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Give Big or Go Home

Filed under: Members, News About ASI, Using Ad Specialties

The results of ASI’s just-released corporate gift-giving survey show six in 10 companies plan on thanking clients and employees with holiday gifts this year. What’s most surprising to me is that the number isn’t 10 in 10. Smart business owners know the best way to keep clients coming back – or to court new business – is to show appreciation.

Gifts don’t have to be extravagant, but according to Advantages magazine annual “Gift Guide,” gifts that are thoughtful, cool, unique or useful will provide the greatest ROI.

While I admit I lingered over the celebrity robotic avatar offered in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog (asi/59444) for a mere $345,000, a more reasonable choice for clients might be titanium luggage tags from Eddystone Designs (asi/51666). They’re terrific – indestructible, color laser-printed and shimmery to boot. I expect to own mine forever.

According to our survey, the main goal of giving gifts to customers is to express appreciation and develop relationships, as well as to generate good will and increase company awareness. I know whether I receive a Swiss chocolate tower, etched bottle of wine or a bacon-scented iPhone alarm clock this year, I’ll remember the giver for months, if not years – especially if it’s logoed. After all, phenomenal advertiser recall is what promotional products are all about.

For 2014, survey respondents told us that when choosing a gift, they consider an item’s attractiveness, durability and usefulness above all else. This year, nothing says “useful” like an imprinted power charger – a high-tech item that’s riding the rage wave. Give it to clients and they’ll carry it everywhere they go, from home to office to airport lounge.

Sure, you might consider giving a few top clients a case of lobsters or a branded (and memorable) Adirondack chair from AAA Innovations (asi/30023). But our survey results show most companies plan to spend an average of $43 per customer or prospective customer, with food/beverages, desk accessories, writing instruments and calendars topping the list.

When it comes to rewarding employees, most companies are spending about $50 per worker, with gift cards, food/beverages, apparel and cash bonuses as the most popular choices. Here at ASI, we thank each of our full-time employees with a check at our annual holiday party. You might consider a high-quality optical crystal slanted block clocks from Best Deal Awards (asi/47791).

If you’re still unsure what to give, or what to suggest to clients planning their holiday orders, here are a few tips culled from the pages of ASI’s magazines:

  • Don’t overlook packaging. There are all kinds of custom options available from suppliers, from playful to sophisticated. Plus, even though food and beverages go quick, if they’re packaged in a nice basket, bowl or imprinted wine carrier, it’ll be front and center all year along.
  • Remember the branding. This year, according to our survey, 68% of corporate gifts will sport a company logo.
  • Give the gift some real thought. One client raved to Advantages about receiving a custom pink superhero cape imprinted with her company logo, which made her feel like Wonder Woman. Another company gave employees a custom skateboard designed by the agency’s own creative team to symbolize their company’s “ride into the future.”
  • If it’s a client who loves quality, consider artisan items made with glass, fabric or leather, which can all be personalized.
  • Consider reliable standards like calendars. Triumph by BIC Graphic say that while some may consider calendars “old fashioned,” 74% of recipients remember the name of the advertiser who gave them a calendar and a whopping 75% of all households still rely on colorful kitchen calendars.

The bottom line is that people love gifts. When we asked survey respondents about the best corporate gift they ever received, answers ranged from days off, gift cards and a donation made to the recipient’s favorite charity all the way to fishing rods, Cincinnati Reds tickets in the corporate suite, blown glass insulated beer glasses and a weekend stay at a resort – with babysitting included.

Finally, even though December is the biggest gift-giving month of the year, you could set yourself apart from the crowd by sending your gifts out on, say, Penguin Awareness Day on January 20.

Let me know your gift-giving plans by posting a comment or emailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Get Ready for the Wearable Tech Revolution

Filed under: Guest Blog, Using Ad Specialties

Clearly, wearable technology is arriving. Fast. Four years ago, the U.S. wearable tech market was about $6 million. This year, it’s expected to clock in at over $5 billion. These devices are starting to suffuse our society, from fitness bracelets to smartwatches to Google Glass. What started as a snowball is turning into an avalanche.

ASI’s recent cover story [http://bit.ly/1uqlw30] for Wearables® magazine on the wearable tech revolution examines every facet of the coming tech boom. We have articles on nanotechnology, designers who are using 3-D printers to make apparel, activity trackers that are being used in corporate wellness programs, Google Glass and other eyewear tech that can transform the workplace, and much more. Most important, our cover story looks at the big picture of wearable tech. How will this change our lives and the way we do business? And how soon will it happen?

Not to burst the bubble, but despite the rapid growth of the market, wearable tech still has some growing up to do. The products so far have been limited in scope, accessories that mostly act as companion pieces to our smartphones. Just now are we starting to see garments with full-fledged functionality: a shirt that give us a snapshot of our health, for example, or garments that feature dynamic LED displays. In the pic at top, OMSignal is a new shirt that can read your vitals and give you a complete picture of your health. The tshirtOS at bottom features LED lights embroidered into the fabric, creating a dynamic display that can be changed with a cell phone.

The hurdle is that these innovations need equal input from gadget geeks and fashion virtuosos – collaborations that are just beginning to form. (Apple hiring the CEO of Burberry last year is just one example.)

As a result, wearable technology is still in its infant state – much like the cellphone market before the iPhone refined the category in one swift blow. It’s no surprise that the Apple Watch is being looked at in the same light, with the hope that Apple can reprise its role. The results will be interesting, to say the least. One research report predicts that smartwatches will comprise 40% of wrist devices by 2016.

I think the potential for wearable technology is vast. Just look at the promotional apparel industry that we cover. Shirts are printed with a message, and that image remains. Now imagine apparel with electronic displays that can be controlled with a cellphone or tablet – and then deployed to be worn by brand ambassadors and devotees. Innovations like those are just starting, and you will see a lot more in the years to come.

The impact on our lives will be far greater. We are already attached to our computers and smartphones nearly every waking minute. Practically every key metric of our lives is kept in a digital record. But we do put our cellphones down (occasionally). And in those down times, wearables will bridge the final divide.

Connectivity will be seamless and ever-present. They will hand over the one thing that data can’t touch – ourphysical bodies – and give us a completely new picture of our health and how we live our lives. Ultimately they will erase the barriers of interaction (admit it, thumbs on a cellphone screen are still clumsy) and allow us to access the resources at an instant, even by mere thought.

And I didn’t even mention the really out-there stuff. Did you know researchers are toying with temporary tattoos that can read your vocal cord movements when you think and transmit them as complete thoughts to another person? In other words, telepathy. Holy crap.

In short, there won’t ever be an “offline.” That may thrill you, or it may horrify you. Either way, I believe it will be our new reality. The items we include in our cover story [http://bit.ly/1uqlw30] may seem radical, but it’s just the beginning.

–C.J. Mittica, pictured at center, is the editor of ASI’s Wearables magazine


Steal This Study

Filed under: Community, Member Benefits, News About ASI, Research

It’s here: ASI’s groundbreaking global research report packed with stats and graphics to help you convince customers to spend more of their marketing moolah on promo products.

Click here for a quick, catchy YouTube video on the study and here to ASI’s 2014 Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study in its entirety.You’ll also find easy-to-understand graphics to save and share. I encourage you to post the video and the study link (www.asicentral.com/study) on your own business website to further spread the word about the incredible power of promo products.

The strongest number to tout is promo products’ commanding advertiser recall among 85% of consumers surveyed. People really remember the advertiser on logoed items, largely because they see or use them nearly every day.  In fact, most people own about 10 items they generally keep for seven months.

Can you remember a single advertiser from the last time you watched TV? I’m betting you can’t. Perform this simple test on your next potential customer and you just might score a sale.

ASI conducted its first comprehensive research study in 2006. In a nod to our increasingly global marketplace, this year’s study contains far greater global reach, and features several differences worth noting. For the first time we:

  • Conducted all interviews face-to-face, versus a mix of in-person and online
  • Focused on Europe as a whole
  • Polled end-buyers in Mexico
  • Emphasized regional and country-by-country trends and differences.

This year’s data updates prior years’ reports by expanding interviews into two cities in Mexico (Monterrey and Mexico City) and several additional mid-major markets: Tampa, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Denver and San Diego.

Through conversations with real people who get, use and share ad specialties, we gauged the reach of products, consumer’s perceptions, their influence on buying decisions and their influence on the perception of the advertiser.

After thousands of interviews with businesspeople and students in key cities across North America, Canada, Europe and Australia we can say with certainty that ad specialties are one of the most high-impact, cost-effective advertising mediums around.

And, since knowing the likely recipient of products is paramount for an advertiser, we made sure to include demographic information broken down by political affiliation, ethnicity, gender, age and income.

What’s most impressive is that no matter where we polled consumers, we found end-buyers who feel good about the brands on promo products they use day in and day out. When’s the last time an annoying TV or radio commercial made you feel good? I rest my case!

Another conclusion that resonated with me: First and foremost, consumers want products that are useful, like pens and USB drives. In Canada, 82% of consumers polled said that’s why they kept branded items, the highest percentage of any country.

The study is a living document that’s meant to be used – not scanned once and forgotten. It’s powerful data you can, and should, refer to again and again. Cherry-pick graphics that work best for your business and post them, share them and pass them out on sales calls.

Let me know how you plan to use this study in your business by posting a comment, emailing me here or posting to ASI’s Facebook page. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Into the Future

Filed under: Community, Member Benefits, Members, News About ASI, Research, Using Ad Specialties

A major theme of this year’s U.S. Power Summit was helping prepare the promotional products industry for the future. The keynote speaker, Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard, advised business leaders committed to growth to hire more people who can deliver different solutions to the organization, while futurist John Smart encouraged companies to invest in e-commerce and mobile platforms.

And since suppliers and distributors must be prepared to meet the ever-growing demand for faster service and order processing, we also invited industry experts to discuss the “need for speed” during a session highlighted by an actual drone demo. While flying drones (pictured, right) are really cool, our bigger point in bringing them to the power summit was to get industry people to start thinking about ways they can be utilized in in areas like warehouse inventory and Amazon-like delivery.

This year, the 2014 ASI® Power Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, attracted about 200 of the most influential distributors, suppliers and decorators in the industry. From the early feedback I’ve gotten, everyone enjoyed the superior content and business discussions, which were helped along during fun activities like golf and a visit to a nearby ranch for lassoing and skeet shooting. The fine scotch helped too, I’m sure.

Click here for Facebook photos of the action.

We packed a lot into three days. During my Q&A with alphabroder CEO Norman Hullinger, we even broke some news about his plans to double the size of the company in the next five years – and for sales to hit $1.6 billion. In 2013, the number-one supplier on the Counselor® Top 40 list posted sales of $697 million.

Future growth for alphabroder will come from acquisitions and organic growth, especially growth in ad specialty distributorships. But the really big news from alphabroder concerned expanding beyond apparel to a line of hard goods – an expansion that will likely come about through acquisitions as well as internally.

Throughout the power summit, ASI’s editorial staffers provided full coverage of happenings along with video interviews from all major presentations. To read more:

When I say we packed a lot into this year’s U.S. Power Summit, I mean we packed a lot into this gathering. We also released the names of the industry’s most powerful people with the 2014 Counselor Power 50 list. Click here to read our press release with more detail and click here for the full list, topped by Marty Lott and Jeremy Lott of SanMar.

Finally, we also released the 2014 Global Advertising Impressions Study, a cost analysis of promotional products versus other advertising media. For the study, our research team conducted thousands of in-person interviews with businesspeople and students in key cities across North America, Canada, Europe and Australia. This year’s data updates prior years’ reports by expanding interviews into two cities in Mexico (Monterrey and Mexico City) and several additional mid-major markets: Tampa, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Denver and San Diego.

Ultimately, the comprehensive study provides buyers and sellers of promo products with powerful data to convince clients worldwide that ad specialties can increase sales and brand exposure.

Click here to watch an awesome YouTube video on the study results and here to read the study in its entirety.

If you were at the Power Summit, thanks for joining us! I’d love to know what you thought – and any suggestions you may have for next year’s event, which we’re already planning at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, CA in November 2015 (www.asicentral.com/psreg).

Please feel free to post a comment or email me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Power Summit 2014: Meet, Share, Solve, Succeed

Filed under: Community, Member Benefits, News About ASI

One of the best aspects of any ASI Power Summit is up-close access to some of the greatest media and marketing minds in the world. At this week’s event in Scottsdale, AZ, we’re privileged to have Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard as our keynote speaker.

A North Dakota native, Karlgaard is an author and entrepreneur who went from security guard to head of one of the hottest legacy media companies in the Google Age – and I can’t wait to hear his thoughts on the five factors that will dramatically affect business growth in 2015 and beyond.

For a recent ASI Radio interview with Rich, click here.

There’s more. The 2014 Power Summit – our 8th U.S. event! – at the Four Seasons Scottsdale includes a packed slate of industry insiders who will share their strategies on everything from customization, mobile marketing and demographic shifts to doing business in Mexico and making the best hires.

We’ve gathered an intimate group for three days in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, Crescent Butte Mountain, Pinnacle Peak and the Valley of the Sun. We’ll pack a lot of learning into the sessions, but will leave plenty of time for a first-class, quintessential desert golf experience and celebrations.

In addition, members of Counselor magazine’s prestigious Power 50 list will also be on-hand to share their plans for seizing the future and making even greater inroads to industry success.

If you’re a returning Power Summit veteran, we are shaking things up a bit this year and I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the changes.

The Power Summit experience is one of the best events ASI offers, and here’s why: Instead of the rush of a trade show, we get to spend real time getting to know one another in a relaxed setting that’s conducive to late-night talks and early morning runs. While we kick it up a notch during our panel sessions – which include group brainstorming to hammer out solutions to common industry problems and even a creative marketing smackdown – we incorporate time for genuine relationship building. And isn’t that what doing business together is really all about?

If you have any questions at all about this year’s Power Summit, let me know by posting a comment or emailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Supplier Sales Rise Again

Filed under: Members, News About ASI

For the 18th consecutive quarter, suppliers in the $20.5 billion promotional products industry are reporting bigger sales, with revenues jumping an average of 5.1% in Q2.

Data shows more than half of suppliers (59%) improved Q2 sales, with 23% reporting revenues were unchanged and 18% with declining sales. At the same time, the U.S. is reporting a healthier job market, a recent surge in stocks and buoyed consumer confidence.

Such confidence is also being felt by six in 10 industry suppliers, who tell ASI they expect 2014 sales to be even better than 2013. More than three-quarters (78%) of supplier firms with $5 million or more in annual sales believe their revenues will improve in 2014. About 58% of smaller suppliers (less than $5 million in annual sales) anticipate their sales will increase this year.

Suppliers quoted in the latest Counselor PromoGram sound cautiously bullish:

  • “The economy was stable enough to drive a bit of consumer confidence and the technology category really took off,” said Bill Korowitz, CEO of Top 40 supplier The Magnet Group (asi/68507). “Suppliers also seemed to have built more inventory in advance of Q2 sales this year than in previous years.”
  • “We are seeing a resurgence in larger, corporate orders,” said Norm Hullinger, CEO of Top 40 supplier alphabroder (asi/34063). “Our customers tell us that their corporate clients are seeing growth in their businesses and ramping up spending accordingly.”
  • “We are bullish for sales growth, but very focused on offering more and more services like our expanded digital proofing programs, as well as same-day rush production,” said Jeff Lederer, president of Top 40 supplier Prime Line (asi/79530). “Certainly the health of the industry helps to fuel Prime’s overall growth, too, especially technology items.”
  • Dan Taylor, president of BamBams (asi/38228), also expects sales gains this year, with the caveat that negative world events always can make an impact. “We expect to be up 4%-5% this year and unless the world melts down because of the turmoils caused by ISIS, we would expect the industry to continue solid gains,” he said.

The 5.1% quarterly growth among suppliers was a stronger showing than in Q1, when average sales increased by 4.8%. Last month, Counselor reported Q2 distributor sales rose by 6.1%.


Taking the Industry’s Pulse

Filed under: News About ASI, Research

To most people, summer means family road trips, zeppelin-sized zucchini, backyard barbecues and lightning bugs. Here at ASI, summer means all that and more, since summer is when we produce our annual State of the Industry report.

While it doesn’t yet come with a free umbrella drink, Counselor magazine’s industry MRI does pack a ton of info designed to help any sized company plan strategically for the future, grow their business, streamline operations and tap new and emerging markets.

If you haven’t read the issue yet (available in print and online at www.asicentral.com/soi), take a hard copy with you to the beach or check it out electronically on your device. ASI editorial staffers spent months gathering and analyzing key sales, marketing and operational metrics used by most of you to provide useable info tailor-made for our industry. The accompanying graphics also provide valuable snapshots of what’s up, down and trending.

Click here to read the report in its entirety.

As a whole, 2013 was a good year, with distributors growing sales by 5.7% to reach a record $20.5 billion. The 40 largest distributor companies in the market hit nearly $4.4 billion in sales, accounting for 21.5% of total industry revenues.

It seems that the top 40 suppliers and distributors are exerting growing influence over the marketplace.  Counselor’s editor, Andy Cohen, goes so far as to predict apparel suppliers will continue to consolidate and large distributors will create unique partnerships the likes of which the industry hasn’t seen before. As Andy says, “If you can’t beat competitors, join ’em!”

But there’s still room for nimble and innovative distributors and suppliers of all sizes, and obviously our industry is an exciting place for everyone.

The data also shows the profit pressure distributors face and customer trends that include more price shopping, more interest in additional services and more safety and compliance inquiries.

Our predictions for the industry’s future? While product staples like T-shirts and pens will remain strong, sales of branded technology items like USB cards should increase dramatically in the near future as more millennials enter the workforce. The average order time for suppliers will significantly decrease in today’s “need it now” marketplace, and 90% of the top 40 apparel suppliers will offer in-house decoration in five years.

In addition to winning tips and tactics and growth strategies, the SOI issue profiles the 2014 Counselor Award winners – including Person of the Year Norman Hullinger – and includes revenue and ranking of Top 40 distributor and supplier companies.

I’d love to know what you thought of this year’s issue and if there’s a topic, trend or strategy we might have missed or not given enough attention to, so please either post a comment or email me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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