In 2015, UK firms spent nearly £1bn on branded promotional items. Businesses climb over themselves to offer consumers everything, from free stress balls to ice cream, but while promotional marketing remains popular with brands and businesses, is it still effective at attracting customers in the digital age?

In short, yes, but the definition of promotional marketing has evolved over the years. Brands now need to be smarter when offering freebies—a cheaply-made branded mug is no longer going to hold water.

Gordon Glenister, director-general of the British Promotional Merchandise Association, said: “Many of our members are using technology now to personalise the promotional merchandise with people’s names alongside the brand. This makes the merchandise even more valuable to the recipient and increases the probability that the company name will be visible for longer.”

If you get your online strategy right, giving away free merchandise can bring your business far more than you spend.

Consumers have raised expectations for promotional marketing

Even when done effectively, promotional marketing isn’t as simple is many businesses assume it to be. People are happy to receive freebies, but not clutter for the sake of it.

Of all the types of promotional products on the market, t-shirts have the most scope for creatively representing your brand—simply because there’s more space to get your message across on a t-shirt. However, there’s also more room for error. A badly designed, poor quality garment will not give the correct impression of your business.

Designing t-shirts consumers will want to wear is far more complex than many businesses realise. One blog on how to design a unique promotional t-shirt lists the number of factors that businesses and designers need to consider other than slapping on a logo. This is includes the process of using illustrations, fonts and colour palettes that will be attractive while also remaining “within the realm of the brand.”

For this, brands can collaborate with designers and think about the theme and look of the t-shirt. Although this is more time consuming and expensive than simply getting cheap tees printed with your company logo on them, it will produce a far more interesting garment and ultimately, a far more interesting marketing campaign.

Promotional marketing is more relevant than ever

In America, 150 million promotional items are handed out each year. Done properly, the money your business spends on branded t-shirts, pens or notepads will not only be a lot more useful to consumers than a TV spot or print advertisement, they’ll last longer on the desktops or in the wardrobes of the consumer, ensuring that your brand lives on in the minds of potential customers.

Promotional giveaways have been described as being more effective than any other types of advertising for creating brand loyalty and at motivating consumers to respond to a call to action.

The benefits from promotional freebies have only become more numerous in the digital age. Going back to the t-shirt example, more people than ever choose to buy their clothing online, so using a website or app to give away free t-shirts can be an incredibly effective way of marketing.

How can your business use promotional marketing online

As online shopping becomes the norm, it opens consumers up to digitalised versions of traditional marketing tactics like promotions and vouchers. In an increasingly clustered advertising space, a free giveaway product that offers genuine value to the consumer might well make your business stand out. Whether that’s a free branded t-shirt or taster pack, consumers are constantly looking for that added extra to convince them to buy from you.

One of the most successful uses of this is subscription snack company Graze. If you’re a Graze customer, you can get your friends a free first box, as well as a free box for yourself. So people can get their friends a free and thoughtful gift, and something of genuine value for themselves without ordering anything extra.

This incentivised form of marketing has helped Graze grow into a huge business, increasing engagement and trust in their brand. By giving one little box away for free per customer, Graze has become a craze amongst workplaces and friendship groups. In fact, they have even utilised social media, giving a free box away to customers who tweet or post positively about the product.

Obviously not all business can afford to give away such an integral part of their service for free. Yet offering other free branded merchandise online as a way to reward existing customers can improve brand loyalty and even find new customers, as your pre-existing ones are effectively doing your marketing for them.

Whatever forms of online marketing promotion you choose to utilise, make sure that you can dedicate the time and effort needed to make it successful. Whether that involves outsourcing your marketing to designers or doing it in-house, traditional marketing tactics are just as applicable in the digital age as they always were. Brands who offer promotional giveaways that are high quality, genuinely useful and are unique are bound to benefit greatly.

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