Don’t Veer Too Far: choosing your SWAG


The most common question I get asked is “what’s the most popular product you sell” and I always catch myself trying to come up with something interesting to say – something that will WOW the person I am speaking with, or something perhaps they never could have imagined we can brand.

Well, I have had a little epiphany in my day.
The “WOW” factor is not always from the product alone. There are many aspects to branding merchandise, which help to create a resonating response with your clients; the fact that you are branding something to promote yourself in the first place IS the most important part of the “WOW”, so great start!

Let’s look at some key elements that should be a consideration when choosing promotional products

  • Try not to over think it

Even I get carried away when sourcing products for the clients I work with. There are SO many promotional items in our market so it’s easy to become overwhelmed! It’s important to remember your why. Why do you do what you do? What is it that you (your company) values and why do you want to share that with your consumers? Choosing an item that aligns with your brand, your strategy, or pairing it up with the theme of your event is vital to a successful promotion. Picking an item because it’s cool or trendy has a short-term lifespan. Investing in a product that has longevity, and can be utilized beyond your promotion helps maintain the strength of your brand.

  • You can’t force “unique”

Everybody and their mother wants something unique – something that nobody else is doing, and I get it. For 2 years, I was a small fish in a big, competitive sea of companies so setting myself apart was often a daily hurdle.

The common problems with wanting to be unique in your promotional purchases is one of the following: a) you have two weeks (or 2 days) before your event; b) you have a budget constraint that does not allow for a truly custom designed product; or c) a combination of the two.

Fortunately, your customers are not working with you because you gave them the coolest, brightest, crème de la crème item (is doesn’t hurt, of course). They choose to work with you because you’re already unique. You align with their beliefs, your pricing is right, and your customer service is top notch. Promotional products are a bonus to working with you and while they are always well received, they are not the make or break to your professional relationships. The key thing to remember is that you want to brand a product that will be useful to the person receiving it, and that your brand will stay in their minds well after you’ve left the room

  • Bring it back to basics

There’s a reason we receive, use, and often see branded SWAG in the following categories; it’s because they work:

Tote Bags
Writing Instruments
T-shirts & Hats

We’re not reinventing the wheel here. I have seen changes in trends through the years, for instance, now, mobile technology and accessories make up for a big chunk of our industry, but it’s a great expectation that your consumers want to attach your silicone wallet to the back of their $700 device.
T-shirts and hats are staple items; though it is important to know what people want to, or are willing to, wear. Gone are the days of the $3.00 t-shirts but with a couple more dollars put into that budget, opting for a nice fitting, retail style fabric (contact me here for more information) will make your investment worthwhile. According to research conducted by, tote bags generate the most impressions, at over 6,000 per unit. They are useful to the recipient, and if you’re thinking “oh, it’s just a tote bag”, the likelihood that it will be passed on to someone else, only increases your visibility.

  • Graphic Design and Messaging

Finally, in the pursuit of standing out, and possibly the most important part of branded merchandise, is creating the right look. I hate to think that my job is slapping a logo onto a mug, though sometimes it is. We’re seeing a high volume of requests to obtain a retail inspired look: think S’well bottles, LuLu Lemon Tote Bags, T-shirts with sayings like “But First, Coffee” or “GIRLBOSS” on them in fancy handwritten cursive. We can do this for you, too. First, let’s go back to #1 – does this resonate with your demographic? If so, how about we create something together! Adding a creative twist to your branding can be fun and engaging just make sure it’s versatile and not too far from your company messaging so as not to confuse your consumer. If you are a Canadian company, consider jumping on board with the Canada 150 celebrations this year. It’ a great way to get people using your branded SWAG and will certainly drive up the desire for it, and therefore brand awareness. We can help you create some great artwork that will grab the attention of your prospects while maintaining your brand integrity; just ask!

Subtle branding on higher-ticketed items is also effective. You do not always have to be “in your face” with branding. It’s very likely the consumer will know just where they received the product from if it is something they see value in.

These are just a few considerations to keep in mind when you’re on the hunt for your next giveaway, incentive, premium, wearable or other. Think about how you want your consumer to view you. Ask what they do in their spare time and we will show you how you can you be a part of that. Think about the message you want to send, and try not to deviate too far from what’s been proven. Fads are fads, there will be a new, next great thing after well after the fidget spinner, so if you’re truly considering promotional products, let’s talk about investing your marketing dollars into products that work.

Kari Watson


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