of those that engage or do not engage as a volunteer they are unintentionally defining the brand of the business they represent. Consider that volunteering might be the best or the worst thing you’ve ever done for your business because it might be building or destroying your company brand simultaneously.

Thursday was the annual Savor Apex event, a member benefit that showcases some of the fine choices we have for culinary delights within the Apex Chamber. I’d been asked to share my perspective about the chamber board responsibilities with a prospective new board member. Beyond the expected discussion about the investment of time away from business, I found myself providing a compelling example of business branding.

Immediately I referenced a board member from EMC standing next to me, stating that when I think of large business interest in Apex I think of businesses like EMC. Why? I’ve served on the chamber board, Apex HS AOIT board, and the education committee for years with individuals from this company. The engagement of these individuals has left me with a positive view of EMC as a business supporting their community. Each of these employees has gone to bat for community projects and support for business development; EMC in turn has created time in their schedule to be flexible and accommodate time away from work. Additionally EMC has valued the perspective gained by their employees for the allocation of resources in their business community; such as increasing donations to our annual Book Bag Bonanza.

Many large, mid size and small businesses in Apex have a corporate culture that is supportive of a variety of community projects. By adding a personal story to the face of a business, those businesses that are engaged in their community with a strong base of volunteers will stay top of mind thus creating a strong brand identity for their business. In turn, those individual volunteers will build trust within the community. So, before you pass on an opportunity to volunteer, think about the trust and value another individual sees for your time and talents when asking you to become an active voice within the business community; say YES! You might be surprised what you learn in the process.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Is "America’s Team" A Very Large Promotional Product?

Our family is a lover of America’s team, the Cowboys. Jerry Jones has worked out a deal to rename Dallas Stadium, the AT& T stadium, which at a recent dinner table discussion prompted me to point out that the stadium was a really large promotional piece with prime real estate for AT& T’s brand. Events in this venue will carry their title sponsor name; sports casters will use their name repeatedly during broadcasts. At 49 I can remember the local hometown stadium was only referred to by the school name or perhaps a beloved coach that died and the community wanted to honor their memory. Like drinking from garden hoses, we also attended many events with blank products! Shame on us! Think about the events you attend now, branding opportunities thrive to offset costs or for fundraising dollars.

However, the concept of branding products is hardly a new idea. When I first started my journey to become a Certified Advertising Specialist (CAS) I was introduced to a story describing how creativity and opportunity created invention. The story goes that a printer in the late 1800's, took a break from the press to watch some school kids on their way to school. He noticed that the kids books would fall in the dust or mud. In the corner of his print shop he saw a burlap sac and thought, if the student had a sack for his books they would not get dirty. He printed the name of the business next to him, Smith’s Shoes and took it over to suggest that Mr. Smith buy bags to give to the students to help the students books stay in good condition. In turn he suggested that when they needed shoes, their family would think of him! There were also early examples of how commemorative coins and collectibles were used as brand advertising. If you’re not really sure how effective those branding efforts were for early companies, watch a Pawn Stars episode or consider what you know about the brand Coca Cola.

Did you also know that when Coca Cola started branding their new recipe to the public in the late 1800’s they were one of the first companies to use promotional product branding, creating an experience by serving products on shiny serving trays? Coca Cola’s relationship to promotional products has created a major brand. The brand alone that is worth over 68 billion dollars.   Now that is ROI!

Is promotional marketing cost effective?

According to survey data from ASI (Advertising Specialty Institute) In the US the average cost per impression of a production product is half a cent! $0.005!

I’m sure number crunchers have projected the number of impressions viewers at Dallas Stadium/AT& T stadium will average per month or year; crossing that information with print advertising bearing their name or the amount of times the name will be used in broadcasting. Most certainly part of AT&T’s strategy will include how promotional pieces using their logo will work with visitors to the various events in their venue space.

Are you skeptical about results?

Keep in mind from that from the ASI survey it was determined that 60% of respondents indicated that they have done business with an advertiser AFTER receiving an item; creating a change in behavior! Shaping consumer behavior requires that an advertising campaign affects the recipient. Promotional pieces have a long term exposure to the recipient when placed in functional spaces of the recipient’s daily routine whether that is personal, travel, office or home.

The studies year after year show that recipients like free products and those products are changing opinions. In fact,
41% of respondents have a MORE favorable opinion of an advertiser after receiving a promotional product. 

Most recipients keep promotional items longer than 7 months a year.

What’s on your desk, in your kitchen or in your bathroom drawer right now? Last time we surveyed our own clients about their office space, most partners replied that they owned an average of 20-35 items within their easy reach of their desk. The “winner” had 43 products, most kept over 2 years.

Like it or not, the holidays are coming and preparing your brand to hold prime real estate is important. Ask yourself, what do you do to acquire and retain your most loyal clients, employees and referral partners?  When was the last time they got a card, a call, a visit or a gift from you? Would you turn away someone bearing gifts? Right now is the right time to take a look at branding your “stadium space” to retain and grow your brand. If your currently one of our clients make sure to RSVP for our annual holiday showcase, or if you’re not…ask us to share the details for this opportunity to learn more about securing you’re “top venue space”.

Monday, September 9, 2013

How Wide Should You Cast Your Advertising Net?

Ever talked to a new business owner or visited a networking group? Often when asking individuals to describe their ideal business lead the response will be that “everyone” is their demographic. While that business might be a fit for many types of demographics it also is an indication that the business owner or representative has not yet determined what type of client makes them profitable and is a good fit for their goods or services. The same story often applies when clients come into the showroom for their first consultation; they are excited but overwhelmed by all of the choices for products to brand their company.  

Branding is a much easier task when delegated as a collaborative process to your brand strategist. As part of developing strategies that are effective, one must clearly define their demographic to their consultant. The next step is to outline why you want to reach this audience. In other words explain the message you are trying to convey. Armed with those types of facts it is much easier to determine what type of advertising piece will work best for your message and brand. 

To be successful in businesses one needs consistent interaction with an on going connection of well qualified and pre-qualified customers. A service business grows with more customers to serve right? Most people want services close to their home or office for convenience. If someone in home repair targets a neighborhood at an age where home repairs will more likely be the norm, their success rate for a door hanger or direct mail piece has now increased. 

Each year functional and useable products top the list of promotional items. Did you know the statistical data below taken from ASI’s yearly Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study shows that the cost of advertising with branded promotional pieces is the most cost effective form of advertising you can use or that 66% of recipients will give away an item they can not use? When was the last time someone handed you a newspaper, magazine, TV or radio ad that did not create a connection for them?

The fast facts below clearly illustrate that bags top the list for the most impressions; however bags are not just for groceries and retail shopping trips. Think beyond the tote to containers that hold trash in your card, secure your phone on your golf bag, carry snacks to the game, provide safety with a reflective Halloween candy bag or even organize your daily business tools as they travel in their car or to meetings. Writing instruments endure because despite the popularity of tech pieces, our society does write! Promotional writing pieces are designed to work with your demographic adding features the recipient will consider useful such as the popular stylus tip for using on your phones, tablets and other tech devices or pencils that change colors or even smell like fun fragrances for kids.

If you’re one of our clients I hope you remember that I shared the global study back in January as part of your jump start to 2013 planning. Lost your study? Simply ask our team to share with you. As part of your business plan, reflect on strategies that did or did not yield results for your brand. Consider re-tooling your efforts with a stronger look at what promotional pieces can do for casting your net on a specific target audience. While promotional advertising gets results for less cost per impression, the key is to layer advertising mediums that work for your company together for a stronger overall approach to building your brand. Use your promotional representative like a fisherman uses radar to help guide you to the pool of best clients by leveraging the best promotional piece to get results.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Can Using Awareness Dates Help Your Business?

Yes! Whether your business sponsors an annual breast cancer walk or works with a senior market making Family Care Givers Month in November an important date, start by picking dates that easily tie into your client’s core values or your own personal causes. Marketing your business can be overwhelming for the small business owner as they navigate the choices for advertising mediums and consider how to position their business among the current competition in their industry. Selecting products that capture their message effectively are one of the many reasons brand specialists are helpful. 

Utilizing key promotional dates can be a great way to begin with developing a year long marketing plan. Since businesses open every week, it’s never too late to introduce a plan utilizing national and local dates relate to your business. In fact in promoting upcoming event dates, you have a reason to share more about what makes your company unique within your market; to connect on a personal level beyond the service or goods you offer. 

Often the workplace can become pretty routine or boring. Shaking up the office with a fun promotion that also provides some interaction and feedback that would be useful to your company’s data collection might be the best way to close 2013. Dates don’t have to just be about promoting a worthy cause. Perhaps on December 6th you run a company wide contest asking your clients to vote for their favorite salesperson, promoting National Salesperson Day. Make the contest interactive and fun with a variety of social media, all the while gathering valuable data about what your clients like about their favorite salesperson. 

If you don’t have a huge sales force perhaps the 12th of December would be a fun way to celebrate National 12 Hour Fresh Breathe Day with educational information about dental hygiene, a kissing contest for a local fundraiser at your business that supports a local charity or maybe just hand out fun shaped breathe mints or flavored lip balm to current clients that stop into your business that day. In both examples your business will have some fun and valuable interaction with your client base. 

Still stuck on what to pursue? Simply use the date tab on our website to access some popular dates to keep your brand top of mind for the remainder of 2013 or consultant with us to develop a more extensive plan for your company.

Inspired now? Share some of your photos or stories we can re-post on our blog and social media sites.