“What’s the merch like?” asked my 14 year old daughter. She and I were walking from the car park of the O2 arena in London towards the venue and she was talking on her mobile to a friend who was already inside. My daughter wanted to know if it would be worth her while visiting the merchandise stands and spending some of her hard-saved money.
I marvelled at the fact she was savvy enough to know what “merch” was and to be asking about its quality. She wasn’t going to bother stopping and spending if, in her friend’s (highly qualified) opinion it wasn’t up to muster, no matter how much she thought of some other kid called Harry (Stiles) or Justin (Bieber)…I can’t remember which (there were so many).
Anyway, it got me thinking that this “merch” thing should not be taken lightly, especially by businesses at trade shows, where many exhibitors use promotional products with a view to building affinity with their brands and who collectively spend a lot of money on a huge array of what are also often called, “giveaway” products.
There Is Another Universe Where Fans Buy Your Promotional Products Instead Of Being Given Them For Free
Of course, the big difference between the “merch” at pop concerts and other fandom events versus trade shows, is that the fans stump up money for the products. They aren’t given away to them free. And in this world, fans place value and pride in their T-shirts, caps etc. and wear and use them as doing so unites and bonds them with other fans who happen to love Harry or Justin or whatever his name is.
In us older fans, the fandom trend may continue in the brands we like to associate with or use. This association can be with cars, fashion labels, beers, wines, chocolates, coffee shops…. all places or things where money is paid for by the fan (witness commuter coffee mugs from Starbucks and Costa as an example).
Wouldn’t it be great to have this kind of affinity with your brand, where fans pay to carry or use products that also promote your company name? If you think that this is far fetched, here are two very different examples where users will pay for branded merchandise.
The first example is from the heavy industrial sector, an area that you might not at first associate with fandom but JCB (tractors & excavators – think Caterpillar if you are in the US) has a large range of branded items for sale. From branded caps and overalls to children’s pyjama and duvet sets, there is a lot of branded JCB “merch” to choose from and a lot of people, including many who do not own or operate a Backhoe Loader, buy these products.
And for those readers not into heavy industrial moving equipment, what about the the biggest earning fandom brand of all, Apple Computer? Here, I’m thinking about the die-hard fans who queue overnight to buy their latest (premium-priced) gizmo be it a watch, laptop, iPad or iPhone …..(funnily enough, all things I seem to have too…).
Now, I’m not suggesting that you start charging visitors for your promotional items at trade shows (wouldn’t that be great!) rather, think about them as valuable items, either, in the value that they create for your brand in terms of long-term use by people you would like to be clients or by the feeling that associated with your brand among the people that you present them to at a show.
If you view promo goods in this way, it can help you decide on which products to choose to support a specific strategy.
Long Term Use Or Short Term Impact?
Ideally the promotional products that you invest in would do two things; create impact with visitors at the event and be used by them in the weeks and months after the show. Usually you have to make a choice between one or the other outcome.
Given that the range of promo items that you can choose from is huge, I asked for help from some suppliers about items that they would recommend knowing that they were strong sellers with exhibitors.
The team at 4imprint suggested that; branded bags always worked well. These can be the cotton printed versions, drawstring bags or backpacks and I have to say that for at- show impact, branded bags being carried around the venue are hard to beat. And they may have some ongoing brand value use post-show (especially backpacks) but most likely your biggest value is obtained short-term.
Pens with brandable barrels were also suggested and if these were used with some very nice soft-touch notebooks, you could have a two-part promotion, whereby people you want to meet receive your pen pre-show, and, if they come to your stand they receive the branded book too. Well worth dropping by for.
The Wipebook Pro. A really excellent and long-lasting, brandable, promotional product with high perceived value and usefulness.
I also asked Chris Naylor of Marketing Incentives for his ideas on interesting promotional items for exhibitors and Chris suggested three items that could support different objectives.
For at-show impact: Fidget Spinners – “I really love these and so far customers have found them very addictive and a great talking point. We found people were walking down the aisles at shows running them around their hands, and others were asking them what they were and where they got them from. They also acted as a great ice breaker on the stand, as it attracted people and helped create an interesting discussion. Visitors to the stand were quite relaxed during the discussions, which allowed clients to collect their contact details to use for future promotional campaigns.”
For a social media promotion: “We also created a pin badge campaign, where people picked up a pin badge from the stand, and then whoever tweeted the best picture or strangest place of their badge on the official show tweet wall, won a prize. It proved amazingly effective. The exposure was tremendous all for a 9p badge. It actually annoyed competitors, particularly when our badges were photographed on their stand!”
For long term brand promotion: “One real show stopper at the higher end of the market was a solar powered mobile phone / tablet charger – incredibly successful! People who were given them retained them and were very receptive to future promotional campaigns.”
After a little research, I found some other products that you might also consider;
Laptop skins: great for long-term recognition and an item considered to be useful by visitors too.
Branded mobile phone charging bricks; long term usage is an excellent feature and very useful especially for show visitors and frequent travellers.
Branded flip-flops: A fun promotional item which could work really well at fitness, health and travel shows and events held in late spring and summer.
Water bottles and commuter coffee mugs: not bulky and easy to take away from the show. They will be seen on desks within the offices of people you’d like to be doing business with.
A water bottle that can also be a light: want to position your business as an innovator in its field? Try this innovative product.
Branded torches: long-term and useful. Good for industrial, camping and automotive shows.
Portable speakers: an on-desk item with a higher perceived value.
Re-usable white board notebooks; An excellent eco product and one that architects, engineers and designers would love and use regularly.
Pocket Drones: Excellent for attracting crowds (but you would need your organiser’s permission first). Not a product to be given to everyone but they would attract a lot of attention and you can give to selected visitors based on any criteria you choose.
Memorable & Useful
There may come a time when users of your product or service may pay your company for products that actually promote your brand (if this is happening already please let me know as I would love to publicise your story).
In the meantime, and for most exhibitors, for show impact use those bags and pocket drones, branded sweets, and fidget spinners. For longer-term recognition of your business and brand, offer show visitors something that they will find useful in their daily lives away from the show, so that when the “Merch” question is asked again, the reply will be; “excellent merch actually, from that company XYZ on that stand over there….”
That’s a reply that should help produce excellent sales results for your business irrespective of whether or not you are offering more colourful PJ’s.
PS. I would love to receive details of any items that have worked well for your company; firstname.lastname@example.org