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Build Loyalty With Promotional Products

By Richard Kern

Unless you're made of money, you need an affordable, effective way to encourage loyalty among customers and keep them from defecting to the competition. When the time comes to pick up the phone, hop in the car or dial up a Web site, what's going to make them think of you instead of someone else? The answer: promotional products (bet you didn't see that one coming, did you?).

Retention is at the heart of every good promotion. Think about it. Once you got 'em, the goal is to keep 'em, right? Whether it's a product rollout, trade show traffic-builder, direct-mail program, or business-generation campaign, the idea is to build long-term loyalty, repeat purchasing and profits.

Most companies assume their product or service will accomplish this once consumers get a chance to experience it. But the buying public is fickle, and no matter how good your product is, your competitors are continuously launching promotions designed to pique people's interest and woo them away from your brand.

So how do you ensure customer retention and build loyalty without springing for a new campaign every week? You've heard it before: It all comes down to adding value. What are you doing to keep your firm and your products/services top-of-mind? What advantage do you have that your competitors don't? How do you differentiate yourself amidst all the clutter and noise in the marketplace?

Some companies bank on service. That's why CRM is such a hot buzzword these days. Others stress the bottom line, hence ROI and cost/benefit analysis. The problem is, these strategies are equally popular with all players - the fact that they're so ubiquitous is proof that virtually everyone's emphasizing results and customer care.

So much for the uniqueness of your "unique value proposition." So what's a marketer to do? Well, unless you're made of money, you need an affordable and effective way to bind customers to you and keep them from defecting to the competition. Ask yourself: When the time comes to pick up the phone or hop in the car or dial up a Web site, what's going to make them think of you instead of someone else? Your service may be stellar, but if they're looking at a sale flyer or holding a coupon in their hand, why should they pass up the other guy's promotion and stick with you instead?

The answer: promotional products. Bear with me for a minute. If I'm holding a flyer from your competitor, but on my desk there's an imprinted calculator or pen - or in my car there's a flashlight with your company's name on it or a sunshade or roadside safety kit bearing your logo - sent to me for being a loyal customer, am I going to flush that productive relationship away for the promise of a lower price or customer service that I may or may not need?

You see where we're going here? There's a difference between the promise of something and the actual something itself. So the next time you're brainstorming ideas to boost customer retention, consider imprinted products - carefully selected, of course - that will carry your message of thanks and appreciation, turning plain old customers into advocates and champions of your business. There are literally a million ways to stand out. Here are just a few examples:

Boosting Business
Gabby's Lost Goldmine, a theme restaurant, needed to promote its Tuesday Kids' Night while also building customer loyalty. Its obvious-yet-inspired choice? Balloons, imprinted on one side with the restaurant's logo and the other with details about the Kids' Night event.

Restaurant servers distributed the balloons at tables where kids were seated throughout the week leading up to the event. They pointed out the details on the balloons so that customers were well-informed about Tuesday's proceedings. Owners found the balloons entertained the children and also generated goodwill among customers. The imprinted products also served as walking billboards for the restaurant and promoted Kids' Night to others who saw children with the balloons.

Result: Within the first week of the promotion, sales volume on Tuesday nights increased by 22% - all for an investment of a few cents, coupled with a well-thought-out distribution strategy.

Maintaining Market Share
FedEx faced three challenges familiar to many firms: First, smaller competitors were squeezing FedEx's market share; second, it needed to introduce a new corporate logo; and third, the shipper wanted to get the attention of key decision-makers.

The promotional product of choice: a die-cut greeting card/business card holder in the shape and style of FedEx's new delivery trucks, featuring the company's new logo. The cards also contained a sound chip that produced a ringing sound when opened, asking decision-makers to "give FedEx a ring."

Result: The firm maintained its existing market share and saw major growth in its small business customer base, achieving all three of the promotion's goals.

Courting Customers
An auto repair shop felt the pressure when a new garage opened six blocks away. The objective: maintain the loyalty of existing customers and encourage first-timers to keep coming back.

To keep its name in front of customers, the owners of the shop wanted to distribute an imprinted promotional item to act as a "reminder gift" showing customers their appreciation. They ultimately chose a logoed "gas pump aid" that, when placed between the gas trigger and the bottom of the pump handle, keeps the trigger depressed, freeing one's hands for other things like washing the windshield, checking the oil, etc. A magnet allowed for easy storage inside the gas door - and repeat exposure to customers.

Fostering Feedback
Chase Manhattan Bank wanted to elicit feedback about its services and overall performance, while at the same time thanking customers for their business.

To accomplish these dual goals, the company worked with its promotional consultant to create a "welcome kit" for customers opening new accounts. The kit contained information explaining the many services Chase offered, as well as two other key items: a two-page survey and a 10-minute phone card bearing the bank's name and logo.

A letter asked customers to complete the survey and accept the phone card as a token of Chase's appreciation for their feedback and business - a nice way to thank customers and at the same time gather valuable insights about how to improve service and build loyalty.

The program proved so successful that Chase almost immediately placed a reorder for 100,000 more calling cards.

Reinforcing Retention
Like most firms, Mobil Oil Corp. wanted to increase its number of loyal customers. With the help of an experienced counselor, it created a promotion that kicked off with motorists receiving a full-color punch card when they came in for a Grand Opening or Customer Appreciation Day.

The cards encouraged them to come back and make additional purchases within a five-month period. By buying a specified number of gallons each visit, customers got their card punched, allowing them to get a free gift of their choice when they reached certain purchase levels.

The promotion resulted in a tremendous boost in repeat business and customer loyalty. Most stations involved in the campaign posted between 25% and 30% increases in retained gasoline volume.

Bringing 'Em Back
Medica, a health plan administrator, wanted to ensure that its customers were happy and remained committed to the company. To cement this relationship, marketers set up a program that recognized the dissatisfaction of customers who had experienced administrative problems and the importance of keeping their business.

The promotion involved the distribution of an imprinted pen in a tri-fold gift card.

The cards, which were mailed to customers, contained a note conveying the company's "sincere apologies" and an offer to "write the wrong" with the enclosed pen.

Medica reports that the gift helped open a dialogue with customers, enabling service personnel to resolve problems and prevent further difficulties - and most important, holding on to customers.

Pizza Promo
With a sudden influx of fast-food restaurants into the area, Patti's Pizza Parlor needed a way to keep customers from defecting to the competition. A late-summer promotion was built around a back-to-school theme, using oversized book covers printed with three coupons, each valid during a different month.

The coupons were printed at one end of the book cover so that when they were cut off the cover was still big enough to fit most school books. Patti's handed out a book cover with every pizza sold during late summer and early fall. Book covers were also stacked next to the cash registers at local stores that sold school supplies.

Result: The pizza parlor didn't lose any discernible business to its new competitors, as the proprietors had initially feared. Instead, the book covers sparked a 10% increase in business! The promotion was so successful that the pizzeria has repeated it each year since.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Richard Kern is editor-in-chief of Imprint.

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