Always ask the right questions

In a blog post that went viral, entrepreneur Sujan Patel explains how he grew his company Single Grain to a valuation of $1 million with one simple tool: free t-shirts. He gave a free t-shirt to everyone who wanted one and before he knew it his brand visibility was sky-rocketing and he was closing unbelievable deals.

Not everyone has this kind of luck with promotional merchandise, but it can help even the smallest businesses gain a foothold in the competitive world of marketing. 

So if you’ve decided to do a run of promotional merch, you may be wondering where to start. It’s not complicated, but it’s crucial to do your thinking beforehand. Here are the questions you need to ask yourself before making your first order:

1. Who is it for?

Before you even decide what you’re ordering, think about who’s going to use your merch. Are you ordering t-shirts for yourself to advertise your brand? Mugs to be used inside your office? Or perhaps gifts to be given away to the public at a promotional conference or festival? Each of these recipients will probably have different tastes and needs, and you want your merch to resonate with your target audience. Starting on the inside of the company is usually a good tip, a kind of testing ground for merch before you take it out into the wider world.

2. Where do you want it to be seen?

Think about who you want to reach with your marketing. If you’re advertising a new restaurant, you’ll want to reach the general public and increase brand awareness in streets and public spaces. But if you’re selling a new spreadsheet technology for accountants, you’re going to want to go a little more specific. Ensure your merch stays with people by focusing on making a positive impact in people’s lives. Some objects, like a bottle opener or a keyring, are useful for everyone and may help prospective customers form an intimate bond with your brand. But others are plain inappropriate – would you give a mug to a gymnast or a fidget spinner to a banker?

3. How are you going to give your merchandise out?

Even if your merchandise is going to be given away for free, not everyone is going to want it. You can increase the odds of people liking your merch by tailoring your items to their context. If you’re giving promotional gifts to people who visit your office or at a conference, stationery would be appropriate. But if you’re making goodie bags or doing a promotional giveaway, you’ll want something a little flashier: what about a cap or even a little toy, something that might make people smile?

4. What’s your message?

What do you want to communicate with your merchandise? Perhaps it’s a conversation-starter for you to give employees, so they can strike up discussions about your new brand. Or is it a case of building brand awareness, introducing the world to your logo and slowly building familiarity and trust in your enterprise? Perhaps you’re pushing a particular slogan with your branding campaign, and want to get that magic line on everyone’s lips. Working out your message can help you understand what merch you should order, and how you can communicate most effectively.

5. What are you going to print?

You don’t have to just make an item with your logo on it. A logo would be appropriate if you’re building familiarity with your brand, but it doesn’t actually tell people about what you’re doing. For that you might prefer a message in text, something that people invest time in reading and understanding — you’ve probably seen how effective adverts with long texts are on the tube, since people can’t help from reading what you put in front of them. On the other hand, maybe you want to be a little more enigmatic. A simple image could pique the interest of people around you, and encourage them to ask more.

6. What merch best suits your campaign?

It’s not all t-shirts and mugs, you know — though we do love t-shirts and mugs and there’s a reason why they’re so popular. In our age of sustainability, tote bags are increasingly popular options for merch, as is stationery for the office. You might also think outside the box – what about badges, cushions, even plant pots? Something that will fit snugly into people’s lives and remind them about the great things you’re doing with your brand.

7. How much do you want to spend?

We’ve put this at the end, but it might well be the most important question — plan the budget of your campaign, including merch creation costs, packaging and dissemination. Knowing how much you have to spend can help dictate the quantities of your order, and the quality of your products. It’s also a good idea to work out how many products you need. You don’t want to order too few and run out of mugs to give away at a trade show, and you certainly don’t want surplus tote bags slowly gathering dust in your attic — each piece of your merchandise should be owned and loved!

Looking for merch printing from the pros? At ICON Printing we offer fast turnaround printing and embroidery with a wide-ranging catalogue from t-shirts to caps to bagsGet a quote in 2 minutes online