B2B Marketing and the Cheap Tchotchke Mistake

At a recent conference, I returned to my room to a bag full of tchotchkes from sponsors. Most went straight into the trash.

Filling my hotel room with cheap junk is not a good way to make me think fondly of you or your product.

When you are marketing a marketing service to marketers, the bar is even higher than it is for most B2B marketers. Your marketing will be seen as an indicator of the quality of your marketing service. (Yes, that’s a lot of marketing in two sentences. SEO folks would accuse me of keyword stuffing).

The promotional product business was a $15.6 billion business in 2009 (source). But just because everyone else does it doesn’t mean you should fill our rooms, homes and desks with junk we don’t want or need. Instead of putting your audience at the center of your marketing, you are sending the message that you just don’t care.

So, if you must keep giving out tchotchkes, here are a few guidelines that will improve the chance they will be noticed, appreciated and earn a spot on the recipient’s desk or in their life (with examples, good and bad, from my recent experience):

1. Keep It One Size Fits All

Give something that no one expects sizes on! One vendor gave a pair of branded flip flops. Presumably to make certain everyone could wear them, they were size X-Large. Probably the equivalent of about mens’ 12 (I wear a 9). Into the trash.

Check IconSave the t-shirts and other wearable products for your booth, not a gift bag.

2. Fit It To A Small Suitcase

I’ve seen the big boxes shipped to conferences, full of booth materials and tchotchkes. Unfortunately (or not) attendees are generally going home with one small suitcase. If your promotional items don’t fit, they will never make it back to the office.

A big Velcro dart board? Yes, I get it, you offer targeted advertising. But since it won’t fit in my suitcase, my kids won’t have the opportunity to try it out. Into the trash.

Check IconMake certain recipients can get it home.

3. Make It Worth Giving

Quality and tchotchke are not normally used in the same sentence, but if you are handing out junk, what do you really expect back?

USB flash drives have become a standard. When I can buy a three-pack of 16 GB drives at my local Costco, an old 512 MB or 1 GB drive seems like a joke. I may toss it in my bag (at least it is small and can serve a purpose), but when I reach for a flash drive, I’ll look for a larger one first.

The flip flops referenced above? They were hard plastic and just felt like they would be uncomfortable. Yes, again, they went into the trash.

Check IconIf it is junk relative to the things we already have, it won’t make it home.

4. Connect It To Your Story

My favorite product from the conference was a mug from NextMark and their Digital Media Happiness Project. It is lightly branded and connected to a research project I found interesting. I’m using it in the office now.

Check IconInstead of striving to make your tchotchke memorable, connect it to something your audience wants to remember.

Whatever you do, leave someone with something about you. I was astounded by the number of branded products with no information about the company. Two sentences with what makes your solution worth remembering, a URL and a business card, included with the package, is appropriate. Otherwise, your tchotchke is likely just a branded product that tells us nothing about why we should care about you.

Your Turn

What is the worst tchotchke you have received from a marketing vendor? Share your example, or advice for marketers that use promotional products, in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Photo: I took this picture with many of the tchotchkes put in my room at the event.

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  • GREAT post Eric! I own a full service marketing agency that also happens to sell promotional products (Quintain Marketing) and we preach this same advice to our clients all the time (our favorite saying – “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!”). We just released an ebook containing a great collection of infographics that summarize a recent study on advertising specialty impressions (basically a research study that reveals which promo products actually are kept and seen). Here’s the link to the ebook – would love to know your thoughts! http://info.quintainmarketing.com/global-advertising-specialties-impressions-study-ebook

  • Houston Marketer

    Such a great post! I especially love the ‘fit in the suitcase’ pointer. If the tchotchke had been really relevant and really valuable, wouldn’t it have been excellent for them to offer to mail it to you? I bet that would have been a nice surprise (and an additional touchpoint for them) for it to arrive at your home or office after you had returned from the conference/event. They would have had your attention again to reinforce their message, and you would have had a great tchotchke that you didn’t have to wrestle with on the plane. Everyone wins.

    I strongly believe that all leave-behinds, give-aways or take-aways should be created and distributed with the end users (not their kids or their dogs – unless you’re selling kids or dog products) experience in mind. Shouldn’t the use, and possibly reuse, of your product (tchotchke) remind them of a pleasant experience with you? Or perhaps, contribute to their current experience being pleasanter? If you aim to make your give-away a catalyst for smiles, a chance to increase your likeability, and an opportunity for the end user to feel like you ‘get them’, you’re on the right road. Remember: no one wants more junk. But, everyone wants happiness! Contribute to happiness and you will be remembered.

    • Glad you liked the suitcase pointer, thanks for the comment!

  • Susan Ratliff

    Super ideas Eric. As the Exhibit Expert, I am regularly reminding exhibitors in my seminars to resist loading up on just any freebee. Along with your great suggestions should be a plan to coordinate the tchotchke purchase to reinforce the theme, tagline, products, sales pitch or marketing message promoted at the booth. Connecting the object to the message or theme and making the purchase based on your great tips, will help the take-away do it’s job when it is goes home, which is to remind the attendee of the company’s products, services or benefits. In addition, make that item work for you. Instead of mindlessly handing out hundreds of freebees, use them as rewards to get something from your prospective audience. Make them watch your demo, answer a survey, play the game, provide contact info before they can have that cool item you spent hundreds of dollars on. I’d love to hear about some great booth theme and tchotchke combinations.

    • Thanks Susan. While I like making them a ‘reward’, that requires a significant upgrade from the promotional product buying habits of many marketers today… Hopefully that will change.

  • Susan Ratliff

    In addition, make that item work for you. Instead of mindlessly handing out hundreds of freebees, use them as rewards to get something from your prospective audience. Make them watch your demo, answer a survey, play the game, provide contact info before they can have that cool item you spent hundreds of dollars on. I’d love to hear about some great booth theme and tchotchke combinations.

  • Great information about the booth freebies. I cringe when I see my own company freebie. I got one and it’s collecting dust in my junk drawer at home, mostly because I felt too guilty to throw it away.

    I think too many companies either try too hard to be unique or they just don’t get it. It’s interesting to see so many big companies just not get it. Their freebies are trash and quickly forgotten. Then there are the companies who try so hard to be unique, but it generally comes off as too weird or doesn’t fit and again, it is quickly forgotten.

    Generally, the only freebies that I keep are the things I can use…coffee mug, pen, magnet. Simple and usable. No need to give away some crazy gadget.

    • LOL. Thanks for sharing, and admitting that its collecting dust!

  • My firm provides hydrogeological and related environmental services to water utilities and similar clients. For years we have given away logo stress balls – shaped like water drops. Small and aligned with our message. One size fits all, too. We’re solving drought issues, serving clients’ water needs (whatever), “one drop at a time.” It’s always worked.

    I also tell people who stop by our booth that they make great pool toys because they are harmless, float, but do not travel in a straight line when thrown because of their teardrop shape. I am of the understanding that folks are somewhat more likely to take them home.

    Whether all of this generates us real business is impossible to know.

  • Jim DeVuono

    What, no value in the scorpion infused lolly pop? I too only kept an item or two; its all about ratio between products value anywhere in the use chain (office, kids, etc.) and how tough it is to pack. Good message Eric; really enjoy your posts.

    • Thank you sir, and great to meet you at the event last week. Glad I’m not the only one that didn’t love the sugar-encased scorpion!

  • Eric…first of all, nice post. My comment is consumer-oriented, however appropriate for B2B — which is where my experience is most extensive. My wife did a 60+ road ride this past weekend and they received an e-voucher from REI. Why was this good? — (a) appropriate to target audience, (b) little to nothing to throw away, and (c) could be tracked via online metrics. B2B marketers can do the same.

    • Definitely, and this seems to be a trend in the comments here. The challenge is finding something that isn’t from your company to offer yet supports your communication, or something from your (B2B) company that easily be used, which doesn’t fit the product model for big B2B marketers like SAP or Oracle.

      Definitely an improvement though on the branded lollipop! Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  • Thanks for this piece! I work for Trims Unlimited, Inc., a company based in L.A. that offers branded merchandise and fulfillment services. I’m big on putting myself in the recipients’ shoes and asking the “why should we care?” question to test the value of a product before it gets into their hands. We don’t want to risk having wasted spend, or worst yet, risk creating negative impressions for our clients. We focus on branding within the conference– conference gear, after hour events, worthwhile key notes, entertainment and unique games to increase engagement and ROI. We’ve been exploring the use of virtual gifting for these events, and we think this may soon bring a much needed respite from trinkets and trash. Eric, we’d be interested in your thoughts – we started the conversation in our last post “The Promotional Product Reimagined: Exploring Virtual Gifting |Trims’ quest to eradicate junk giveaways for good” at http://bit.ly/10fO0bX

    • Definitely one potential approach, akin to a Starbucks card that even works for people that don’t like coffee or tea.

      Why not just go with a Visa gift card, which is definitely easy to use? Or if you are doing smaller amounts, a range of coffee and other cards that don’t have the extra purchasing costs?

      I obviously like the idea of something that will be valuable to anyone, just wondering if there is an easier solution.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      • We’re drawn to one virtual gifting service in particular that offers flexibility– “A cup of coffee at any coffee shop,” “A movie at any theater,” etc. Also, these services have the benefit of existing entirely online, so no plastic waste, which is a huge draw for us. One thing we worry about with Visa gift cards is that the recipient might just use it for an everyday expense—putting gas in their car or grabbing groceries. This wouldn’t give the sort of experience we’d like the end user to associate with the brand. We’d like the card to be an invitation to get out and have some fun, so we’re looking for the solution that offers flexibility as far as interests of end user, but not the kind of flexibility that means the money will be spent on something that’s no fun!

        We really want to continue this conversation about how we can help companies escape the random, scattershot approach of the traditional booth giveaway. Most of our clients are looking for innovative ways to increase engagement and exchange meaningful information with attendees. Check out how we tried this with Jibbits here: http://conta.cc/10eG7oC

        Keep up the great posts, Eric!

  • Jbro

    Dude. Don’t take the crap in the first place. The first R: (Reduce, Reuse. Recycle.)

    • Definitely true. In this case I literally come back and found a bag in my room, Reduce wasn’t an option.

      Thinking a giveaway that would stand out would be a trash back you can put all your freebies in and leave at the event to be sorted and recycled where possible.

  • Great post Eric! I work in B@B tech on events-I agree! To answer your Q–the worst tchotchke I
    recvd was a branded gum ball—Really! Hummm, now what was the
    companies name?

    • LOL! Well, hmmm, ok, I can’t find anything good to say about that!! Thanks for sharing Deborah!

  • Heather Rykowski

    Great article Eric. As corporate gift specialists, we have come across several businesses making the same promotional product purchasing mistakes. To help our clients, we created this slideshare presentation. Hope it helps your readers too. http://www.slideshare.net/HeatherRykowski/5-promotional-product-mistakes-to-avoid