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The right promotional product can be crucial when launching a new company.

What’s a burrito? Some in Fargo, North Dakota, had never eaten one. This presented an unusual dilemma for Moe’s Southwest Grill. The rapidly expanding chain had to not only introduce its brand to this market, but also a whole new kind of cuisine.

To get the locals excited about Moe’s and its menu of Mexican food offerings, the fast casual chain looked to a fun array of ad specialties to get the message out. New franchisees receive a “Blast off pack” to get things rolling. It includes logoed Frisbees, koozies, keychains, Moe’s mints, Welcome to Moe’s rubber bracelets and temporary tattoos.

“For us, it’s about building brand awareness,” says Sarah Riggsby, director of marketing for Moe’s Southwest Grill, which is owned by Focus Brands in Atlanta. “This brand was built on grassroots marketing. We don’t have a big media budget.”

This means those promotional products have to work extra hard, considering competitors like Taco Bell and Chipotle have multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns. In fact, Taco Bell spent more than $230 million on media last year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Chipotle spent about $6 million and Moe’s spends only roughly three quarters of a million dollars to promote its some 360 locations.

Riggsby, who considers “the less fast foody” Chipotle its biggest competition says, “We’ll use anything to get the brand out there – especially promotional products that are used over and over again. We want Moe’s to constantly be in front of them.”

Moe’s story is not unusual. The number of businesses that rely on promotional products to make a strong first impression are vast. From banks to pet food to public relations firms and even ad specialties distributors themselves, picking the right product is crucial.

Making the Right Choice
When the Private Bank of Buckhead opened its doors in December 2006, it decided to hedge its bets. Rather than rely on one or two items to promote its quality service message, the financial institution invested in a full treasure trove of items.

“The bank and I both felt it was important to have a mix of good specialty items,” says B. Andrew Plant, a public relations practitioner who helped with the grand opening. For its soft launch, the bank started with note cubes and pens. These, of course, included the bank’s name, tagline and varying amounts of contact information. At the very least, the products always included the Web site address privatebankofbuckhead.com.

For the grand opening celebration in February 2007, the bank handed out leather and brass coasters tied together with a ribbon in the bank?s colors (black and red). It also sent the coasters to select media.

Umbrellas and mints have been given to clients and prospective clients as they visit the bank. All of the items are also distributed as giveaways at events where the bank is a sponsor. Having a strong mix “not only gives us something for everyone, so to speak, but it ensures we have different levels of things to give,” says Plant. “Pens and mints are very affordable so the bank can hand those out freely. The note cubes are a higher price point, but not so much that we can’t just leave them sitting in the lobby. The coasters and umbrellas are a more premium item.”

Moe’s adopts a similar strategy depending on its location. In college towns it’s all about sunglasses, hacky sacks and shirts in the school’s colors. In more residential areas, sidewalk chalk and temporary tattoos do the trick.

Having the right assortment can help a 12-employee community bank cast a much larger shadow or even introduce an entirely new cuisine to the North Country.

Capitalize on a Cause
Health and wellness is a trend that doesn’t appear to be dying down any time soon. Looking to capitalize on health-conscious consumers? craving for information, Vitaljuicedaily.com launched in May 2007. Visitors can subscribe to a daily e-mail that offers the latest information, trends and tips in the areas of fitness, nutrition, beauty and green living.

The problem with the Internet, however, is that no matter how good the content is, making people aware of it is a challenge. A large and daunting challenge, but Vital Juice Daily had it in the bag ? literally.

It took a look at last year’s “I’m not a plastic bag” phenomenon and turned it on its ear. Last August people waited in long lines and bid extraordinary sums to acquire designer Anya Hindmarch’s eco-friendly “I’m not a plastic bag” totebags. The reusable cotton bags achieved cult status overnight.

Vital Juice Daily, which had launched in May, tried a number of promotional items. However, it rose above the fray when it created an “I’m not a plastic bag either” totebags.

The brand’s tongue-in-cheek ad specialty received write-ups on blogs and in magazines. “It worked for us for a combination of reasons,” says Amanda Freeman, co-founder of Vital Juice Daily, based in New York. “First off, it was an irreverent response that poked fun at an illogical consumer trend driven by the desire to have the latest ‘it’ bag. I think a lot of people were entertained by the cult status the bag achieved, given that the messaging behind the bag merely encourages the use of reusable bags and there are millions out there. We offered those people a way to make fun of the hordes of people who waited in line or overpaid on eBay for the original bag, while still supporting the positive message behind ‘use reusable.’ Since we are a wellness-focused daily e-mail, it fit our overall brand messaging of healthy mind, body, soul and planet.”

The timing couldn’t have been better, says Freeman. “A month later it would have been old news.” Vital Juice Daily gave out 2,000 bags in total at farmer’s markets in four cities as well as to subscribers and members of the press.

Similarly, an all-natural dog food company was looking for the right item to carry its brand message. It opted for 20,000 100% natural T-shirts to promote the relaunch of its brand as well as a coupon for savings on the next purchase.

“It was a natural food so it had a big tie-in between the food and the fiber,” says Sandy Simon, sales representative for Konik & Company, in Skokie, Ill., which helped create the promotion. “It had high perceived value and was a constant reminder of the brand because of the reusability.”

Simon says the choice was especially apropos for this all-natural competitor to Alpo because of the dog food recall in 2007. “There was a shift, particularly in the pet food category, because of all of the bad press they got last year.”

Power Financial Credit Union, one of the largest credit unions in South Florida, also went to the dogs. When it merged two branches together, its grand reopening involved a partnership with the Humane Society, where bank members could get a free microchip. These devices allow pet owners to find Scruffy or Snuggles if they decide to run away. Sixty microchips were implanted and the owners received logoed Maracas shirts because it is South Florida after all.

Neither the shirts nor the microchips were cheap. A chip for non-bank members was $35 and the all-natural T-shirts for the pet food maker “are good, but they are so damn expensive,” says Simon.

For Jeanette Caligiuri and Bonnie Scalfaro, sisters and owners of the Faith & Hope Boutique in Abington, PA., it was worth splurging a bit to buy some thoughtful ad specialties for the launch of their business. The full-service boutique specializes in helping breast cancer survivors and others going through chemotherapy or radiation ?achieve the health, look and feel that they deserve.?

The store carries stylish bras, post-surgery camis, skincare products, wigs and other products. For their grand opening they gave out hats that read “No hair day” as well as breast cancer awareness ribbons.

“The reason why we ordered the ‘No hair day’ hats was because cancer robs a woman of many things, including her beauty and dignity,” says Caligiuri. “However, it can’t take away her spirit – if you can face your greatest fears with laughter and a sense of humor, maybe the battle won’t seem so ominous.”

Practice What You Preach
Kelly Olah is a believer in ad specialties. So much so, she opened her own Adventures in Advertising franchise late last year. She called it Your Logo Promotions Inc. To introduce her business to prospective clients, she created a three-piece promo that involved a retractable highlighter and the message “Let us highlight your business,” followed by a stress ball shaped like a tool-box and a calendar mouse pad.

“People are visual beings. They see it and say, ‘Oh, I can use that for my clients,’” she says. Olah saw the power of premiums during her tenure at Verizon. “It worked for them. It drives brand awareness.”

Marc Dornic, president of 3 Dog Communications, a public relations firm, agrees. He used ad specialties to not only launch his public relations firm last September but also to promote all of his clients. From a newly launched sports bar to the how-to video site MonkeySee.com, “I use a ton of promo products. I think my approach is interesting because it is almost retro. Most PR firms depend solely on e-mail and phone pitches to get their clients placed in the media, but when a journalist has to open a package and pull out an item – damn sure they will remember you in a sea of cluttered inboxes. If the item is of high enough perceived value or serves a purpose for the journalist, they will keep it around and every time they see it, they will be reminded of your client.”

For his business as well as his clients, Leeds notepads or high-end picture frames are among his favorites. Of course, having a nice logo to put on these items is key. Dornic has an orange dog logo that looks like it is made from clown balloons and the number “3″. For Moe’s, it’s a cartoonish font with a chili pepper for an apostrophe.

“A distinctive logo is certainly one way to make a connection to potential customers,” says Harvey Hoffenberg, founder of the brand consultancy Propulsion LLC. ?Being visual will help you be remembered more easily, but it must embody the personality of your company.?

Just make sure to place it judiciously. “Placing your logo on distinctive merchandise or viewed in an environment your customer frequents could create a buzz ahead of your company launch by teasing your brand’s arrival,” says Hoffenberg. “Giving a taste of your positioning and creating a sneak preview will get people talking if done correctly.”

So how do you know if it worked? When people actually use the products, says Plant. “It’s been gratifying for the Private Bank of Buckhead to see these items in use. For instance they?ll get a sticky note from someone jotted on a sticky page from the bank?s own note cube or arrive at a rainy event and see their umbrellas in use.”

For Moe’s Southwest Grill, Riggsby says, “People love getting things with our logo on it. They wear it like a billboard.” And maybe, just maybe, if she does her job right, folks in Fargo will know exactly how to pronounce the word “quesadilla” correctly.

Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2007

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