Promotional Products  » Education Center  »  Ideas

10 Products 50 Uses

by Sheila Berninger

There’s no such thing as a boring T-shirt or logoed pen. Need proof? Check out our list of 10 hot company promotional items and 50 creative ways to use them in your next promotion.

In the huge sea of marketing, everybody wants to be a big fish. And promotional products are a great way to turn a small campaign into a whale of a branding experience. Whether they’re big or small, traditional or unusual, promotional products drive home a company message that will stick with your clients for a long time. “The key thing that you want to think about is standing out and developing a promotional idea and giveaway that is different from what your competitors are doing and different from the kind of things that everyone is receiving,” says Catherine Kaputa, founder of SelfBrand, a New York City-based brand consultancy, and author of U R a Brand!, How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success. We’ve come up with 50 creative ways to use 10 different products that’ll get your clients to take the bait for your next marketing campaign.

#1 T-shirt

Promotional t shirts are the top-selling promotional product on the market. There are just as many uses for this simple product as there are styles. You can choose screen printed or dyed, plain or multicolored. And new fabrics – like combinations of super soft cotton and moisture-wicking materials – are constantly on the move to make tees more comfortable than ever. “If it’s well-designed, a T-shirt can have a lot of advantages,” says Kaputa. “You’ve got to do a design that will appeal to the target audience.” That might mean tweaking the usual company logo or slogan, but it’s all worth it if the recipients think the product is cool enough to wear all the time. Here are 10 cool ways to make use of the tried-and-true T:

1. T-shirts act as billboards for street teams participating in a guerilla marketing campaign. Pair a group of people in matching tees with a slew of promotional products and you’ll have a foolproof way to reach your target audience.

2. If your company is planning a group retreat, think about gifting the participants with T-shirts that will always remind them of their getaway. The matching tees will forge unity during the event and make your employees feel like a winning team.

3. Research shows that salespeople love to tout their success. So motivating them to win a T-shirt that says something about their top performance (i.e., “Seller of the Month” or “President’s Club winner”) is a slam dunk. Plus, when they wear the T-shirt, their colleagues will be more inspired to perform as well.

4. Using a T-shirt as a free gift to help with a product launch is a simple but effective promotional strategy. And sometimes the shirt becomes the desired product. Indiana-based custom motorcycle company Chopper Farm started distributing tees to promote its bikes. Pretty soon they were so busy making the tees that the motorcycles were put on the back burner. The tees even made it into this year’s Grammy Awards gift bags.

“For something that started as an experiment on our part, the response to the shirts has really shown us that there is a market for this,” says Justin Tysdal, CEO of Chopper Farm Custom Motorcycles.

5. The people in your target audience don’t necessarily have to be the ones wearing your logoed tees. Take a different route and try giving parents a T-shirt for their children.

#2 MP3 Player

If you want to reach a youth-oriented market, electronics are your best bet. Everyone from tweens to 50-somethings is carrying around an MP3 player these days. But the target audience is still the 18- to 34-year-old demographic. “Cutting-edge, high-tech tools make a lot of sense to a younger demographic,” says Kaputa. This age group has strong purchasing power and often spends big bucks on a variety of techy items. “When you’re using an MP3 player it’s best to reach a high-end, upscale target audience or use it as an incentive,” says Kaputa. Here are some fun ways to use this ultra-cool techno-tool:

1. A T-shirt might not be enough of an incentive to get people to check out a new store or company on its open house day, but the chance to win an MP3 player will get people in the door.

2. Pair an MP3 player with the purchase of another technology device. You wouldn’t want to give a boring mousepad with your logo on it to a tech connoisseur who just spent $3,000 on a state-of-the-art laptop.

3. Have you received complaints from a major customer you need to keep at all costs? Send him or her an MP3 player preloaded with a personalized “I’m sorry” message.

4. Technology-enabled clothing has hot wired the apparel and accessories market this year. Coats, pants and even purses are equipped with pockets to accommodate portable electronics. An MP3 player would make a great addition to any of these techy wearables.

5. Custom MP3 players are like music to employees’ ears. Arby’s Corporation used Dr. Pepper can MP3 players as giveaways for its top store managers. Employees and managers who achieve high sales and customer service accomplishments also receive them as an incentive. “Rather than try to capture the essence of the brand by placing a logo on a product, we incorporated the brand into the product: creating a soda can-shaped custom MP3 player with custom graphics,” says Heather Phillips, marketing manager of the company that supplied the MP3 players.

#3 Writing Instruments

As the second-largest-selling category in the promotional products world, millions of pens circulate each year. And by no means are all of them the same. Doctors’ offices are flooded with different styles. Each education institution has its own version. And businesses nationwide use them in varying promotions. “Pens are great because they travel with people to meetings, in the car, in the kitchen, etc.,” says promotional products distributor Cathy Shaw. Here are five ways to use pens to juice up a promotion:

1. Pens work great for nonprofit organizations, which frequently send out contribution requests that include logoed pens. Recipients are happy about the useful gift – and more likely to write a check.

2.College students aren’t known for their big budgets, so they appreciate free stuff more than other demographics. Simply showcasing free pens on your table at a job fair or other college event will increase your chances of getting the coeds to stop by.

3. Collecting information from your target audience is tough. Send a pen, along with a survey, requesting that consumers respond. Imprint the pen with half of a special code that survey takers can use to claim free music downloads, food coupons or other perks. Send them the other half of the code once they return the survey.

4. Everyone makes mistakes. But if you’ve made one with your client, it’s best to mend the situation quickly. Send them an erasable pen so that they can erase their mistakes just as you promise to erase yours.

5. Sometimes simply giving tons of free pens away is enough. Commerce Bank pens can be found at races, concerts, art exhibits, grand openings and many other community events. And sometimes they show up somewhere unexpected. Ron Mendoza, vice president of merchandise for Commerce, says that he’s heard stories of customers finding Commerce pens as far away as Thailand.

#4 Digital Tire Guage

Vehicles aren’t always the most reliable things in the world. So going the extra mile to establish relationships is vital in the automobile industry. Dealerships can use promotional products like a logoed tire gauge to bring traffic to the lot. Salespeople could hand out products simply to forge a trusting relationship with their prospect. And when a buyer drives off the lot with a new car, the salesperson will want him to remember where he bought the car. The key is to give customers or prospects a product that is useful, but also brings the car company name to mind. “A digital tire gauge is something that a lot of people might not have, and it’s related to what the company is selling,” says Kaputa.

1. Purchasing a vehicle is a huge financial decision. Help boost new car owners’ excitement with this gadget that they can use on their new expensive toy.

2. One of the worst sights a car owner will ever lay eyes on is a “check engine” light. Service centers would be smart to hand out this product while their customers are waiting. While they may not be able to fix their engine, they can at least feel good about being able to check the air in the tires.

3. Truck drivers spend countless hours on the road. The last thing they need to do is go out of their way to stop at a garage and check the air in the tires.

4. Most school driver’s education programs teach students the written laws of driving. But how many classes teach how to check the air in the tires? Include a tire gauge and instructions, along with a textbook for a practical spin on driver’s ed.

5. With a focus on child safety, one promotional products distributor recently worked with a Colorado school district to use a digital tire gauge key holder to promote bus safety. Keeping a rugged and easy-to-use tire gauge on their keychain prompted bus drivers to check proper inflation more often.

#5 Lip Balm

Upscale settings like ski resorts are great places to target people with pampering products like soap, shampoo and lip balm. Personal care products are useful every day. And once people get a small sample for free, they are more likely to grab the product off the shelf next time they see it. They’ll also remember the company that gave it to them. Plus, spa kits are popular gifts both at the personal and corporate level, even though they’re not given as frequently as an imprinted mug or pen. “People are inundated with so many marketing items, it’s really smart to select something that’s a little out of the norm,” says Kaputa.

1. People who spend days at trade shows inevitably become parched and dehydrated. Including a moisturizing and soothing lip balm with a trade show badge will have your clients giving your company lip service.

2. Ski lodges would benefit by including lip balm in a welcome package for their guests. Nothing wreaks havoc on lips like the cold and dry winter months.

3. Looking for an au naturel approach? Implement a tint-free lip gloss made of all natural ingredients into a promotion that targets organic product lovers. Women who prefer to go natural don’t want a synthetic-looking kisser.

4. A well-known swimming pool builder and supply company recently gave away lip balm with funny lids to customers at its summer open house. Prospects walked away with lip balm sporting either a Snorkeler or Beach Lady head on its cap. “The unique character and clip is what sells it,” says Scott Kennis, vice president of sales and marketing for the company that sells the lip balm. “The size makes it easy to hand out.” The item clips easily to a backpack, beach bag or purse, and gives SPF protection against summer rays.

5. Visits to the dentist don’t top the list of most people’s ideas of a good time. Especially if their lips get chapped and cracked during the process. Dentists? offices could bring smiles to their patients? faces by including lip balm along with the standard free toothbrush, toothpaste and floss.

#6 Karaoke Machine

Who doesn’t relish their time in the “spotlight” from time to time? While you may not want your employees squawking out the lyrics to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” while they’re on the clock, a karaoke machine is the perfect product for employee activities outside the office. Plus, most people don’t have the extra cash lying around to amp up their home entertainment experience with a karaoke machine. It’s a classic case of giving people something that they can’t purchase on their own. “Electronics cater to most markets – there’s virtually something for everyone these days,” says Shaw. “Know your audience and know your items. Match the two and you?ll have a home run.”

1. A karaoke machine might not be the ideal motivator for uptight executives, but it’s certain to pump up a crowd of any age that loves to have fun. If your collection of incentive products offers other entertainment-related products, a karaoke machine will be the perfect addition.

2. Send a pre-show mailer with a musical theme to trade show attendees, inviting them to fill out an entry form for a karaoke machine. Those who return the completed form to your booth have a chance to win the machine. And that gives you a chance to win the prospect’s business.

3. Record companies trying to boost CD sales could use a karaoke machine as an incentive. Once loyal customers purchase a certain number of CDs, they get the machine they need to amp up their own star performances at home.

4. Does your top client believe he’s destined for Broadway? Surprise him on his next birthday with a karaoke machine to let him practice for his big debut.

5. It’s no secret that college frat parties tend to get a little wild. Loud, off-key singing is the least of campus security?s worries. Fraternity brothers could hold a fundraiser, and the person who raises the most money wins a karaoke machine.

#7 Custom Cookies

A tasty treat is something that everyone relishes, especially around the holidays. Food is shared and passed along, so it’s ideal for spreading the word about a new product or service. “Food equals being taken care of,” says Kimberlee Shaw, business partner and co-founder of Limelight. “Everyone loves that!” Why not let clients take a bite out of a logoed cookie that also gives them a taste of your brand?

1. Offering special pricing this month? Send custom cookies to your clients with a message that reads, “Take a bite out of our amazing offer!”

2. When you hold a client dinner, the diners are usually too full or modest to enjoy dessert after the main course. Give them logoed cookies that they can take home for later.

3. Food is always a popular option at trade shows. Offer up some sweet treats for booth visitors.

4. Pair up with a nonprofit organization to display cookies at its next big event. It’ll get your name out, and you can feel good knowing that you’ve donated to charity.

5. No holiday event is complete without free food. Custom cookies complement a new product launch or corporate anniversary party.

#8 Tissue Box

Winter weather is on the way. Why not offer your clients a useful product for the winter months? A customized tissue box is a timely and practical item.

1. When breaking into a new industry, you have to make your presence known. Send logoed tissue boxes to prospects and let them know that your services are nothing to sneeze at.

2. Tons of germs are passed around at a doctor’s office. A tissue box with a customized message about washing hands regularly to kill germs is a healthy idea.

3. Beverage companies now offer drinks with high levels of vitamins. They could promote their product by sending tissues with a message to the tune of, “Use our product if you don’t want to end up using these.”

4. Tissue boxes can be found in every hotel room. A seaside resort could use boxes with a starfish-shaped opening.

5. Interior decorators choose furniture and accessories to make each room in their clients’ homes mesh perfectly. Instead of bringing along a paint sample or fabric swatch, they could tote a custom tissue box that shows how creative they can be with a simple item.

#9 12-in-1 Tools

Due to rising costs of raw materials, manufacturers are becoming increasingly creative at mixing and matching to form new and unique products. “There are a lot more combination items like pens with lights, staplers with tape and mousepads with calculators,” says Bonni Sandy, executive vice president of a company that sells a collection of multitasking items. And in some cases, the combos are much more complex. This tool is a map reader, world time clock, digital thermometer, whistle, keychain, flashlight, magnifier, toothpick, pen, countdown timer, calculator and compass.

1. Those in the travel industry (a travel magazine or travel agent, perhaps) can give this tool to their best customers. Die-hard travelers could certainly use all of its features.

2. Retail stores in the DIY (do it yourself) industry will find this tool a natural for consumer promotions.

3. The whistle, calculator and countdown timer on this device make it an ideal sports companion. Coaches can get their players’ attention, calculate scores and time their games. Avid sports fan will love this tool as well.

4. Boy Scouts who follow the motto “Be prepared” could certainly find hundreds of uses for this tool.

5. Send this multitasking product along with a personalized users manual to a client. Let them know that you offer as many services as there are tools on this gadget.

10 Gloves

Now, more than ever, they’ve become a fashion accessory that provides warmth, comfort and style. And there is a great big handful to choose from. Whether your clients need accessories that mirror high fashion or something simple to keep their hands warm and safe, there are a variety of gloves that can be used in marketing programs all year round.

1. All companies can cast themselves in a soft light by making charitable donations. Gloves make great giveaways to nonprofit organizations.

2. Got a fashionable client? A stylish pair of gloves fits nicely with the purchase of designer perfume or makeup.

3. Avid sports fans will do anything to show off their team pride. You’ll never see a self-respecting soccer fan in Europe without a custom scarf with his or her team name and logo. Logoed gloves are just the ticket for sports fans.

4. Winter weather is on the way, and that means that many workers will be taking their work outside. Construction companies can keep their employees’ hands warm and safe out in the field with cozy but durable gloves.

5. Treating employees to a winter incentive, such as a day on the ski slopes? Don’t forget the logoed gloves to help keep their hands warm – and remind them of their special day.

Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2006

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