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Promotional Product Continuity Programs

Done right, continuity programs can be a surprisingly effective way to stretch the effectiveness of your promotional budget.

With so much clutter in the marketplace, one-shot promotions are often overlooked. In contrast, explains direct-mail expert Ken Erdman, “Repetitive impressions create excitement and encourage involvement with follow-through.”

What better reason to use continuity programs? And if you’re going to go this route, promotional products are a perfect adjunct because they deliver promotional messages in a unique and memorable way and can enhance a continuity program’s overall consistency.

What’s continuity? Think of it as a sustained conversation with your target audience. You develop a theme and a dialogue of sorts. During the conversation, you learn more about each other, build trust, and ultimately, a relationship.

Repartee like this isn’t easy, of course. You have to be knowledgeable, attentive and creative while keeping up the momentum of the exchange – and following up afterwards. Naturally, building an ongoing program around a theme takes creativity, time and manpower to execute. Continuity programs extending over weeks, months or even years require concentration. No wonder many marketing executives shy away from them. “I don’t see a lot of continuity programs going on right now in my customer base,” says promotional consultant Liz McCollum. Why? She cites time constraints and downsizing as contributing factors.

Purpose And Execution
McCollum has been a longtime advocate of continuity programs. “I love them,” she says. “I even use them for my own self-promotion.” Her firm has built a tradition of giving clients duck-themed gifts (the unofficial corporate mascot) throughout the year – beanbag ducks, backpack ducks, duck stickers, rubber ducks suspended in soap. Her clients have grown to expect the gifts and look forward to them. Naturally, continuity programs are far from limited to self-promotion. Series-type campaigns with a common theme may be used to promote trade shows, causes, products, services, company name changes and special events. Think of a convention being held at Disneyland, for example. An events planner might begin stirring interest six months in advance with a series of promotions.

Often, continuity is used to encourage and reward desired behaviors, such as in safety campaigns or loyalty programs. Or, a series of mailings or gifts can prompt consumer action. Erdman recalls an early continuity technique using a set of knives, sent one at a time in regularly scheduled mailings. Recipients qualified for the knives by responding to surveys or offers, or by accumulating reward points. Such ongoing incentives need not be built around a single product, however. In fact, many run from season to season or even year to year with an ever-changing selection of rewards. An overall program theme may be reflected in the instructional materials, reminders or newsletters participants receive, as well as the logo and tagline. The key is to give participants the opportunity over the long term to progressively earn more rewards.

Continuity programs come in as many forms as they do purposes. Continuity can be achieved through a three-step direct-mail campaign scheduled over several weeks. Or, you might plan a yearlong dealer loader with monthly reminders via memos and meetings, tiered rewards and a final grand prize. Ongoing consumer promotions can revolve around thematic e-mails, free-standing inserts (FSIs) and games. A continual ad campaign may tie into events with related promotional products for continuity over a period of months.

There are, obviously many choices; the challenge is making it all cohesive.

Begin With The End In Mind
Erdman outlines three important factors to consider when planning a continuity program: budget, timing and product. Define your desired results and work backwards. Many planners are concerned that with a tight budget, it’s impossible to plan a promotion that extends over any length of time. False. Not every leg of an ongoing promotion needs to involve expensive ad space or fancy direct mail. For example, a promotion planned to span three months may involve an e-mail to kick off, a teaser included in an invoice and then a two-part mailing that requires action (such as filling out a survey) to receive an incentive gift. It’s the copy and creativity that ties each segment of the promotion together, not expensive frills. Consider a campaign developed by Barbara Dail, a West Coast counselor. Her client, Xerox Corp.’s Federal Credit Union (FCU), set out to increase its mortgage loan portfolio by 25% during the peak period of April through September. A staggered program was designed around the concept that the FCU could provide the “seeds” to help customers put down “roots.” The tagline: “Bloom Where You’re Planted.” The promotional tie-in: 52,000 packets of “money-plant” seeds. The backs of the packets were imprinted with information about the recipients’ nearest credit union and its available mortgage/loan services.

But the seeds were just one part of the process. Postcards and paycheck stuffers were also distributed at predetermined intervals, each encouraging recipients to “Let Xerox Federal Credit Union help your roots grow.” Pictures of blooming plants and well-kept houses were part of the insert design. Bulleted lists detailed the types of mortgages and home equity/improvement loans available. Further, 22 “counter card” displays were created to remind customers of the campaign whenever they visited their branch office. In all, the campaign cost $23,386; a worthwhile investment, given that a total of $16.7 million in new loans was secured. This represented an increase of $7.8 million over the same loan period a year earlier.

Timing Is Everything
Your budget will naturally determine the number of times you’re able to reach your audience and how long the promotion runs. But there are some minimum requirements for a continuity program.

“A continuity program should be performed at least three times to achieve its full impact,” says promotional advisor Charlie Cochrane. “You’re trying to demonstrate your creativity, ability to execute on a timely basis and follow-through.” He notes that consistency is important: “It’s critical that the message be received in the same time period – every Monday or every fourth Monday.” If you want to stretch your program over the length of an entire year, McCollum suggests a quarterly schedule. One idea is to use seasonal themes. Or, select a holiday each quarter.

The length of continuity programs also varies according to the specific results desired. When the main vehicle is direct mail, most continuity programs run no longer than three to six weeks. For image enhancement it can be up to a year. When you’re planning a themed program that will extend over a long period, it’s important to map it out in the beginning, right down to the smallest details. That way you distribute your budget equally over the entire campaign rather than discovering you’re out of money in the last quarter. Once charted, you can look at the calendar and visually confirm that your program is consistent.

Select The Right Product
Consistency is also the reason it’s important to select products up front. “The promotional items must tie into the entire theme,” Cochrane notes. “The item itself isn’t as important as how it relates to the message being given.” Sometimes the product can suggest the thread of continuity, like in an incentive program used by Kroger-Atlanta. The grocery chain wanted to increase efficiency among its managers, so it selected portable executive organizers with an “at-a-glance” calendar of a specified selling period. The organizer kicked off a series of desktop-related gifts such as pens, notepads and mousepads. Each graphically tied into a space-camp theme of “Boosting sales to the outer limits.” Rather than a one-time gift of the organizer, the staggered arrival of other items served as constant reminders to use the productivity system.

Collectibles can also build continuity with an audience. Some corporations send certain types of products to special clients on a yearly basis. Crystal pieces or holiday ornaments are good examples.

Of course, using products over time to create continuity need not be limited to an annual gift. Stewart Associates and Design South have both used custom-designed silk ties and scarves to encourage key clients to visit their trade show booth each year. Design South creates a new look by changing the colors and abstracting the parent company’s logo so the design has an almost museum-quality look. Many promotional consultants offer design services that can help you customize a collection of gifts or incentives, in addition to choosing the products and planning distribution. “Let [them] know what you’re doing, and they’ll provide suggestions and advice,” suggests Cochrane.

Another area where a counselor can be particularly helpful is with the imprint you’ll be using. If you have a program that involves more than one product, you need to consider how the imprint will appear on each one. Sometimes a program’s cost can increase if decorators have to retool or change the design each time a different product is imprinted. Therefore, you’ll want to choose products that can all carry the same logo or color scheme.

For example, if you plan to silkscreen or embroider a range of products, the goal is to use the same screen or tape from one item to the next to reduce your overall expense. When planning for interchangeability you need to consider several factors:

Will the size of the imprint need to be increased or decreased because some products have different-sized imprint areas? Some type can become fuzzy when reduced or reveal jagged edges when enlarged.

Is the shape of the logo appropriate for the full selection of products? A tall rectangle, for example, is difficult if not impossible to reproduce on a clip pen.
v What imprinting processes will be used? Some, such as hot-stamping, don’t lend themselves to fine, fancy, scrolling typestyles. Simplicity is usually the best choice.

Worthy Investment
If all these details have you wondering whether continuity programs are worthwhile, think about the last time you invested a little thought and effort in establishing a dialogue with an important prospect at a business luncheon – the time it took to schedule, follow-up with a thank-you note and perhaps even an e-mail to share information. Did it result in profitable business? The same is true with continuity programs – they’re a promotional dialogue that binds you and your customers together over the long haul.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.

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