How to Make your Promotional Products Business Stand Out
For aspiring entrepreneurs and salespeople, the promotional products industry is a pretty great place to build a business: It's a $22 billion industry, growth is steady, and most people need what you sell.This is the good news.The bad news is that the industry is extremely competitive, barriers to entry are low, most people have access to the same products, margin pressure is real and your clients can source direct on the internet.In this guide we will give you the tools and resources to help get your promotional products business off the ground and stay 2-steps ahead of the competition.Contents:Identify a target market or nicheResearch your competitionFind your unique angleCreate your own brand identityCurate your own product lineThink how you can go beyond the productUse modern technology to run your businessMarketing strategiesIndustry resources and toolsSummaryNote: When we refer to promotional products business, we are specifically referring to a distributor versus a supplier. A distributor refers to a company that sells products and concepts to end clients. Look for another guide on how to start a supplier company down the road.
Identify a target market or nicheIt is so much easier to start a business when you understand the needs of your target customer. This may sound obvious, but the trap that many new (and experienced) distributors fall into is the "I can get any customer any imprinted promotional product" trap.Resist this urge. Stop and focus. It may be easy money in the short term, but you will pay the price down the road. Here are some things to consider when identifying a target market:
- What are you passionate about in life? Is it yoga, photography, camping, hockey, technology, music, dogs, kite surfing, knitting ... you get the drift.
- Look at your network. What sectors do your friends work in? Call them up and interview them about the challenges they experience in their business lives. Look for opportunities as this will help you build your value proposition when you enter the market.
- What types of people do you want to be around all day? The best clients are those who share your worldview and want to see you succeed. Do you want to spend time working with clients who cause you stress? Paint a picture of the perfect personality type and then target those people. You will always do your best work for people you like and respect.
Research your competitionYour true competitor is not the generalist promotional distributor that sells anything to everyone. Your competitor is the distributor that sells into your market already.Do a quick Google search for "promotional products XYZ target market"Ask any friends of yours where they currently buy promotional items (this should be part of the information gathering I mention in point #1)
- How have your competitors positioned themselves in the market?
- How are they differentiating themselves?
- Are they competing on price?
- Are they competing on design?
- Are they competing on product selection?
- What's their silver bullet?
- Where are they weak compared to you?
Find your unique angleWhy are you starting this company? What makes you different from the competition? Why should anyone buy from you over the competition?It's important to remember that customers naturally put their vendors into a box. This can be a bad thing, but if you are unique enough, that box is your angle. That’s your goal.While “competitive prices”, “creative ideas” and “great service” are important elements to have in your business, these are table stakes for any business today in the promotional industry. You need to go further.Ask yourself these questions:
- How do I stand out from my competition?
- What opinion do I have about my client's business?
- What problem is your target audience grappling with?
- How do you want your customers to remember you?
- Do I understand my client’s business objectives?
- Do I know what keeps my client up at night?
Create your own brand identityIt is essential you create a unique point of differentiation in the marketplace. The trap many distributors fall into at the beginning is they take the easy path and sign up for a service with a white label site with a generic product catalog that looks like everyone else. This is seductive because it costs very little money and takes almost no effort. Don't do this. Take the time to create your own brand. Armed with answers from Points 1-3, you should now have a pretty decent understanding of who you want to serve. Build a brand that caters to this audience. Some things to consider:
- Pick a distinctive name that people will remember. If you can find a name with a standalone url, even better. The industry is currently littered with bland and forgettable company names. Stand out from the crowd!
- Hire a designer to help create a brand identity for your company. This brand identity should be consistent across all of your materials (website, promotional materials, marketing collateral, etc). Treat this designer as an important part of your team. Get them invested in your vision.
- Ditch the white label product sites. Build a case study, story centric site using a tool like Squarespace, Wordpress or Wix. Your designer will also be able to help you.
Curate your own product lineArmed with an understanding of your target audience, you now have an opinion on the kinds of products that appeal to your customer base. Now build a collection of ideas that will resonate with your customer. Ask yourself these questions as you source products:
- What story can I tell my client about this product?
- How will this product help drive business for my client?
- Does this product fit into the worldview of my client?
- Will my supplier have reliable stock of this product throughout the year?
- Can I share potential sales volumes of this product with my supplier so I can achieve preferred pricing?
Think how you can go beyond the productWhile it's important to remember that you make money as a distributor when you sell products, it's also important to think beyond the product as you differentiate yourself in the eyes of your customer.The advantage to thinking this way is that you open up two revenue streams: (i) for the service and (ii) for the product. As a bonus, the product sale now becomes part of the package and can't be shopped around as easily. Examples include:
- Graphic design services
- Fulfillment and kitting services
- E-commerce stores
- Content marketing and social media services
- Event planning
- Selling complementary product lines like packaging or print products
- Select a 100% cloud based software solution. This will allow you to work anywhere, on any computer (PC and Mac). It will allow also give you a platform to grow if you add employees in other parts of the country or world.
- Product research software is important, but is less important than it was 10-20 years ago when it was harder to find suppliers. If you are taking a focused approach to your business, then your product line and suppliers will be focused and curated too. Don't run your business searching for products all day long. The best distributors are already on top of product trends, they’re not solely relying on search engines for ideas. If you need a product idea, try searching on Google or Pinterest
- Off the shelf software can work well if you are prepared to customize the workflow yourself. Off the shelf software does not often tie the promotional products workflow from beginning to end, thus requiring multiple systems.
- Make the switch to VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). This will allow your phone calls to go through the internet rather than traditional phone lines. The major benefit of this is that your phone can be with you not only when you are in the office, but anywhere there is WiFi.
Marketing strategiesContent marketing has quickly become an essential part of the overall marketing strategy for today’s most successful brands.The key to great content marketing is having good, quality content. This is made that much easier after you have completed the steps above. Armed with a target audience, a point of differentiation, a curated product line and a strong brand, it's so much easier to present yourself as a thought leader and create appealing content to draw in prospective clients.Here are some other marketing ideas to explore:
- Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn are the most high profile social sites and represent great opportunities for you to build a community around your company. Once you have that tribe/community, you create a wider moat around your business
- Blogging: Create your own blog on Squarespace or Wordpress and publish topics relating to your business. You could also look at guest posting on partner blogs or even look to publish on blogging platforms like Medium where a built in audience already exists.
- eBooks: like blogging, there are many advantages to creating an eBook. They’re mobile, inexpensive to create and distribute and provide value to potential clients. You can also collect leads easily by creating a landing page with a form that is required to be filled out before the eBook is delivered to their inbox.
- Podcasting: If you like to interview people and tell stories, you might connect with your audience through podcasting. Podcasting tools are very easy, it’s preparing the content that takes the time. To produce commonsku’s podcast, we use a Blue Yeti mic, Zencaster to record, Soundcloud for publishing and work with a freelance editor to clean up the files.
- Public speaking: Create a presentation on trends or some other macro topic that will help your audience be more successful in their line of work.