6 Promotional Item Ideas for Small Businesses

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As a startup or small business, you may not have the budget to invest in large-scale advertisements. A simple yet effective way to raise brand awareness is to give away promotional products. These can be anything from key chains and T-shirts printed with your logo to mouse pads that catch the eye. When used properly, small-business promotional items can help you build a memorable brand, increase customer loyalty and convert prospects into buyers.

Why Invest in Promotional Products?

Promotional products can be a powerful marketing tool. After all, there's a reason Coca-Cola and other popular brands use them in their marketing campaigns. Simple things such as branded coffee mugs, pens and stress balls spark joy and remind customers about your brand. About 80% of them are used for more than a year, leading to repeated exposure for your business.

Generally, these items are distributed to customers, employees, vendors and potential business partners at little or no cost. Depending on your marketing goals, you may use them to promote your corporate image, raise awareness for an event, boost employee morale or generate leads. For example, if you own a beauty salon, you could give away makeup brushes that have your company's logo on them. This will remind your clients about your services and win their loyalty.

According to the Promotional Products Association International, seven in 10 brands consider promotional items mostly or always effective in reaching their marketing goals. Furthermore, nine in 10 customers who receive promotional gifts recall the brand, and eight in 10 recall the message printed on the product. Nearly 80% research the company from which they got promo items.

All in all, promotional giveaways are a great way to increase brand recognition. The constant exposure to these items makes it easier for people to remember your brand, which in turn may lead to increased sales. This way, your advertisement is sitting in front of customers longer than a paid ad or TV commercial. In fact, up to 83% of those who get promo products from a company are more likely to buy from it.

Small-Business Promotional Items

The beauty of promotional giveaways is that they cost you next to nothing compared to other marketing strategies. Promotional items offer excellent value for the money and can be used in a multitude of ways. For example, you may use them as performance rewards for your staff to boost their morale. They also make fantastic gifts for vendors, partners and customers alike.

What matters most is to make sure you offer something your customers actually need or want — otherwise, your gift will end up in the trash can. Consider how the product will be used and how much value it brings to those who receive it. A branded umbrella or a tote bag, for instance, is like a walking advertisement for your small business. According to Delta Marketing Group, bags generate more impressions than any other promotional product.

About 60% of consumers keep promo items for one to four years, and 73% use them at least once a week. However, if your consumers care about the environment and you reward their loyalty with stress balls or plastic pens, you might get a negative reaction. Consider your audience's needs and interests when shopping around for small-business promotional items. Some ideas you may want to try include:

  • Wearables (T-shirts, tote bags, earbuds)

  • Drinkware (water bottles, coffee mugs, glasses, reusable straws, koozies)

  • Gadgets (flash drives, chargers, stylus pens)

  • Travel accessories (neck pillows, drawstring bags, luggage straps, credit card holders, first-aid kits)

  • Writing instruments (executive pens, multitool pens, gel pens)

  • Household items (microfiber cloths, wall calendars, wall clocks, bamboo cutting boards, cookie cutters)

  • Miscellaneous items (lighters, key chains, mouse pads, stress balls, touch-screen cleaning cloths)

  • Beauty products (lip balm, compact mirrors, mini nail files, plush eye masks, hair accessories)

Ideally, opt for promotional items that are complementary to your services. If, say, you're a tech startup, it doesn't make sense to offer tote bags to your customers. Sure, they may use such a gift, but it's smarter to reward their loyalty with a cool flash drive or wireless earbuds. Consider these popular promotional products that any small business can afford:

1. Promotional Apparel in Different Styles

Wearable products account for about 29% of all promotional items offered by U.S. companies, reports the PPAI. What makes them so appealing is their functionality. T-shirts, for example, can be worn year round and go just as well with skirts and coats as they do with jeans and leather jackets.

As an advertiser, you don't have to worry too much about sizing — stick to three to five sizes depending on the design and fabrics and put the company logo on the front of the T-shirt. Pay attention to the fonts used and make sure the line and letter spacing are correct. Avoid using more than three different fonts. The more colors you use in a design, the higher the price, so keep that in mind when placing your order.

The overall contrast matters too. Consider your company's logo and keep it consistent. Decide whether you want a high-contrast print or a low-contrast one. Think about your audience as well — if you're targeting business professionals, low-contrast prints are a better choice. If your audience consists of teens or active individuals, go for a high-contrast print.

2. Bags Are Versatile and Functional

About half of American consumers own promotional bags. These accessories are extremely popular among women and can be used in dozens of ways. For advertisers, they offer plenty of space to place their logo, messaging and phone number.

Again, it's important to consider your target customers. If you want to be perceived as a sustainable business, consider offering high-end bags made from organic or recycled materials. Organic cotton tote bags, for example, are ideal for shopping and can last for years. Jute bags are strong, practical and eco-friendly.

Get creative with the design. Consider adding high-value features, such as built-in USB ports, waterproof fabrics or adjustable handles. If you're on a budget, you may design a drawstring bag made from cotton, canvas and other low-cost, eco-friendly materials.

3. Everyone Loves Coffee Mugs

The average American drinks about two cups of coffee per day. While it's true that most adults buy coffee from vending machines, they typically drink the first cup at home, and that's why coffee mugs are a great gift. These items will remind consumers about your brand as soon as they wake up. Plus, they are practical, inexpensive and durable.

Coffee mugs are some of the most popular promotional products. Since they can be printed with your logo and funny or inspirational quotes, they can spark conversations and draw the attention of those around them. If, say, you're attending a trade show, you can welcome visitors with coffee in personalized mugs. You can offer coffee mugs as a gift to your employees to boost their morale.

Just make sure you opt for high-quality mugs. After all, you don't want them to break within weeks or months. Consider using one side of the mug for your logo and print an inspirational quote or image on the other side. Offer these items to your staff, trade show attendees, partners and vendors or use them as gifts for social media giveaways.

4. Give Away Reusable Water Bottles

According to the PPAI, drinkware accounts for about 8.4% of all promo items. More than half of U.S. consumers own promotional drinkware and use it at least two or three times per week. Water bottles are particularly popular because they can be used over and over again.

With these accessories, customers are exposed to your brand each time they fill their bottles. If they drink water at work or on the go, your message could go viral as others get to see the branded bottle. This makes it one of the most effective small-business promotional items. Plus, it's a great way to help your customers stay healthy by encouraging them to drink more water.

Like other promo products, reusable water bottles are cheaper than TV ads, sponsored reviews and other advertising methods. As an added advantage, they help reduce waste by cutting down the number of discarded bottles. You can even order bottles made from eco-friendly materials like glass, ceramic or stainless steel. Plus, your customers will save money on bottled water!

5. Offer Branded Desk Accessories

Imagine the following scenario: One of your employees writes his phone number on branded sticky notes and hands it to a customer. The customer passes it on to a friend or family member. Later, that friend passes it to someone else or puts it on his desk for later use. Everyone who walks into his office sees the sticky note, resulting in repeated exposure for your brand.

Something as simple as a sticky note can boost your branding efforts. Now imagine how much exposure you'd get by offering all sorts of desk accessories, from pens and mouse pads to business card holders. Over 40% of consumers use promotional office accessories, and about 61% of items are kept at the workplace for longer than a year, says Delta Marketing Group.

These items come in all shapes and sizes and can be customized in a variety of ways. Pens, for example, are available in every color and style you can imagine. As a small-business owner, you can give away pens, notepads and other branded desk accessories to customers, employees, suppliers and other parties to raise brand awareness without breaking the wallet.

6. Creative Employee-Recognition Awards

Recognition matters more than money for nearly 50% of U.S. employees. In fact, half of them would quit a job if their efforts were not acknowledged. As a leader, it's your responsibility to reward good work and keep your staff motivated. Consider offering a branded stadium cup, badges, medals and other awards to the top performers in your organization.

These items will not only boost employee productivity and morale but can also help you raise brand awareness. If, say, one of your employees receives an award for his hard work, he will place it on his desk or a shelf in the office so that everyone can see it. As a result, your brand will be exposed to prospects, existing customers and business professionals on a daily basis.

Likewise, you can reward your top customers or social media followers. For example, you can surprise your most loyal customers with a branded trophy or other promo items to acknowledge their role in helping your small business grow. Certificate awards, for instance, are inexpensive and easy to customize. The key is to be creative.