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Overview of Promotional Items


promotional items

A promotional item is a piece of merchandise that features an organization’s name, logo, slogan, and/or message. The organization gives these items away or sells them as a form of branding, marketing, and/or sales. The idea is to raise awareness of the organization’s name, brand, or mission and to keep the brand in front of existing and potential customers. Promotional items are usually part of the marketing or advertising budget, although many companies have discovered that branded merchandise can be sold at a profit.


Other names for promotional items include giveaways, tchotchkes, swag, loot, trinkets, bling, goodies, gift bags, goodie bags, and prizes. Some typical promotional items are caps or hats; T-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, and other apparel; notepads, message pads, blank cards, and postcards; pens, pencils, markers, and other office supplies; calendars, datebooks, and planners; and tote bags, boxes, and containers. Virtually any item can be utilized in a promotional manner. However, most of these items are low cost, with little resale value, and are given away for free. …More

Even in the age of the Internet, promotional items offer a business a major advantage in getting customers to remember them. Companies work hard to find promotional items that have an everyday use, such as a pen or clock, or which hold a prominent position in the home that is viewable daily, such as a refrigerator magnet or a scratch pad. If a business wants to stand out, it will try to offer gifts that will be used in the workplace, such as USB sticks, pens, calculators, and calendars. «Less

types of promotional items


benefits of offering promotional items

Another use for promotional items involves offering the items as incentives to employees for reaching and exceeding targets and goals, as well as for inspiring productivity and loyalty. Some promotional items are restricted to those who’ve reached a certain level of employment or who’ve achieved specific goals. Many companies recognize high performers with lapel pins, for example, which have a low cost but carry great symbolism.


There are numerous benefits for gifting promotional items to existing or potential customers, or to long-term or high-performing employees. However, a few of these benefits are cited as the main reasons organizations use these items. Promotional items can help a business improve sales, bolster a reputation, and perform better financially.

  1. Making an impact on a customer. Almost everyone likes to receive free items; it makes people feel as if they’ve gotten something for nothing. That’s why organizations use promotional items as incentives—to draw in new customers and hold on to existing ones. A promotional item that is durable and useful serves a dual purpose: not only will the initial impact of receiving it reflect well on the business, but the item will act as a constant reminder of that company. The imprinted name, logo, and possibly even a message will be seen daily. Items can also be used as thank-you gifts for customers who’ve just become affiliated with a business or who’ve been dealing with that company for a long period of time. This serves to help cement a beneficial relationship between a business and its customers.
  2. Selling a product through samples. A sample of an item that a business is selling is considered a promotional item, as it is given away to potential or existing customers in an attempt to acquire or retain their business. Sample items draw attention to an item that may be new on the market, highlighting its advantages over competing products. If customers are impressed with the samples they receive, this can boost sales. Promotional items are often used (regifted) by customers to recommend a business to their family, friends, or colleagues.
  3. Motivating employees to reach their maximum potential. Contrary to popular belief, promotional items are not only for customers or clients; they can also be offered to employees for reaching impressive milestones or for high levels of performance. They’re often used to reward team members for attaining a targeted goal or for reaching some other sort of business milestone. Offering items as incentives helps motivate employees to work to their full potential, and can boost loyalty.

Purchasing Tips

The promotional item chosen will depend on the motivation behind its use. First, look at the objectives of the promotional effort—are they designed to increase sales, strengthen branding, or retain top talent? Then consider how the array of promotional items available fits into the purpose of the campaign. Here are some examples.

  • Sales Objectives. This is one of the most common objectives related to giving away promotional items. As such, it’s important to determine the specific sales goal of the promotion. For example:
    • Increase overall sales?
    • Increase the sales of a specific item?
    • Promote a new line or range of products?
    • Increase brand or name recognition?
    • Increase traffic to a website or trade show?
    • Generate phone calls and email communications?
    • Stimulate donations or volunteer commitments?

    Next, it’s important to determine how the promotional item will be delivered to customers or clients. Different situations often require different items. For example, a mug cannot be as easily or inexpensively mailed as a pen or keychain. Will the promotional item be delivered:

    • By mail?
    • In person?
    • Online?
    • At a retail establishment?
    • At a convention or trade show?
    • At a public-awareness or community event?

    Once the delivery method of the promotional item has been determined, a business can begin to focus on the types of items that will work best for that promotion.

  • Promotional Objectives. Promotional items are a more subtle approach to branching out and reaching more customers than advertising. Promotional gifts or giveaways are offered to loyal customers in the hopes that they’ll recommend the organization to others. These gifts are sometimes offered as incentives for customers who purchase or upgrade a product or service. Other situations where a gift can be offered to existing or potential customers include:
    • Souvenirs from an event that was sponsored by the business.
    • Milestone markers for customers who have been with the firm for a number of years.
    • Commemorative awards resulting from an organization receiving recognition (such as a customer-satisfaction commendation).

    Investing in promotional items that will be given away in circumstances such as these can generate revenue for a business by improving the company’s image among existing customers and building a reputation that attracts new ones. Choosing suitable items for these circumstances can help the company remain in the front-of-mind of existing customers while enabling their current satisfied customers to more easily generate referrals.

  • Employee Motivation Objectives. Keeping employees motivated and working to their highest capabilities is important in any business. Offering gifts for exceeding personal goals can motivate many employees to work even harder than they normally would. Such promotional items should have an everyday use, and a personal or unique slant. Some objectives of employee-motivation campaigns are:
    • Increasing productivity through the use of incentives.
    • Boosting company spirit.
    • Celebrating loyalty and dedication.
    • Recognizing and rewarding exceptional performance.

    Choosing items suitable for these circumstances is easier once the manner in which they’ll be awarded has been determined. Items can be personalized in advance if the receiver’s identity is known. Rewarding long-term employees for exceptional performance motivates other team members to aim high in an attempt to also benefit from these incentive programs.

Examples of Ideal Promotional Items

There are thousands of promotional items that could be used in any situation, so it’s essential to refer back to the specific objectives for the promotional campaign.

Sales Objectives. Ideal items related to this objective can vary greatly with the particular situation. If the item is being mailed directly to a potential customer, then sending a pen, fridge magnet, or keychain may be best, as they’re all items that are small and inexpensively sent via snail mail, but are also objects that someone can view or use on a daily basis.

If the objective is to boost sales of a specific product, handing out clearly labeled product samples is a reliable and effective promotion. Look for vendors who can assist you with packaging or labeling your own product for free distribution.

Handing out items at live events may require something more original, such as tote bags or hats with the business name, logo, and slogan clearly printed on them that people can begin using instantly. Similar ideas include handing out sunscreen samples at the beach, or branded plastic ponchos during a rainstorm.

Rewards Objectives. Promotional items used as customer rewards are generally more expensive, because the organization doesn’t want to appear to be “cheap.” In these circumstances, something like a desktop calendar, or an alarm clock with the business name and logo on it, can be ideal.

Relating the promotional item to the business can also be beneficial; for example, a business that sells skin-care products could offer a free item after a certain number of purchases; or a computing business could offer USB memory sticks as an incentive to customers to continue doing business with them. The ideal promotional gift is not only useful, but reinforces the company’s brand.

Employee Motivation Objectives. These items can be tricky to purchase because they must serve the objective of motivating future behavior, not just rewarding past behavior. Overly lavish gifts or decidedly underwhelming gifts can send the wrong message, discouraging employees rather than motivating them.

The Most Popular Promotional Items. Anything that can be imprinted can be used as a promotional item, so the range of choices is enormous. However, most promotional-item vendors stock those that are high in demand and offer competitive rates for imprinting them.

Here is a list of the top 10 most popular promotional items in 2012 according to a leading trade magazine:

  1. Pens
  2. Cups and mugs
  3. Keychains
  4. Hats
  5. T-shirts
  6. Calendars
  7. Tote bags
  8. Stress balls
  9. Water bottles
  10. Insulated drink sleeves (“koozies”)

These just represent a selection of promotional items, and are not the only items that can be offered as gifts or giveaways. It’s important to remember that conceiving of unique promotional items is a way for businesses to truly stand out. 

Calculating Costs

As a general guide, most promotional items will cost from 50 cents up to $15. Ask the vendor for a portfolio of previous work to ensure the imprinting or embroidery that’s being ordered is of a high quality and is clear to read. Paying slightly more may result in a better-produced item, reflecting well on the business handing it out, especially at trade shows or events where there’s competition with other companies.

Often merchants will offer small discounts for larger bulk orders, with the discounts increasing in tiers as the order size increases. It’s worthwhile to find out what the discount levels are for any particular item. Many merchants offer discounts if a business orders from them regularly; this can add an extra discount on top of the bulk discount. It’s worth checking out more than just the list price for the item that is needed.

Comparison Checklist

Some of the key factors you should take into consideration when comparing vendors are listed below.

Print Checklist

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  1. Cost
    • Cost for chosen individual item?
    • Shipping costs?
    • Excess charge for colored items?
    • Cost for sample packaging?
  2. Discounts Offered
    • 1st-tier bulk discount amount?
    • 2nd-tier bulk discount amount?
    • 3rd-tier bulk discount amount?
    • Frequent-customer discount?
  3. Item Imprinting
    • Imprinted with business name?
    • Imprinted with business logo?
    • Imprinted with slogan?
    • Printing on front and back?
    • Extra charge for color printing?
  4. Options available
    • Packaging for sample items?
    • Shirt-color choices?
    • Shirt sizes available?
    • People to hand out freebies?

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Promotional Items checklist

Glossary of Terms

  • Employee Motivation Objectives: A set of goals that an organization is attempting to achieve by giving staff members recognition and/or gifts to promote a more efficient and loyal workforce.
  • Promotional Campaign: A marketing strategy that a business uses; it offers promotional items to generate interest from both new and existing customers in the products and services the company is offering.
  • Promotional Items: Offered by a business to potential or existing customers as part of a promotional campaign. 
  • Promotional Objectives: The goals that a business sets in an attempt to acquire new customers or retain old customers.
  • Sales Objectives: Offering free promotional items to attract customers, with the goal of reaching a specific minimum increase in sales. 
  • Trade Show: An organized event where businesses in a certain industry can showcase products and services. Promotional items are frequently purchased for distribution at such shows.

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