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Branding: Distributing Promotional Gifts

Yesterday, we talked about choosing promotional gifts to reinforce your brand image. Once you have them in hand, what distribution channels should you use?

The opportunities for distributing promotional items is virtually limitless, but can be discussed in terms of two groups: customers and potential customers.

A good rule of thumb is to first take care of your customers. If, for example, you sell products, include a promotional gift in the bag or shipment. An unexpected treat is always appreciated, and will serve to reinforce both your brand and customer loyalty.

You can also use promotional gifts as a teaser in your marketing efforts to customers – whether online or offline. If you do an email blast, for example, you can promise that the first 50 customers will receive a valuable gift, or that customers will receive a gift if they enter a special promotional code. In print advertising, you can include a coupon for a gift or ask customers to bring in the ad to receive their gift. During the holidays, send a more expensive promotional gift to your best customers to show your appreciation. Send the rest of your customers calendars that reflect your brand image, so your company will resonate with them year-round.

Promotional gifts can also be used in a variety of ways for potential customers. If your business is mostly local (or you wish to draw a greater number of local customers), you can set up a table at a local school or church event, a regional fair, or another local event. If you serve a niche market, you can give promotional items away at a trade show booth. You can also include promotional gifts in direct mail pieces – just make sure the gifts you choose are light, so that they don’t add too much to your postage costs.

By selecting and distributing the right promotional gifts, you can raise awareness of your brand, reinforce customer loyalty, and draw new customers into your business.


Branding: Selecting Promotional Gifts

Over the past week, we’ve been discussing a variety of ways to develop, internalize, and communicate a brand image. Today, we’ll discuss one way to reinforce brand awareness: promotional gifts

We’ve all been on the receiving end of promotional tchotchkes – key rings, pens, potholders, and refrigerator magnets. Despite their kitschy nature, promotional gifts can be an effective way to increase brand awareness – if you do it right.

What’s the “right” way? Well, it starts with selecting the right giveaway. First, try to select a promotional item that complements your product or service. If you’re a beverage distributor, cups or sports bottles will work. If you sell golf accessories online, golf balls are a natural. If you are in the fitness field, a clip-on pedometer might be appropriate. If you can’t find a product that is a perfect fit, try for the right shape. If you’re a Realtor, for example, go for products in the shape of a house.

The other factor to keep in mind is selecting a product that will be used. Companies give out pens for a reason – they have longevity and tend to travel around from person to person. Don’t waste money on something really cute that will be tossed or stuck in the back of a closet. A tote bag might be a great giveaway at a conference, but chances are good that it won’t see the light of day once the conference is over.

Most important of all, stay true to the visual elements of your brand. In other words, whichever promotional products you choose to buy, make sure they reflect your brand’s color scheme, and ensure that you’ll be able to place your logo and use your font or fonts for taglines and contact information. It does more harm than good to have a promotional item that doesn’t reinforce the visual elements of your brand.

Lastly, it’s a good idea to select several different promotional items at different price points. That way, you’ll be able to use them for different purposes (which we’ll discuss tomorrow).


Branding: Expressing Your Brand Identity

This week, we’ve been talking about the branding process, and how important it is to develop a well-thought out company name and brand identity. Today, we’ll talk about expressing your brand identity through a logo, tagline, and other visual identifiers.

If yours is a small business, you may be tempted to create a logo yourself, using a DIY graphics program. Try and resist the temptation. Like web design, logo creation is best left to a graphic artist. You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for a professional logo. Find a freelance site (Elance is one such site), and it won’t cost you much. You should be able to get a few logos from which to choose, and then receive your finalized logo in a variety of sizes and file formats.

During the logo design process, you’ll need to decide on a color palette. These colors will be carried through various aspects of your business, from business cards to your Internet advertising to your website. Choose colors that reinforce the brand image you’ve already identified. In the Hawaiian coffee example we’ve been using, brown could express the concept of coffee, green could express that our company is committed to a small carbon footprint, or bright colors could express Hawaii’s tropical nature.

The images you choose should also reflect your brand identity. If you want to communicate that yours concentrates on the lighter side of coffee, maybe your logo should incorporate a coffee bean or a cup of coffee with a Hawaiian lei draped around it.

Your tagline or slogan doesn’t have to be a part of your logo, but you’ll need one for your website and for your advertising and marketing efforts. Again, make sure that it relates to your differentiating factors and that it reflects your product. It can be a statement of value proposition to the customer, a play on words, or an expression of expertise.

The other visual identifier that you need to decide upon is typography. These are fonts that you’ll use in everything from your invoices to your website. Again, you may want to get the advice of a graphic artist, since you’ll need fonts that will complement your logo. After selecting the font or fonts you’re going to incorporate as part of your brand identity, everyone in the company must be disciplined about using them. Doing so will reinforce your brand image in the eyes of your customers and potential customers, and present a professional and unified face to the public.

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll talk about another aspect of branding.


Branding: Defining Your Brand Identity

Yesterday we discussed the advantages of selecting a company name that reflects what your company does and incorporates your primary keyword. Today we’ll cover the steps you can take to define your brand identity.

Your company’s or product’s brand identity serves to lay the foundation from which many other actions arise – including Internet marketing. Arguably, creating a brand identity helps you as much as it helps your customers. This is because defining your brand helps drive many facets of both product/service development and marketing strategies.

So, the first steps in establishing your brand identity are to ask yourself two questions. The first is, what products and/or services does my company offer? The second is, what differentiates me from my competition? Keep in mind that today’s online marketplace rewards those who are in niche markets. Our example from yesterday involved selling Hawaiian coffee. This is a niche market, with much fewer competitors than, say, a company that sells all kinds of coffee. So, narrowing your product or service can be one aspect of your branding strategy.

The other is the differentiation aspect. There are so many “me too” companies online that you need to know what makes you different. This differentiation will help drive everything from customer service to order fulfillment to where you place your advertising and marketing dollars. With our Hawaiian coffee example, perhaps your differentiating factor is that you have an exclusive contract with one coffee plantation. Perhaps it’s that you restrict your products to 100% Kona coffee. Maybe it’s that you sell only organic Hawaiian coffee.

There are other kinds of differentiations as well. Perhaps your company will occupy a certain price point – such as only the rarest, most exclusive Hawaiian coffees, or, on the other end of the spectrum, bargain Hawaiian coffees. Maybe it will specialize in gifts, offering Hawaiian coffee gift baskets. It could be that your company guarantees overnight shipping, or that your company has a commitment to reducing or eliminating its carbon footprint.

Get creative and think of what makes your company different from your competition. In addition to paving the way for defining other aspects of your operation, the process will ensure that everyone within the company is on the same page. This helps in many facets of organization building, from creating business plans to return policies.

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll discuss another aspect of branding.


Branding: The Name Comes First

In virtually every industry, there are iconic brands whose names are synonymous with their product or service. Think of Nike or Budweiser or Coke or Google, and you immediately picture a product. Some brands are so ingrained that they’ve become interchangeable for the name of the product. We don’t usually say “tissue” – we say “Kleenex.”

Clearly, huge conglomerates and multinational companies have poured billions of dollars into creating brand awareness and maintaining their position in the marketplace. While small- and medium-sized businesses don’t have the resources to do the same, there are some strategies the smaller guys can use to establish a brand and to will help draw customers to them. We’ll be talking about them this week.

If you’re just starting out, or if your company is in its infancy, the place to start is with your company name. If you’re primarily an online company and will engage in Internet marketing, it’s helpful to select a name that represents your product or service. For example, although UPS is now an iconic brand (who doesn’t think of brown trucks when they think of UPS?), they started out as United Parcel Service. Simple. Straightforward. Easy to understand.

In selecting a name for your online business, it’s often best to start by seeing what domain names are available. You want your URL to explain what your company does, express your company name, and (ideally) incorporate your primary keyword. So, the available URLs can actually dictate your company name. For example, if you sell Hawaiian coffee, check out available URLs at a domain registration site like GoDaddy. You can quickly see that hawaiiancoffee.com is already taken, but that hawaiiancoffeenow.com is available. For an online company, the name Hawaiian Coffee Now is a much better branding strategy than, say, Sarah’s Favorite Beverage.

Selecting a company name is the first step in developing and promoting a brand. Check back tomorrow, when we’ll discuss defining your brand identity.