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Personalized Promotional Products

Personalization: Boosting Egos Also Boosts Loyalty, Sales
By Cynthia Ironson

Personalized products feed recipients' egos and can help you forge closer relationships with clients. It has evolved dramatically from a simple engraved name on a pen to anything, any time, anywhere.

Carly Simon was right - we are so vain. We love to see our name in print. We usually don't part with things that mark our individuality and appeal to our sense of self-worth. Look around you - at the walls, on your desk, in your home. Do you see any awards, plaques, desk accessories, etc., bearing your name? Do you cherish them?

Mike Neer, executive director of the Personalized & ID Products Association, calls personalization a significant trend in the market today. Companies are realizing its amazing power to reach people. Once only royalty or the very rich owned personalized items; now anyone can.

"Today … technology has made it possible for personalization to be done easier, faster and complete with name, photo, message or designer logo," Neer explains.

Firms that give personalized products to employees, clients and others endear themselves to them. "Personalization speaks very well for the giver, particularly corporate givers," says counselor Donna Gray.

In short, personalized products feed recipients' egos and can help you forge closer relationships with clients. The very nature of personalization programs requires something of a "meeting of the minds" of all parties involved. The ultimate CRM tool? Could be.

Redefining The Term
From apparel and custom metal creations to watches and leather portfolios, personalization is a viable and affordable option with promotional products. It has evolved dramatically from a simple engraved name on a pen to anything, any time, anywhere. Of course, sometimes the classic approach is still the best, but current technology offers a chance to really wow a recipient.

Take something like a blanket or weater. Promotional consultant Jim Krul says such products can have a name incorporated right into the pattern - it's not the usual post-production embroidery: "Computer equipment allows us to personalize a knit product at the time of production, not as an afterthought. It's in the actual construction."

Krul says it's even possible to reproduce a two-color photograph on a blanket. The photos are digitally scanned, and a computer translates them into a knitting pattern. The applications are mind-boggling. You could capture an important moment in someone's life or an image from a special event and reproduce it on a product.

High-tech products such as CD business cards and CD-ROMs can also be personalized. And you can even get personalized computer screensavers that can be distributed via CD-ROM, animated e-mail, or downloaded from a Web site. Another plus: When the user loads the screensaver into his computer, he's asked to provide demographic information, which is stored on a server. Then, via software and Internet technology, you can send messages to the recipient's screensaver. Counselor John Ramirez notes, "When the messages go out, they [say] 'Hi Mr. or Ms. so-and-so. We have a special for you!' "

Screensavers can even wish users a happy birthday and allow them to choose graphics that appeal to them. But the personalized messages are the best. Administration is easy; cue up a block of messages to send out on various dates and let technology handle the rest. "The user feels comforted that this company actually cares about them," Ramirez notes.

Too Stuck On Logos?
Michael Dustman, a promotional consultant, has provided customized decorative metal products - awards, medallions, lapel pins, holiday ornaments, commemorative spoons, belt buckles, etc. - that more or less "speak" to recipients in a way a logo alone cannot. "Logos are in every design, but there's also a lot of graphics there to support whatever a client is trying to convey," he says.

Products can be designed around specific events, groups, messages or themes so that every recipient - from the CEO to a truck driver to a receptionist - will feel a connection. In addition, any item with two sides can be personalized. Or, mission statements, the CEO's signature, etc. can be engraved.

One-To-One Marketing
Personalization is also deeply interconnected with one-to-one marketing, a hot topic in business circles these days. Counselor Margaret Fitzgerald describes it as the use of databases and digital technology to personalize and customize communications - the very opposite of mass marketing. One-to-one is based on trust; the give-and-take of information between a company and a target audience, whether the audience is comprised of clients or employees.

"You've learned something about your customer or prospect and you've used that to strengthen your relationship," Fitzgerald explains. "That's what's behind the whole notion of personalization. It's at the front end of the basis of a successful business, and that's customer and employee relationships."

Example: a spiral-bound calendar-type product where, thanks to the power of digital on-demand printing, each page can be totally customized for a specific client or employee. Pages can bear special messages (birthday, anniversary), graphics, info about products/services, specials or motivational quotes.

"It's a marketing tool that communicates on a one-to-one basis, trying to get a client to buy more products and services more frequently," Fitzgerald says. "There's always the issue of accuracy, but with technology where it is today, there's really no reason for human hands to have to touch something that's in an electronic file."

Personalization Considerations
Despite lower production costs and more options, personalization still usually involves higher-end items. Leather and vinyl folders, for instance, are commonly logoed and personalized, notes counselor Tim Kosub. "The personalization makes the piece look more like an expensive retail item."

Another thing to keep in mind: Personal-ization requires attention to detail. An error in a personalized product is more noticeable and can even be counterproductive. But despite the extra detail work necessary, a lot of the hassles formerly associated with personalization have diminished thanks to computerization and software. Of course, misspellings and other errors aren't completely unknown, so careful proofreading is essential, by both you and your counselor.

One clear fact remains: Putting someone's name on a product increases the chances it will be retained. How often do people toss something that's created just for them? If you'd like your client to use a product (and also see your logo or ad message) every day, personalization can really make the difference.

The truth is, if pleasing clients and employees is at the top of your company's to-do list, you can't afford to overlook a tool like personalization. Counselor Karen Winograd encouraged a computer software firm in the property-management industry to give its best clients and associates a personalized Galileo thermometer as a holiday gift. The firm had some reservations, but ultimately trusted Winograd's expertise. Each thermometer was engraved with the company logo and recipient's name. The outcome? Virtually everyone who received this gift noted how special it made them feel.

Kosub created an "Employee of the Quarter" program for a client that uses higher-end jackets bearing the company logo and person's name. "As the program is well known around the company as an honor, the jackets are prized," he says.

Don't you have customers and employees you'd like to get the same reaction from?

Promotional Possibilities
There are all sorts of ways to employ the value of personalization. Your counselor can give you more details about things like:

Sales Incentive Programs. "Salespeople love to see their names in print," says Gray. "Since they're associated with a company, the bonding of the personalization along with the corporate logo makes sense. It lends credibility. It makes them feel part of the company that they represent."

Employee Recognition. Personalized products given to employees as service or safety awards, holiday/thank-you gifts, etc. can enhance that person's connection to their firm and make them feel their hard work has been appropriately acknowledged. "Companies [that] cultivate a strong relationship with their staff are going to have employees who are motivated, creative, committed and loyal," says Fitzgerald.

Business Gifts. After her first year in business, counselor Wendy Vaughn hand-delivered to every client a pen laser-engraved with the company logo and recipient's name, packaged in an aluminum tube. Vaughan also told clients to call her for refills, which let her know who kept and used the pens.

Trade-Show Promotions. You might think promoting a trade show with personalization would be a poor idea. Nope. Kosub had a client who didn't want a lot of tire-kickers at its booth at a high-tech show; he had a carefully developed list of prospects. He devised a pre-show mailing sending those folks just the cap of a personalized high-end pen. The body could be picked up at the booth. Did it work? The firm got a 30% response rate.

When a product is personalized, it amplifies the message you're trying to deliver. It may be a thank you, a gesture of appreciation or a sign that you recognize the recipient for who he is and how he's helped your business.

"When you personalize, you individualize," says Fitzgerald. "Therefore, you have to know who your individual customers or employees are. Without the people a part of it, it's useless."

So get personal.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Cynthia L. Ironson is a contributing editor to Imprint.

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