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Romancing The Specialty

Romancing The Specialty: How To Put The "Extra" In Extraordinary
By Cathy Cain

A mug sounds a bit mundane? A T-shirt too tiresome? Blasé about bags? If you've ever rejected a product out of hand because you considered it too run-of-the-mill, it's time to broaden your understanding of how to make any ad specialty a show-stopper. (Hint: It's not just about picking a product...) Has anyone ever suggested you sweet-talk your customers and prospects? Even if you don't have a romantic bone in your body, you understand the suggestion has merit. Last year Hallmark, the personal expression leader, reported revenues of $4 billion - and not because society covets paper.

The real reason: Messages matter.

So the next time you get together with your counselor, ask how a romance card can help boost the effectiveness of a promotion or campaign. According to promotional consultant Marsha Londe, a card allows the giver to "enhance" the message conveyed by the logoed product. It also reinforces the gift itself. And the cost is likely negligible when balanced against that of the entire promotion.

Love Letters
One of Londe's clients is a five-hospital health system. The organization called her unexpectedly to report that it had received an award out of the blue. "While it was vital to promote the award to everyone who worked in the five hospitals, they hadn't budgeted for the announcement, and they had almost zero money to spend," Londe recalls.

Knowing the client's employees liked to express their individuality by wearing lapel pins, Londe proposed a pin featuring five stars - one representing each hospital - and the words, "Top 100." To convey management's pride and explain the significance of the award (and the reason it was bestowed), each pin was attached to a card likening employees' professionalism to what many consider the ultimate in service: five-star restaurants and hotels. Londe points out that without the card to relay management's gratitude and explain the significance, the pin wouldn't have had the same impact.

Or how about this romance card with a more lighthearted touch: The Sugar Grove Church of Christ was erecting a church in a 25-year-old bedroom community on the south side of Houston - the first ever for the town - and embarked on a year-long marketing campaign to build its congregation. While the promotion, conceived by counselor Don Anderson, centered around a serious message about achieving personal success in life, it was still playful in its approach. One promotion consisted of a bag of Lay's potato chips, an imprinted plastic clip to keep the bag closed after opening it and a card bearing a message from the minister. Titled "Life is like a bag of chips," the message compared life to just that - how it starts out fresh but can become stale as time beats its path through our daily lives. He then discussed how joining the church would help keep recipients' lives fresh and alive, and how the clip would keep their potato chips fresh. The back of the card provided location information and the schedule of worship services. Each package was hand-delivered to 1,800 residents.

Sometimes, More Is More
Are you getting the idea? It's not just the product that makes for a successful promotion; it's how you contextualize it - the presentation, what accompanies it, how it's positioned, enhanced, romanced.

Another way you and your counselor can work together to meet a promotion's objectives is to use multiple products. Sure, it might cost a little bit more - or maybe not, depending on how well the two of you manage the budget - but the outcome can make it more than worthwhile.

Example: When Stryker Instruments, a manufacturer and distributor of specialty surgical and medical products, held a conference in April at Disney's Grand Californian Spa & Resort to introduce its Neptune Waste Management System to 250 operating-room managers and nurses, it contacted counselor Amy Geil Susan to come up with a gift designed to pamper attendees and remind them of the event. Even with a fairly healthy per-person budget of $20, Susan felt that using more than a single gift would work best to recreate the tranquil feeling Stryker's clients experienced as guests of the resort.

She proposed a "spa kit," presenting Stryker with roughly 20 relaxation-oriented products to consider for a package. They ultimately selected an aromatherapy eye pillow filled with flax and lavender buds (accompanied by an instruction sheet with stress-reduction tips) and two vanilla-scented votive candles. The gifts were presented nestled among curled wood shavings in a custom three-piece wood box, a reminder of the resort's wooded setting.

The company/product logos were subtly laser-engraved on the box itself, but not on the eye pillow or candles. Even though the box bore the logo, it became something of an added bonus due to the focus placed on the relaxation aspect of its contents. "Because of the sensitivity of the Neptune system, [a system for collecting, storing and disposing of operating-room waste]," explains Susan, "we wanted the gift to focus on the event and the experience. We didn't see a need to over-emphasize the conference sponsor." Stryker deemed the gifts a perfect complement to its program, providing attendees with both short-term pleasure and a permanent keepsake.

Theory Of Relativity
But while multiple-gift packages are often appropriate for event marketing, there's no need to assume that all the products must be related to the particular event - or even to each other, for that matter.

Consider a golf outing. Would every golfer appreciate and use logoed golf balls? Probably. But how effective is the promotion if the balls wind up in the woods or the water within three hours? Not very, says promotional consultant Peter Johnson, pointing out that the cost-per-impression skyrockets should the golf balls become irretrievable.

Even so, you don't need to abandon the idea of distributing golf balls at your firm's next golf outing. Consider what Johnson suggested to several clients: Place the balls in a double old-fashioned glass and engrave the glass with the date of the outing and logo of the golf course or country club. If it's a charity outing, insert a pledge card in the glass along with the balls, then put a lid on top.

"You accomplish much more than just giving each participant some golf balls," he says, noting that the glass, while having nothing at all to do with golf (except perhaps the club's bar), is an unexpected extra that serves as a permanent reminder once the balls become lost or worn out.

Don't Ignore The Obscure
Ever faced with a problem you spent hours trying to solve? It probably took some distance to re-examine the situation and come up with a solution. Apply the same strategy the next time you and your counselor want to generate a novel promotion.

Let's say your company, a three-year-old technology firm, is preparing to hold its first high-level summit for key clients in a very prestigious location. Your agenda and presentations are set, the employees are pumped, and your clients are certain to be impressed with the luncheon you've arranged.

But while you're a promotional products devotee, you know what's left in your budget doesn't really allow for something you'd consider a truly memorable, destined-to-be-used gift. Still, you want to give something. When your counselor proposes a T-shirt, your heart sinks.

It shouldn't, says promotional consultant Cliff Quicksell. True, T-shirts are plentiful, and many people have at least a drawer-full at home. But how many have one where the image changes while it's being worn?

"A sure-fire way to get a recipient excited about a T-shirt is to focus on the artwork and production process," says Quicksell. "There are a variety of techniques that ensure a shirt will be talked about and worn again and again. Shirts can be made with foils, glitter inks, photochromatic inks, high-density inks, thermochromatic inks, or a combination of techniques. When a firm needs a different shirt, they can get it."

But that's production. What about presentation? Can this help turn a more conventional product into a can't-miss promotion? Most definitely. Case in point: several years ago, Anderson became a Marriott Courtyard Hotel Gold Club Member. He easily met the one and only membership requirement: he had spent more than 36 nights a year at one of the chain's hotels. But he quickly realized that Gold Club status was near-meaningless; members weren't offered any perks or benefits.

Being in the profession he's in, Anderson approached Marriott management with an idea for a program recognizing customer loyalty. Every day, each Marriott property would select a Gold Club Member of the Day, placing a sign in the lobby to welcome and identify the individual upon arrival. Upon entering his room, the club member would find a gift package featuring soft drinks, freshly made cookies and a logoed travel mug filled with hard candies. "Equally important to the success of the promotion," adds Anderson, "was that the guest received a note from the hotel manager thanking him for his loyalty and making him feel special."

Some products are considered special by recipients regardless of how they're packaged or presented. But even those typically high-end items can fare better when distributed with a bit of panache. Imagine the impact of delivering an imprinted jacket in an imprinted garment bag or a shirt in a logoed duffel bag. How about adorning an employee-of-the-year jacket with a custom zipper pull? Need something at a lower price point? A custom wood hanger may do the trick. A few years ago, for a self-promotion, Quicksell delivered a jacket to a potential client with his signature laser-engraved on the hanger. "He liked the jacket," he says, "but he was more excited about the hanger. He left the jacket in his office and ran around showing the hanger to his co-workers."

Put It Together
To quickly review the basics of romancing a promotional product: a) include a meaningful message; b) use a combination of related products; c) take advantage of unusual production techniques; and d) present the products with fanfare. Viola! Your clients will love you.

Now how do you put all that knowledge into practice? A lot depends on your relationship with your counselor. If your mindset is that any product will do and you simply ask "what's new?" you're essentially tying your counselor's hands and setting yourself up for a restrictive, potentially lackluster program.

Londe recommends that time be invested in the discovery process. Talk with your counselor up front about your goals, target audience, budget and any other information germane to the project at hand. "Every time we put a logo on a product, we're marketing," she explains. "But we can only be properly equipped with a thorough understanding of a client's needs and circumstances."

Together, you can make the most of every promotional opportunity.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Cathy Cain is a freelance writer based in Highland Park, IL.

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