19 Important Promotional Products Industry Trends

In order to get people to purchase a product or service, you’ve got to introduce people to the items or services that are for sale. Whether it’s a brand awareness campaign, strategic apparel placement, or customized offerings, the promotional products industry trends are showing that evolution is indeed occurring.

According to PPAI, wearables as been the most popular trend embraced by consumers today. 32% of product sales fell into this category, which was 4x higher than the next closest option, writing instruments, at 7.67%.

In the past, the goal of the promotional products industry was to purchase the cheapest possible items in order to give them away. A few years ago, that was popular because getting free stuff was a nice change of pace. Today’s consumer, however, wants something that has value and use. They’re even willing to pay a little bit of these high value items if it is useful. That’s why you’ll see the top 6 sales categories are all useful items.

Cheap Products Promote a Cheap Brand

  • From the 2016 PPAI Expo, the general consensus is that companies are willing to invest into high-end promotional products so that people are left with a great impression of the brand itself. T-Mobile is a great example of this with their “Get Thanked” weekly Tuesday campaign that offers consumers free t-shirts, movie rentals, coupons, and other products that are brand associated.
  • The goal is to do more than just create a useful item. Promotional items are the most popular when they are high quality, long-lasting products. Although this increases the expenses for a company, the promotional products industry benefits in two ways: higher revenues and a better overall perception of the products offered.
  • Value is being seen in more than just cost and quality in the industry. There is also a push to create environmentally friendly products that help potential customers feel good about a brand. For this reason, reusable bags, totes, and similar products with branding are a Top 5 distributed product. Look for even more options in this area to be made available in the future, including backpacks, purses, or even briefcases.
  • When a promotional product is received by someone and it is an environmentally friendly product, then there is a more than 40% higher favorable opinion of that brand. Other sustainable options may include recycled paper products, bamboo products, and fully biodegradable products.
  • Technology products will continue to be seen as the most valuable items the industry has to offer. Juicebox offers a great promotional product called a “power bank,” but it looks like an actual juice box. According to the Delta Marketing Group, 87% of consumers state they would keep a promotional power bank because it’s useful, and 60% said they would do business with an advertiser who gave them a power bank.

For the promotional products industry, now really is an exciting time. It’s like companies have discovered the benefit of handing out pens with their logo on it all over again, but on a much larger scale. Now companies are contacting the industry to create high-quality items, creating higher revenues in the process. Because there will always be a need for added brand exposure, there will always be a need to order more products – especially as competition levels within an industry keep rising. This bodes very well in the next decade for the promotional products industry, assuming the desire for high-quality, sustainable products continues to be a point of emphasis.

Presentation is Just as Important for the Industry

  • Just handing out promotional items isn’t enough for the modern company to make the right impression. There must also be a presentation in the offering or a customized experienced offered with the product in order for the item to stand out.
  • This offers the promotional products industry the opportunity to branch out product offerings into customized packaging. Not only do customized products typically have higher profit margins and sales prices, but in a world where everything is basically a click away on the internet, it makes a product easier to remember.
  • Look for partnership opportunities with businesses who have brand awareness campaigns to provide market specific, community specific, or even individualized promotional items for an increased level of value. As companies look for more custom packaging and presentation options, the need for these items will only expand.
  • Forward-thinking industry members will also begin to offer presentation suggestions, packages, or products along with the actual items that are being used. This will open up new product lines in the next decade, make presentations easier for each company, and ultimately help consumers find the best products to meet their needs. Everyone wins in such a scenario.
  • Watch for companies to also approach the promotional products industry to created a tiered giveaway strategy which features more products. Some items might be given away for free, but another item might be offered for contact information. A third item might be offered for an application. A fourth item might be offered with a first purchase. This means promotional products are becoming part of an integrated marketing strategy instead of a simple giveaway at a show.
  • For the popular apparels category, new product options include scarves, ponchos, and even socks. If it’s something you’d want to purchase in a store for yourself, there’s a product category for it today – except maybe underwear.

Just about anything can be used as a promotional product if there is branding or a logo placed on it. That doesn’t make it a good product, however, because it’s the presentation that keeps the branding at the top of the consumers mind. You can drink coffee without realizing what is on your cup. If you hand someone a coffee mug and then dump a bag of roasted beans on their head, they’re more likely to remember the brand – and hopefully in a positive way. This is where the promotional product industry has an opportunity to evolve. By offering presentation ideas and products in addition to the actual giveaways, a bigger impression can be made and the industry creates new revenue opportunities.

An Upcoming Challenge: Changing Product Categories

  • In 2015, the top selling category for the promotional products industry was business gifts [13.37%]. This was followed up by brand awareness [12.24%], employee relations and events [11.95%], trade shows [10.32%], and dealer distributor programs [7.04%].
  • As companies begin to include more promotional products to attract new customers to their brand, a shift in product category will be necessary compared to what has traditionally been strong sellers. New customer items were just 6.96% of sales in 2015. New product items were just 4.32%. Customer referral items were just over 3%. About an equal amount of money is being spent on employee morale as is being spent on customer acquisition and retention.
  • The most popular item being offered? T-shirts. This is followed by pens, pencils and totebags. In the office supplies category, the most popular item is currently folders.
  • Surprisingly, most of the sales for the industry actually occur in direct offline B2B relationships for the industry. In 2015, total revenues in the US equaled $20.8 billion, but only $3.9 billion came from online sales.
  • Companies that earn $250k-$500k in revenues are actually outspent by companies earning less than $250k in sales on a regular basis. Since 2011, only once [in 2012] did the larger companies purchase more promotional products. If the industry can promote the benefits of these products to this rather stubborn category, it can enhance the expected growth.
  • Since 2011, the total revenue figures have increased by $3.1 billion annually. It is this expected level of growth to continue occurring in the next 5 years, assuming that the industry can meet the upcoming challenges it will be facing.
  • New products will also need to be developed in the coming years to match evolving consumer tastes. In the 2016 PPAI Expo, new product offerings included adult coloring books, healthy drinkwear multi-purpose cups, phone charging ports, and even Bluetooth speakers. The industry tends to be reactive to trends – watch for the industry to shift more toward being proactive in setting the trends that companies and consumers will want in the next decade.

There will always be a need to make employees feel appreciated. There will always be a need to bring in new customers and spread brand awareness. How this is balanced will evolve over the next 5-10 years as more companies look to retain customers with high value products and offer other incentives to their employees for appreciation. Instead of a clock or a watch, employees might prefer an extra week of vacation, more sick leave, or a simple raise… many workers in the US have yet to receive more than a cost of living raise since 2008. If the promotional products industry can shift gears to meet these changing needs, then there will continue to be strong sales and revenue growth.

Promotional Marketing

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