More Than This
Industry veterans know it takes more than luck to sell a promotional product. And, it takes more than a promotional product to drive an effective marketing campaign. With heavy concentration on creativity and ingenuity, this particular market demands more of distributors, which the novice salesperson must consider before testing the promotional waters.
Gregg Emmer, chief marketing officer, vice president of Kaeser & Blair (K&B), Batavia, Ohio, elaborated. “This industry has followed many different paths over the years. Great ideas have always built business, not the products. Product peddlers have their place, but those [who] sell great ideas and the promotional products that support them make the big money,” he observed.
Although promotional marketing is an industry generating billions of dollars through the assistance of products, distributors must resist the “wow” factor of items such as blinged-out travel mugs and high-performing technological tools, and instead, tune into customer needs. Yes, some end-users want to buy products, but the majority need solutions.
To determine the best solutions for potential customers, distributors must ask probing questions about the intended use of the products, said Greg Muzzillo, founder and co-CEO of Cleveland-based Proforma. “No one buys a drill because they want a drill. People buy drills because they want a hole,” he noted. “Similarly, no company buys promotional products because [it] want[s] the products. Companies ... want to promote a brand or product. Companies buy incentives and awards because they want to promote certain behaviors. Solutions-seller[s] learn
the intended purposes of the product and work to help their clients select the right products to achieve their intended purpose[s].”
Emmer offered a similar analogy. “A dentist uses [a lot] of products when he [or she] works on patients, but would never say he [or she] was in the dental products business. The factories make and/or decorate the promotional products business; we are in the promotional advertising business. We sell results and objectives. [Clients] want a certain outcome and don’t really care what product helps them get there,” he stressed.
PPAI (Promotional Products Association International)—an industry-leading, international, not-for-profit trade association—suggested choosing a product that has a natural relationship with the campaign’s theme. For instance, one particular company came up with a magic motif for a conference held at Walt Disney World. As a result, attendees received magic-related products to promote the principal theme: “Experience the magic at Disney.” The products merely served as the support system for the central idea to build the campaign’s success.
Promotional items are the next logical step for print professionals uncertain about the direction of their product lines. Headquartered in Wayland, Mass., iPROMOTEu president and CEO Ross S. Silverstein envisions even more print veterans and sales professionals from related industries crossing over into this market. “I think it makes perfect sense for print professionals to diversify into promotional products. Many of their customers, companies with whom they already do business with and whom they may have strong working relationships, probably also purchase promotional products. Why not take advantage of the relationship and [assist] the customer by selling promotional products as well,” he suggested.
Both Muzzillo and Emmer held similar positions. Said Muzzillo, “The advantages of entering the promotional product market is the very same client [who] is buying print is also buying promotional products, incentives and awards. If you just sell print services, you are leaving money on the table.”
Emmer went on to say that he is finding this with members of the K&B Dealer Group—3,200 independent authorized dealers, including printers, print brokers and forms salespeople. “By working with K&B, [dealers] have added promotional products to their offerings, and have easily—and without investment—made lots of real money,” he said.
If their clients are offered multiple comprehensive solutions, distributors will find the payoff sooner rather than later. Proforma members currently provide business solutions that integrate promotional products, promotional programs and online company stores and print services, including print-on-demand and variable data print. Muzzillo confided that one of Proforma’s members recently secured a three-year, multi-million-dollar contract with a recognized national brand, primarily due to the company’s ability to manage a promotional program from inception to fulfillment.
Nevertheless, some—not all—paper traditionalists remain reluctant to enter unfamiliar territory, and even dismiss promotional products as mere trinkets. In response to such criticism, Muzzillo argued that printing could be regarded as merely “disposable paper.” According to the Proforma executive, for-profit companies should maximize profits. And, developing excellent relationships with clients is the key area to address.
“Where print pieces tell a story, promotional products build relationships. What will remain in your client’s office longer, a brochure about your company’s products and services, or an office-friendly product branded with your logo?” Muzzillo asked. “If the product is well-chosen and useful, the client will appreciate your gift and keep it far longer than any printed collateral, keeping your name top-of-mind longer.”
To help distributors interested in the promotional products industry, iPROMOTEu has developed a unique platform for maintaining company independence. Executive vice president Rick Badiner explained. “We recognize the importance of the distributor’s desire to maintain control over his or her own business. These are entrepreneurs who have put massive amounts of time and effort into building their business, and they shouldn’t have to relinquish their identity to obtain support. Each of our affiliates keeps their company name, their logo and continues to own and operate their existing business,” he stated.
Despite the promotional product industry’s long-standing competitive nature, distributors should not let this deter them from delving into this market. Badiner said, “The promotional products industry is in a favorable position for the future. There are always industries that need to promote their products and services, whether times are good or bad.”
In order to remain successful, Badiner encouraged service companies to continue to evaluate what current challenges distributors are facing. He cautioned, “The fundamental services may not change noticeably, but the specialized services or programs will hint at how in-tune the service company is with distributors.”
Most importantly, research, research, research. “In 2008, there will be more sellers and more confusion than ever,” Muzzillo predicted. “Savvy end-users are going to be looking for experienced, established professionals who are able to provide comprehensive solutions that eliminate the need for multiple suppliers.” Perhaps now is the time to investigate and capitalize on the recent explosion of green concerns, as Proforma has done with its “2008 Proforma Eco-Friendly Catalog.”
“The bottom line is that you either believe or you don’t,” said Badiner. “It is like any other business—if you think it is easy and do it part time, then it won’t be worth your time.”
Related story: Promotional Pointers