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The Science Behind Promotional Marketing

19th Aug 2020

Why should I invest in promotional products or merchandise?

It's a fair question, and one we get every week from switched on marketing agencies and company representatives. After all, the world is becoming vastly more digital, and as we all work from home more and more the relevance of physical marketing is certainly under scrutiny. 

According to the Australian industry body for promotional products, APPA, 88% of people remember the advertiser or brand they saw on a promotional product. Combine that with a staggering 82% of people keeping a promotional item that they have received in the past, and you have a perfect recipe for brand message reinforcement that is hard to argue with. 

A study published in the Journal of Services Marketing demonstrated that targeted promotional gifts actually had a more significant impact on customer goodwill and repeat business than price promotion (discounting), and mentioned that:

"Results suggest that goodwill engendered among customers by the ad. specialty “gifts”, coupled with the repeated brand exposure opportunities afforded by imprinted items, can exert a considerable impact on purchase behavior." 

(Kendrick, Promotional products vs price promotion in fostering customer loyalty: a report of two controlled field experiments, 1998)

A large part of the appeal or benefit of promotional products and merchandise can be found in it's Incidental Exposure marketing impact. A paper presented in the 2018 European ACR Conference demonstrated that a small promotional pen outperformed a large billboard in brand impact for unfamiliar brands:

"We find that at similar level of exposure promotional merchandise outperforms billboards"

(Eva Marckhgott and Bernadette Kamleitner (2018) ,"The Incidental Effect of Promotional Merchandise on Consumer Reactionsto a Brand ", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds. Maggie Geuens, Mario Pandelaere, and MichelTuan Pham, Iris Vermeir, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 287-287)

Incidental exposure is one of the key marketing benefits of promotional merchandise. When you view a digital advertisement, there's a good chance it's only you seeing it, whether that's on your phone, your tablet, or computer. But a promotional product will give brand awareness to anyone who can physically see the product in question - a classic example being uniforms. While there are key benefits to uniforms from a psychological perspective in terms of "belonging" and "team dynamic", they also serve as walking banners for the brand, allowing any who see them to passively ingrain that brand into their mind. This makes up part of the reason why so many brands have a uniform for customer-facing staff, to enhance their existing clients brand retention and to push recognition in target demographics.

Another study focused on new organisations who were looking to build their initial brand equity. They conducted an experiment that measured brand equity when new clients received a promotional product while reviewing a print ad. The findings showed that: 

"(a) combining a promotional product with traditional advertising results in greater levels of brand equity and (b) using a promotional product with or without traditional advertising results in a greater likelihood of a future visit to the brand's website." 

(Michael S. McCarthy & Eugene H. Fram (2008) Synergies of Promotional Products and Print Advertising in Building Brand Equity for a New Brand, Journal of Promotion Management, 14:1-2, 3-15, DOI: 10.1080/10496490802501661)

So what does this all mean? 

In essence, we know that:

1) Promotional products and merchandise, including work uniforms, help to promote brand awareness

2) Recipients keep their brand merchandise on hand 

3) They can, and have, outperformed price promotions for consumer behaviour metrics

4) They can, and have, outperformed other traditional marketing tools (billboards)

5) They build brand equity in new businesses