(Editor’s Note: PPAI Media’s Voices series introduces the opinions and advice of promo industry influencers. The opinions and ideas belong to the individual writer and may not represent those of PPAI or their respective employer.)

They say good things come to those who wait. Well, what about those of us who are too impatient?

Forecasting the future isn’t always 100% accurate, but it can give you a massive leg up if you do it right. Luckily, so much of what’s to come is already happening around us. You just need to observe, learn and apply what you identify is most important to your business and life.  

Here are six factors I predict will shape the future of our industry

1. Artificial Intelligence

Does AI scare me a little? Existentially, yes. But the future is coming, and AI plays a part in it regardless of whether you use it or not.

If nothing else, use it to optimize your daily workflow and bandwidth. Britney Godsey of Gold Bond published an awesome Instagram post with some helpful tools. There’s also a viral trend going around showing how you can create AI-generated headshots of yourself. Natasha Rawls with the MRL Group posted a super helpful tutorial.

I used a free trial of an app called Remini, and though it’s not perfect (some photos generated three arms and mangled fingers), I actually got a few that were pretty legit. After making some touch ups in photoshop, I plan on using them.To clarify: None of these are real photographs. They aren’t even real clothes that I own. This is a drop in the bucket of what’s to come… freaky.

2. New Age Professionalism

At face value, this point may not seem groundbreaking, but in fact, the way we communicate and connect with each other is the foundation of our livelihoods.

One of the most common occurrences of this misalignment exists in generational differences. Many of these issues tend to boil down to how each group defines “professionalism.”

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Millennials (born approximately 1981-1995) and Gen Z (born approximately 1996-2010) have an affinity for authenticity. So, what does this mean? It often translates to comfortable, trendy clothing (ripped jeans, cropped blouses, oversized tops, etc.), casual candor (even playful profanity in certain situations) and well-respected boundaries (not working past set hours or weekends). It’s how they might present themselves with the people they like and trust.

Older generations may interpret these behaviors as lazy or disrespectful when that’s not always the case. If this doesn’t fly with your work style, that’s totally fine; everyone should run their business as they see fit. But here’s the truth: Those who truly seek to understand the perspectives of young professionals quite literally have the future on their side. 

3. Sustainability With Integrity

Buyers are smart. The “eco-friendly” solutions this industry provided 10 years ago just aren’t going to cut it anymore.

I feel like a broken record, but I’ll keep saying it: The most sustainable thing you can do as a branding consultant is to be good at your job. “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is listed in a strategic order. This can seem intimidating to an industry that thrives on product sales, but with the right approach, we can create a win-win for everyone involved.

  • Reduce: Sell less of what’s not going to be used. Provide high-use, high-ROI solutions based on need, application and intended outcome.
  • Reuse: This is such an easy one for our industry. How often do we use the term “reusable” when describing a product? When products begin to change our behavior in a positive way, it’s a solid selling point for sustainability.
  • Recycle: We have access to so many incredible products made from recycled and upcycled material! The key is that this should always be positioned as the last resort.

Our industry has so many fantastic subject-matter experts in this area. Be sure that you’re creating all the connections you need to succeed, avoid greenwashing and focus on mindful merchandizing. 

4. Video Content

Video has a chokehold on just about every mainstream social media platform right now. Algorithms are prioritizing video and will continue to lean into engaging, entertaining and quick-to-the-point short form content.

5. Elevated Experiences

There are several studies showing people, particularly younger generations, have a growing preference for experiences over products. It’s our job to ensure we turn an “either/or” conversation into an “and” discussion.

Branded merch can transform an experience. Don’t let customers pivot their spend away from our industry. Instead, help them understand that product can enhance every aspect of an event. For corporate events alone, consider displays, signage, floor mats, branded kits, welcome gifts, custom key cards and decor.

The possibilities are endless, but it’s our responsibility to control the narrative. 

 6. The Marriage Of Merch And Print

Get ready to say “I do” to a more multi-dimensional value add for customers. It’s already been a massive trend in kitting over the last several years, but I anticipate this transformation to expand further.

We’ll see fewer distributors choose a lane between “just print” or “just promo.” Customers buying branded merch are often the same buyers who make print marketing decisions.

Despite what some may say, print is sexy. We just need to figure out how to tell this story in a compelling, modern way.


If they sold crystal balls on Amazon, there would be a Prime box sitting on my doorstep now. The truth is, anything can change our course at any time (a lesson we learned in March 2020). The question is, are you willing to risk being wrong sometimes if it means you can reap the rewards of investing in the right predictions?

The bold are often successful. But historically, fortune favors those who bet on the clues hidden in plain sight. 

Borst is the senior director of marketing and vendor relations at American Solutions for Business, the industry’s No. 9 leading distributor. A former PPAI Rising Star and perennial #Online18 honoree, she is the sitting president of the Upper Midwest Association of Promotional Professionals.