Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about 2009 – not about the balloon boy hoax, or Kayne West (it was his name at the time!) showing up Taylor Swift at the VMAs, but about my first “official” year working in the promotional products industry.

It also happened to be the last time a recession changed our approach to sales and advertising. As we navigate through another uncertain time and fears of a possible recession grow, it is easy to wonder how you and your business can thrive, let alone capitalize, during such a time.

It may seem counterintuitive, but an economic downturn creates a unique opportunity for promotional products to cut through the clutter, make an impact and create a meaningful difference in the bottom line of any company or individual salesperson. Just make sure your clients keep the best strategies in mind and that your treat them the right way.

Make It Memorable

Take the time to do something special. When done right, promo can be memorable, personal and highly effective. Let’s keep this between us, but when done wrong, promo can also be careless and forgettable.

Even as industry professionals, we all have that great tumbler we keep on our desk, that bag we always take to the airport and that pen we threaten others never to steal. But when a sales opportunity arises, economic insecurity can make us momentarily forget what makes promotional products so special. Keep these tips top of mind when considering your client’s next campaign:

Ask more questions. It’s easy to think you are asking enough, but you are probably asking less than you think. Come up with a few must-asks to deepen your conversations about projects. My personal favorite is, “How do you measure success?” And when I’m really not getting anywhere, a simple, “Tell more about…” or “Help me understand…” will get or keep them talking.

Shop and design with the end-user recipient (not the buyer client) in mind. Ultimately, the effectiveness of the product comes down to retention. Emphasize the importance of usefulness, quality and personal connection.

Consider Merch Stores

Help your clients embrace the idea of a merch store – online or in-person – and give them a new revenue channel that also promotes their company.

People who purchase merch are also brand advocates. They become walking billboards and referrals for a company, creating even more revenue opportunities after the product is sold.

Keep in mind a few key drivers of successful merch stores:

Have a wide range of products and price points. Incorporate items like apparel, technology, personal care, drinkware and bags to make sure the products work their way into the buyer’s life in their home, office or pockets.

Keep the design top of mind. Some buyers will love a giant imprint bragging about their inclusion in your community. Some will prefer a more subtle option like tone-on-tone or a simple design. You should be prepared to meet both of these needs.

Focus On Appreciation

During times of economic turbulence, customer retention becomes even more important. Building and maintaining brand loyalty will likely be a top priority for all of your clients. Help them achieve this goal through marketing plans with a focus on appreciation, with these ideas:

Make gifting part of their strategy. Employees, vendors, customers and prospects are all target audiences for appreciation marketing. Creating a positive connection with a relevant, personal and well-timed promotional product can make all the difference.

Leverage personalization to make the item even more special by putting their name on it. The extra thought counts. 

Finally, here’s another thing to remember as you work to navigate hard economic times, whether they come years from now, later in 2023 or if they’re already upon us by the time this article is published: Your clients and the end users are very likely going through it on some level, too.

We know what that means: Tighter budgets, difficult decisions and the general insecurity of not knowing where the economic bottom is or how long it’ll take to build back up. The tips above are designed not to squeeze out a client’s last penny, but to show you’re an empathetic partner to them and perhaps that they are the same for their own clients or employees.

We’ll all get through it together.

Davis is the director of business development at PPAI.