T-shirts. Flash drives. Pens. Chocolates. What giveaway items will help customers remember your product more than SEO will?

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Promotional products are a traditional form of marketing: Find a useful product, print your logo on it and distribute it to the people you want to remember your brand. If your prospects see your brand name on a pen, a t-shirt or a flash drive, they may be more inclined to purchase from you in the future.

Related: 9 Promotional Items to Consider Using in Your Next Direct Mail Campaign

But in today’s digital marketing era, are promotional products still a useful tactic for startups? After all, a tweet costs far less than physical bulk items do. And the impact of a well-executed search engine optimization strategy far outweighs any short-term boost from a logo-imprinted flash drive.

The possibilities

Promotional products can be used in a variety of contexts and applications. One of the most common uses is is to raise brand awareness for your B2C company by mass-distributing a promotional item to ensure your brand name is seen and remembered by a larger-than-expected percentage of your target demographic.

You can also use promotional products in a B2B context, utilizing corporate gifts, for example, as a way to encourage brand memorability. They can be used as free giveaways, complimentary swag to accompany a purchase, thank-you items or rewards for brand engagements.

In any case, the stats indicate that promotional products are still useful, despite the allure of competing digital marketing strategies. According to the 2016 ASI Ad Impressions study, 85 percent of people surveyed remembered the name of the company that gave them a promotional item. On top of that, consumers were found to be 2.5 times as likely to hold a positive impression of a company that gave them a promotional product, versus a company that showed them a digital ad.

What’s more, promotional products are even more attractive now that online companies allow you to print bulk promo items for a reasonable price.

Examples of startups that made promotional products work

Statistics suggest that these items can be effective, but even more convincing are real-life examples of startups that have found success using this tactic: 

Related: 5 Smart Ways to Integrate Cross-Promotion With Online Marketing

  • New Relic. Back in 2012, New Relic was eager to get more users to take advantage of its platform’s free trial, which required people to install code on a server and reset it. As a way of saying thank-you and encouraging users to take advantage of its trial, New Relic gave away free t-shirts to anyone who committed — more than 75,000 in total. The t-shirts were more than just a logo on a basic shirt, either, instead offering multiple designs that appealed to the company’s target demographic.
  • IFTTT. The service IFTTT (short for “If This, Then That”) has gained considerable momentum over the past several years, but in its early days, those hearing the acronym had difficulty catching on. In Silicon Valley, startups were feeding into a “swag” craze, offering branded products to generate interest and in some cases, show off company resources. IFTTT one-upped that trend by offering custom-designed argyle socks, whose IFTTT branding blurred blue and red into purple.
  • Twitter. Though past the startup stage at the time of its release, Twitter famously handed out promotional items to its employees as a welcome gift. In that so-called “swag bag” were branded bottles of wine, a tote bag, a t-shirt, a laptop sleeve and a writing notebook. Considering that the platform subsequently became a major channel for online advertising, this example contains a certain sense of irony. 

The key to success

The real power of promotional items comes from their lasting power, which is the result of a product’s utility as well as its durability. If the product is useful, it’s unlikely to get thrown away or stashed in a drawer. If the product is well-crafted, moreover, it has the potential to last for years.

Related: For Entrepreneurs, The Gift-Giving Season is Year Round

So, should you be using promotional products to market your startup? That depends on the nature of your target demographics, and how much you’re willing to spend. But it’s clear that the power of promotional products is comparable, if not superior, to the power of digital advertisements, as long as that power is used effectively.

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