It’s a digital-first world, but it’s not a digital-only world. Consumers desire relationships with brands, not just transactions, and the strongest brand relationships are built with both online and offline  interaction.

“In our experience, and based on what our customers are asking for, we are seeing a massive trend in spend around digital,” says Danny Rosin, CAS, co-founder and co-owner of distributor Brand Fuel in Morrisville, North Carolina.

“Marketers are trying to replace the human-to-human experience with digital—it’s more cost-effective,” he says. “But I think people are starting to crave time away from their devices. Businesses are looking to focus more on an experience around their brand. I think the next big trend will be a focus on human-to-human interaction.”

This, says Rosin, is where promotional products can shine. Promotional products reach an audience that has migrated away from analog connections toward digital outlets but still seeks some form of personalized engagement. Combining tangible reminders of a brand or experience with a digital footprint can boost recognition and revenue far beyond a single-channel strategy.

A 2016 article in Harvard Business Review revealed what many of us already know: emotional connections are more important than customer satisfaction. Over a lifetime, emotionally connected customers prove to be more valuable than customers who express satisfaction.

The question of how to build engagement and increase demand for promotional products as a marketing tool has two possible answers, Rosin posits. “Do we either steal digital market share by making a convincing argument, or do we work in concert with digital so that there’s a combined strategy?”

Rosin believes consumers’ active avoidance of invasive digital ads helps elevate the appeal of promotional products. “People are avoiding digital ads, so marketers need to get more creative with their ads—that’s where the conversation starts. But if you’re a really good advertiser or marketer, and you reach out in a meaningful way, where consumers will want to see digital ads, that’s where promotional products enter the conversation,” he says.

With the determination that digital advertising isn’t going anywhere, promotional products professionals need to create a symbiotic relationship with clients. He suggests researching a client’s digital marketing activities and “approaching them in a way that helps them amplify those activities with promotional products.”

The Harvard Business Review article revealed that while a single transaction that goes as expected results in satisfaction, an emotional connection lasts beyond the transaction and spurs the consumer to continue seeking engagement. Connecting on an emotional level requires appealing to “emotional motivators”—the desire to feel a sense of belonging, to be successful or to find security. 

Where digital campaigns offer to fulfill these emotional desires by establishing such a connection, promotional products can be used to fortify and extend the message. Marketers can use promotional products to cement these seven emotional motivators, identified in the Harvard Business Journal:

  • Establish a unique social identity to stand out in a crowd
  • Instill confidence in the future and provide a positive outlook
  • Reinforce a sense of well-being and contentment
  • Encourage independence and the feeling of life without restrictions
  • Provide or extend the delivery of excitement generated through the digital connection
  • Fulfill the desire for ongoing self improvement
  • Reinforce the belief that success is achievable

Promotional products used in tandem with digital campaigns are successful when they target prospects to boost brand awareness and drive traffic to online platforms, extend the conversation and build relationships offline. They also can provide leverage to digital campaigns when they are presented as exclusive or limited rewards, says Rosin. 

“Users’ time and information are incredibly valuable, so when they’re online, getting them into the buying pipeline can be really hard. So, how do we use promotional products as a way to get people into the pipeline? Ask them to spend 20 minutes online filling out a form, and they’ll receive a quality pair of headphones, for example. We can give them something that dangles the carrot a bit, but that also extends the client’s brand.”

With Their Complements

Case studies and product suggestions, such as these from Brand Fuel and Austin, Texas-based distributor Boundless, show how promotional products can enhance digital campaigns, extending messaging and prolonging engagement. 

Brand Fuel Campaign Shines The Light On Tech Brand

The team at Brand Fuel was tasked with helping generate qualified sales leads for Citrix ShareFile, a company that provides enterprise-class data service for corporate and personal mobile devices. Users can access, sync and securely share files from any device, and offline access keeps productivity up.

Using a direct mail campaign that targeted 1,000 IT managers working at large enterprises, Brand Fuel combined marketing collateral and promotional products to engage target recipients through a microsite. The site housed a video and invited targets to sign up for a product demo, which ultimately allowed them to become data services customers. 

“The packaged invitation we were to create needed to be unique and clever enough to garner the attention of incredibly busy technologists, who are often discriminating about new technologies and shallow sales pitches,” says Rosin. “Ultimately, we needed to help get them to watch the video and sign up for a demo. The Citrix ShareFile sales team was to take it from there to close the business.”

Brand Fuel implemented a kitting program, which allowed the team to manage print collateral, custom packaging, branded promotional items and fulfillment to 1,000 unique addresses—all presented in a way that would drive the targets to the microsite, get them to watch the video and compel them to sign up for a demo.

“Full-color, custom-designed packaging was printed with secret messages such as IT security statistics and calls to action to drive business that could only be revealed by using an enclosed custom Citrix-branded “Shine the Light” black light, which also doubled as a flashlight so it would increase future usage rates and brand impressions,” Rosin explains. “We sourced a specialized UV reactive ink for printing on the packaging and inserts. We included AA batteries and print collateral with more clues that could be revealed only with the black light.” 

Rosin says more than 1,200 people viewed the video in the first week of the campaign (200 more than the original mailing targeted); 25 demos were performed, and six qualified leads turned into business, resulting in an overall ROI of more than 328 percent.

“The client has placed two subsequent repeat orders, proving the additional success of their initial investment,” he adds.

Sweeten Your Social Media Contests

Social media is already at the bullseye of modern engagement and interaction, so how do you tighten your shot group? Add promotional products to the mix. Social media contests are an easy and affordable way to build “brand love,” says Sarah Radin, senior marketing associate for distributor Boundless.

“At Boundless, we are all about spreading those ‘brand love’ moments,” says Radin. “You want your customer to have a memorable and engaging experience with your brand and to be able to recall the experience months, and maybe even years, down the road. No other form of advertising accomplishes this as effectively as promotional products. By integrating a promotional product into your social media campaigns, you can utilize the power of promotions while still having a presence in the digital space.”

Radin shared these suggestions for boosting the effectiveness of social media and building brand love on the distributor’s blog, SPARK. She urges companies to first establish a clear goal for a social media contest and then choose a promotional product that supports it. 

For example, says Radin, if a company’s goal is to build buzz at an event, a promotional product gift can be a great incentive for attendees to post on social media and use a particular hashtag. Once goals and a budget are established, choosing the right promotional incentive that will inspire your audience to participate is key. 

“Social media contests are an inexpensive way to encourage engagement and get people excited about your brand,” adds Radin. “Although the incentive you offer is a critical part of the campaign, it is important to do your research. When done correctly, a contest could be the best tactic to grow your reach, drive website traffic and generate leads.”

Jen Alexander is associate editor of PPB.