Promotional merchandise puts your company's name in front of customers in the hope that they will buy or continue to buy from you. Giveaways such as pens and mouse mats help to raise the profile of your business and brand, as well as increase customer loyalty.

Not for everyone

Some customers think promotional merchandise is tacky or even pushes prices up. If your customers are from the top end of the market – professionals such as accountants, for instance – it is unlikely that this tactic will be effective. Instead consider a more sophisticated incentive or loyalty scheme. But if your customers are likely to appreciate promotional merchandise, then give-aways could motivate them to buy from your business. Even if you sell business-to-business, don't dismiss this strategy as many employees enjoy receiving merchandise for their office space.

Short-term strategy

Using promotional merchandise is a short-term strategy. It motivates your customers to buy from you for a limited period and for a particular reason. Good reasons to invest in promotional merchandise include:

  • Measuring the success of an advertising campaign – Your advertisements can invite customers to send off for a free soft toy, for example. Responses will help you to judge the success of an advertising campaign. And it gives you the opportunity to ask people questions that could give you invaluable customer information
  • Reinforcing an advertising campaign – Through direct mail send a free gift to a carefully targeted group of potential customers, perhaps to help launch a new product. If they haven't noticed your advertisement they will after they receive their gift
  • Turning an unsuccessful new product into a success – If a new product isn't selling well and you have confidence in it, offer your customers a free gift each time they buy. This is high risk and could waste money, but equally it may just spur your customers on to buy. Use your knowledge of your customers and the market to decide if it's a worthwhile investment
  • Stealing the limelight from your competitors – Perhaps your competitor is running a big advertising campaign or stealing your customers. A free gift could persuade them to stick with you

Whatever merchandise you decide to give away, make sure it complements what you're selling and doesn't stop your customer needing to buy from you.

It is even possible to make a profit out of the merchandise, by ordering in bulk and selling at just above cost. However, this is only likely to work if your promotional merchandise generates high demand, for example, a T-shirt promoting a band tour.

Where to buy promotional merchandise

There are hundreds of specialist companies who offer every type of promotional merchandise you can imagine – from customised baseball caps to embroidered towels. Decide what promotional merchandise you would like to invest in by using your knowledge of your customers and their tastes and habits.

You can buy straight from a supplier or employ a consultancy that will advise you on what merchandise is right for your campaign. Look for companies that are members of the British Promotional Merchandise Association. They follow a code of conduct, which guarantees quality.