The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Stronger, More Distinctive Brand
Cutting-edge branding solutions for growing businesses
Businesses, regardless of the industry they operate in, can often rise or fall depending on the strength of their brand.
Your brand is your business’ identity. It determines the way your target customers, competitors and the media perceive you. It is the complete sum of everything you use to represent yourself in the public domain, from the font of your logo to the way your staff greet customers. As a result, every single detail of your brand needs to be perfectly aligned with your values, long-term goals and the image you wish to project.
This extends to all your marketing material, but have you ever considered creating branded merchandise to complement this? From simple pens and key rings with your logo printed on them, to sophisticated bespoke items, the right merchandise will help keep your brand visible and ensure that the right people remember you. Quality merchandise instantly establishes you as a serious, bona fide business, helping you make a great first impression every time.
However, with so many different options available and so many different companies offering branded materials nowadays, acquiring merchandise that not only suits your budget but also helps show your business in its very best light can be easier said than done.
As the MD of Magellan World, I've helped hundreds of businesses not only develop their brand, but ensure they've got the right merchandise to establish it in the marketplace. I know exactly what it takes to develop a brand that immediately positions you ahead of your competitors, before your target customers have even contacted you.
And that’s what I'm going to share with you in the this guide.
In this guide, I’ll be looking at all the different elements that need to be considered as part of a truly strong, memorable brand, from selecting which merchandise will be right for your business and your clients, to choosing the right company to create and deliver it for you. Once you start putting all this into practice, you are sure to see a dramatic improvement in your brand’s overall strength and visibility, which will, in turn, help your business rise to the next level!
Why create your own branded merchandise?
Branded merchandise is one of the most effective ways of ensuring that your brand sticks in the minds of the right people, so the next time they need your services, you are the first business that springs to mind. Branded merchandise helps keep the ‘face’ of your business front and centre at all times. Rather than advertising, which will only ever be visible to potential clients for a few seconds at a time, branded merchandise stays on their desks and may well get used every single day. No other form of marketing gives you this level of sustained, yet non-invasive exposure, relative to the initial costs.
Remember, a potential customer is unlikely to be interested in doing business with you straight away, but may well wish to do so in three months’ time. It’s therefore important to ensure that you are still very much at the forefront of their minds when that moment arrives. Now imagine what effect it would have if they were in desperate need of a business that provides your product or service and they were carefully considering their options when, as they lift up their coffee cup to take a sip, they see your logo and phone number printed on the side…
Suddenly, all thoughts of your competitors are pushed aside and they instantly get on the phone to arrange an appointment with you!
While it's true that you can use the internet to help develop your brand, using online marketing to grow your database and sending promotional material via email, most professionals receive a large number of emails each day; so much so that there’s no guarantee the file you've invested time and effort in will be read, or even opened. On the other hand, if someone receives a package when the mail arrives, it instantly gets their attention, and if the contents are genuinely interesting and eye-catching, you’ll have instantly turned a cold lead into an interested prospect!
Choosing the branded merchandise that’s right for your business
There’s a near-infinite variety of promotional merchandise out there nowadays, ranging from generic, commonplace items to highly distinctive material created to suit specific businesses. This means that you’ll need to put a bit of thought into which branded materials will best suit you.
Regardless of which direction you want to take, the key difference between a successful piece of merchandise that helps grow your brand and one that gets thrown away or lost behind the sofa cushions is longevity. Is it something that people will keep and use? Desktop items – such as coasters, mouse mats, pen holders or mobile phone holders – are all very popular for this reason, albeit fairly traditional. Holiday merchandise is often a hit for similar reasons.
Items like this will generally be popular with everyone, but you can be far more focused with your branded merchandise. For example, branded golf equipment – such as tees, umbrellas, bags, flags and deckchairs – is often very popular amongst corporate clients, especially if they hold company golfing events, and might be something you’d want to consider if you’re interested in acquiring that sort of client.
The only limit is your imagination!
One important point to consider is the ‘brandable’ area on the item: the space you have available to personalise it. On smaller items you may only have space for a logo and possibly a phone number, so it’s important that you consider how much information you want your merchandise to carry. However, it may well be possible to customise a standard piece of merchandise to better suit your needs. For example, a tin of breath mints will usually just have space for your company’s logo on the lid, which limits your options, but if you paid a little extra (and I do mean a little – jobs like this won’t necessarily cost much extra), you could have the whole tin customised with your company colours, with your address, phone number and website address on the reverse.
If you’re in any doubt, I would strongly recommend that you work with an experienced consultant, who will discuss your goals for your branded merchandise with you in detail, advising you on the available options that are within your budget and have been proven to work well for businesses similar to yours. It’s far better to get this advice early on and invest in branded merchandise that will serve you well and deliver the desired return on your investment, rather than getting stuck in an expensive and time-consuming game of trial and error.
They will also be able to clear up any misconceptions you may have about branded merchandise. There are many items out there that are deceptively cheap, yet have a high perceived value to your clients. On other side of the coin, there are certain items that are quite expensive to produce, but are not always effective enough to justify that cost. An experienced consultant will have no problem advising you on matters like this.
Getting the best price for your branded merchandise
It’s unlikely that you’ll have an unlimited amount of money to spend on branded merchandise, so it’s important that your consultant is able to get you the best possible price for any items you invest in. A large percentage of branded merchandise is manufactured in the Far East nowadays, where it is created from scratch, rather than simply overprinted with your colours and logo. The practical effect of this is that if you do require unique custom items of some description, it will still cost you a little more, but it will still be far less than if you had wanted the same items created in the UK, especially if you are buying them in large quantities.
The only downside is that the lead time will be slightly longer, but you can compensate for this by planning what branded merchandise you’ll need well in advance. Rather than waiting until the month you want to start sending your merchandise out, why not plan the next year’s merchandise in advance, so you’ll be 100% sure it’ll be ready on time? I’d strongly advise you to adopt this approach if your new merchandise is considered especially important, as this will give you time to make any adjustments and refinements that are necessary during the design and manufacturing processes.
Furthermore, if a courier turns out to be late with the delivery of your merchandise (which, in my experience, is the most common reason for branded merchandise not arriving on time), planning the delivery well in advance of the date they are actually needed means that this needn't completely derail your plans.
Although it may be possible to have ad hoc merchandise created and delivered to very tight deadlines, depending on the item, the quantities and the colours involved, it’s always a risky strategy to take and one that not all merchandising companies will be able to accommodate. Not only does it mean that arranging a timely delivery becomes more challenging – and may involve arranging drop shipping – it’s also highly unlikely that you’ll be as happy with the finished products as you would be if you’d planned a little further in advance.
Why it’s always a mistake to invest in cheap merchandise
Regardless of your budget, it’s always important to invest that little bit extra in your branded merchandise to ensure it is as high quality as possible. Although cutting corners may save you a little money in the short term, consider the reason you’re investing in this merchandise – to create a strong, visible brand that reflects your business’ high standards and the quality of your products or services. What sort of impression do you think you’ll make if all your merchandise is cheaply made, with a poor quality logo printed on it?
This can easily prove fatal, especially if your business offers a high-end product or service, so be willing to go that extra mile when it comes to your merchandise. The long-term benefits will more than pay for the initial expense.
This applies to even the simplest of items. For example, how many pens do you already have on your desk? Odds are, when you actually need to write something, you’ll reach for the best one. Bear this in mind when creating your own branded pens (or any similar items). If you offer people a pen that’s genuinely good quality, they’ll actually use it… and they’ll be looking at your logo every time they do!
Creating different levels of merchandising
When handing out your branded merchandise, it’s important that you consider the recipient’s position within their company. After all, you wouldn't offer a cheap Biro to a CEO! However, this doesn't mean you have to go over-budget. The secret is to create different levels of merchandising. For example, you could create one set of merchandise that’s a little cheaper to produce and another, more high-end level, that you can give to higher level clients and give to your salespeople to hand out during their one-on-one meetings. Continuing with our example of pens, you could have some simple pens printed with your logo to hand out in bulk at your exhibition stands, and a limited number with better quality colours and graphics, perhaps even with your company name engraved rather than printed, and packaged with a quality business card and company brochure.
It’s the little touches like this that can make all the difference to your overall brand!
Getting better results from your tenders through your branded merchandise
Branded merchandise can make all the difference to the result of your next tender. Even though a lot of tendering takes place online nowadays, there’s still a lot to be said for the impact actually sending something can make. Rather than sending all your documents in a plain, generic tender box, why not invest a little in some quality boxes, printed in your company colours and featuring your logo and contact details? As a bonus, if it’s a quality box it can then be used for storing documents around the office!
You can adopt a similar approach when you send out any important documents. Even if you don’t include any other merchandise in the box, it’s a great way of making a good first impression.
Some fresh, exciting ideas for your branded merchandise
One of the challenges with branded merchandise is identifying ideas that will be genuinely useful to people, but not so commonplace that they’ll already have more of them than they know what to do with.
For example, lanyards have plenty of day-to-day uses, yet are the sort of thing that people always seem to be missing when they most need them to attach to a USB or something similar! Why not invest in some quality, heavy-duty lanyards in your corporate colours, with your logo printed on them. You may well find that your clients start asking you if they can have more once they try them – a great opportunity to develop rapport with both potential and existing customers!
Speaking of building rapport, video has become more and more important in establishing a strong brand identity; to the extent that every aspect of your brand and your marketing should involve video in some way. For example, you should include videos on each and every important page of your website, as well as on your social media pages. This is something that’s become standard practice amongst businesses, but why not take it a step further and package your videos in a way that really catches people’s attention?
One of the best ways to do this is a video pack. Imagine a potential client receiving a package that looks and feels like a hardback book, only to find that when they open it there’s a video screen inside, on which you immediately appear and introduce yourself with something like:
“Hello! I hope you’re well and have received this pack. I’d have loved to sit down with you personally to introduce our company, but this is the next best thing. I’d like to introduce our new products…”
From then on, there’ll be a series of buttons for them to navigate through your different videos (one for each of your product ranges and one for a little bit of history about your company, for example). These devices can be easily recharged and reused for a variety of purposes, such as handing out individual video cards at events, or even during training sessions, where delegates can each be given a video pack with the appropriate information that they can study and then hand back in.
It’s an incredibly striking, effective way of differentiating yourself from the competition. While people are prone to losing brochures and will usually just delete any PDFs that arrive in their inboxes, they’re unlikely to forget a first impression like this!
Choosing the right company to create and deliver your branded merchandise
There are a lot of different companies offering a wide range of branded merchandise nowadays, so it’s important that you do a little research and work with one who will be able to deliver what’s needed on time, to budget and to the highest professional standards.
Most importantly, they should be able to handle all the different elements of your branded merchandise and manage the whole process to ensure the finished products are all consistent in style and accurately reflect your brand. For example, if you need to order pens, CDs, coffee cups and stickers showcasing your brand, there’ll be a lot of different manufacturers involved in their creation, so it’s important that you work with a company who will engage with them all and ensure your requirements have been accurately communicated. Given that consistency is such a fundamental part of developing a strong brand, this is an absolutely essential part of the process.
If you have one merchandising company who can handle everything in this way through one user account, it will also make packaging and shipping far more straightforward to arrange and it’s far more likely that they’ll have the flexibility needed to provide you with small quantities of certain items if you need them at short notice. Your staff will almost certainly have more important things to do with their working day than stuff envelopes, so if your merchandising company are able to help with things like this, it can save you a lot of time and money.
Above all else, your merchandising company should do more than just deliver the materials you've paid for – you should expect them to do that as a matter of course! They should be a trusted partner for your company; one that not only supports you in the creation of a better brand, but proposes innovative solutions you may not have considered on your own and has no problem accommodating unusual requests. If they are unable to fulfil a particular requirement, they should have no problem referring you to someone who can.
As an experienced merchandising company, they will have built up a wide network of trusted contacts over the years.
I hope this guide has helped you reconsider the way you position your own brand in the marketplace. In conclusion, let me encourage you to use your creativity as much as possible when creating your branded merchandise. Never be afraid to try something new, as it could well open up whole new areas of business for you. If you choose the right merchandising company and develop a strong working relationship with them, the sky is the limit!