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My 100-Year-Old Promotional Memory

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

Every Fall, ASI conducts a corporate gift-giving survey to find out how much companies across the country are spending on client and employee gifts this holiday season. And every year the results confirm that a quality gift is the best way to express appreciation and build relationships.

People from all kinds of industries told us that when they get a corporate thank-you gift it makes them feel appreciated, grateful and valued. And, when we asked about their most memorable gift, they responded with great enthusiasm for everything from a branded umbrella, laptop sleeve and reciprocating saw (yes, really!) to steaks, bourbon truffles and activity trackers – a list that goes to prove that you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot to get a big return.

I’m living proof of that concept, which really is the central tenet of our entire industry. I still have one of the gifts my grandmother received probably 100 years ago from Rose’s Store in St. Louis Crossing, Indiana, the tiny village where I grew up. When she passed away, she left it to me. To this day, I have it displayed in my house as a reminder of grandma, that simple little store, and growing up in Indiana farmland.

More recently, I gave 10 of my closest friends a fleece with a logo designed for a special trip I took with them all to Argentina to celebrate my 50th birthday. The trip and the logoed items I gave everyone were my way of thanking them for the big part they play in my life, each and every day.

Occasionally, three years later, three or four of us will show up at a party wearing that same fleece. Like the best promo products, a fleece – or a plate or a USB, or any one of thousands of branded products – is practical, useful and attractive. It’s why people keep such items around for years – or even decades.

Our annual gift-giving study turned up a ton of useful stats I encourage you to take on sales calls as further proof of the enduring effectiveness of this low-cost, high-ROI advertising medium. Whether you’re thanking loyal clients for their business, courting potential ones or showing your own employees how much they mean to you, you really can’t beat a branded item.

Nate Kucsma, ASI’s marketing research director, said that what struck him the most about the 2015 results is that companies are spending more overall on employee gifts this year than on client gifts. That makes sense in an increasingly tight job market when companies have to work that much harder to retain top talent.

How did you thank your employees this year? At ASI, our employees seemed to really appreciate the turkey or a pie we gave out before Thanksgiving the most.

Click here for our press release on the gift-giving report and look below for some highlights:

  • Companies thanking clients plan to give gifts averaging $48, up 9% from 2014.
  • Companies rewarding employees with cash or gifts are spending an average of $44, up nearly 16% from 2014.
  • Companies thanking clients plan to give gifts averaging $48, up 9% from 2014.
  • Food or beverages like the ubiquitous fruit basket are the most popular items for customers and prospects, followed by useful office items like pens, calendars and power banks.
  • The leading employee gifts are gift cards and cash bonuses, followed by food and beverages, and apparel.
  • Nearly one-quarter of all companies giving gifts to employees will spend over $100 on each employee gift this year, versus 18% in 2014.
  • Nearly half (46%) of all responding companies report that 100% of the gifts they give out this season, to both employees and customers and prospects, will have their company’s logo on them.

Leave a comment to let me know the best gift you’ve ever gotten – or given. Hands down, I vote for my irreplaceable plate. Every time I look at it, I see love. I can’t imagine anything more valuable.


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


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.


Celebrating with Fun and Flair

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

ASI is celebrating its 15th anniversary of hosting a national trade show in the great city of Chicago with a ton of fun and flair. The show features info-packed education sessions, top-flight suppliers, team-building distributor sales meetings and awesome presentations.

ASI Chicago takes place through Thursday, July 17, at McCormick Place and features numerous Counselor® Top 40 suppliers and over 100 exhibitors new to Chicago this year. The show is a big draw to entrepreneurs, CEOs and small business owners located throughout the Midwest, and beyond.

At the traditional ASI Show dinner attended by show employees ASI’s chairman, Norman Cohn, shared some wonderful stories about our 15 years in Chicago, which is one of my all-time favorite cities to visit. We all love coming here and hope everyone is enjoying everything the city has to offer (including those amazing restaurants).

At the show, Thursday’s highlight is sure to be Erik Wahl, a best-selling business author who believes creativity is the new corporate capital, who will actually paint right on stage during his keynote.

ASI’s education featured a special half-day session with business guru Stephen M.R. Covey titled “Selling at the Speed of Trust.” Education also included a new Screen-Printing Success Track, part of ASI’s new relationship with ST Media, sponsored by Workhorse Products.

As part of this new relationship, we also unveiled the news Signage + Decoration Pavilion, featuring well-known equipment companies and live education (both days). I hope you take the time to stop by and check it out.

Chicago is a city that loves its art – both public street art and on display in wonderful museums. In a nod to that creativity, ASI did something really fun: glued a variety of promotional products donated by ASI suppliers to a used Mazda we then drove 750 miles from ASI headquarters in Philadelphia to the show, where it’s on display and available for people to sign and get their photo taken.

The car is intended to drive attention to the industry’s ingenuity and to the products themselves. Nothing says durable like surviving a trip through four states on a high-speed interstate! During the drive we only lost a single product. If you took pics of the car please post to your social media using hashtag #ASIpromocar.

The show excitement continued at the prestigious 2014 Counselor® Awards, held this year at Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications. At the black-tie ceremony, Counselor announced the Top 40 Distributors and Top 40 Suppliers rankings – the largest companies in the $20.5 billion promotional products industry, based upon 2013 revenue. We also named Norman Hullinger, CEO of alphabroder (asi/34063), as Person of the Year and Suzanne Worwood, merchandising VP of 4imprint Inc. (asi/197045), as International Person of the Year.

Go to www.asicentral.com for complete coverage of the show, including blogs and videos from ASI’s on-site editorial team. For more photos, be sure to visit the ASI Show Facebook page and ASI’s Facebook page.


Driving Serious Fun

Filed under: ASI Shows, ASICentral, Community, Industry Initiatives, Members, News About ASI, Using Ad Specialties

There’s no better time than summer to tackle an offbeat project, all in the name of fun. In that spirit, ASI   created an “ArtCar” that we’re driving over 750 miles from our headquarters outside Philadelphia to display at ASI Chicago. Think of it as our “moving billboard” advertising the promo industry.

The campaign is called “Driving Serious Fun” – a nod to the industry’s creativity and to the wacky idea of gluing dozens of logoed items to a used Mazda in the hopes of attracting attention via social media. The hashtag is #ASIPromocar and we’d love it if you’d follow/share/like us on ASI’s Facebook page and on Pinterest here and here.

To see how we did it, watch our video on YouTube.

At the Chicago show, the Promocar will be on display in registration. If you’re there, please stop by and check it out. I’m betting you’ll be amazed at how long-familiar items like stress balls can be transformed into something wholly unique.

The goals are pretty simple. The Promocar is intended to:

  • Generate buzz through a social media campaign
  • Show off the industry’s creativity in Chicago – a city known for its art
  • Attract media attention
  • Open discussions about the industry and promotional products
  • Make people smile

When we started this project over a month ago, I didn’t know much about ArtCars. Turns out, the ASI Promocar is part of a long, strange tradition, ranging from VW buses decorated by artistic hippies in the ’60s all the way to mutant vehicles on the Playa at the annual Burning Man festival.

As long as sight lines are maintained and vitals like headlights, gas tank and doors remain accessible, there’s no law against painting and decorating your car with pretty much anything you’d like. Who knew?

For our part, we didn’t want to just glue a bunch of stuff to a car. We wanted to maintain the “art” in ArtCar through patterns, color and design.

All told, painting the hood and roof to resemble a road took the better part of a weekend, with the main gluing requiring three days work in our warehouse. The project took nine willing employees, 10 tubes of silicone glue, six rolls of painter’s tape, 50 pairs of gloves, two cases of bottled water, three cans of Rustoleum paint mixed with playground sand to resemble asphalt, a lot of very loud rock and roll, six fans for ventilation, a drill, a sander, a sense of humor and a ton of patience (imagine how long it would take to adhere a pen to the side of your car – then multiply it ten-fold).

To get us started, we put out a call for logoed items to suppliers and the following companies jumped in and donated products like mousepads, key chains, pinwheels, flip-flops and pens:

  • Prime Line, asi/79530
  • Digispec, asi/49716
  • All-In-One, asi/34256
  • Footprints USA, asi/55030
  • PromoMatting, asi/35750
  • IDProductsource, asi/62088
  • Zenith Promotions, asi/98980
  • Nationwide Promotions LLC, asi/73464
  • Chulani Promotional Products Inc., asi/45100

Having never done anything like this before, we had a lot to learn. Although thoroughly researched, every car and every object is different, and there are a ton of variables – not to mention moving parts, high speeds and weather. We road tested the Promocar at 60 mph on I-95 when we finished and so far, so good.

P.S. You’ll have to look close, inside and out, to see how we used the various products. Hint: Inside, look up and in the back seat. You might even see a few familiar “faces.”


A Mountain of Information and Inspiration

Filed under: Community, Industry Initiatives, Members, News About ASI, Research, Using Ad Specialties

This year’s ASI Power Summit in Park City, Utah, had it all: Breaking news, early morning inspiration, late-night camaraderie, tons of expert advice, incredible views and great golf and mountain biking.

Memorable moments included losing power within a 50-mile radius of the resort during the very last panel with members of the 2013 Counselor Power 50. Undeterred, we powered on, first using the light from moderator Matthew Cohn’s iPad to light up the speakers on stage and eventually by relying on several other iPad lights along with lanterns from the hotel. Not a single person left the room and every question got answered. I think there’s an Apple commercial in this!

Here are a few of my other personal highlights:

  • My on-stage interview with Michael Bernstein, CEO and chairman of the board for mega-supplier Polyconcept and No. 3 on the 2013 Power 50 list. I grilled Michael, one of the most powerful people in the industry, about his North American business, expansion into decorated apparel, significant decline in the European business and restructuring of the Asian sourcing business, along with his plans – still in the infancy stage – to become a supplier in Asia to local consumers of promotional products. You should also check out Michele Bell’s interview with Michael.
  • The annual Power 50 dinner and release of ASI’s latest groundbreaking global research, proving promotional products deliver commanding advertiser recall among an average of 82% of recipients in every international city surveyed. Check out our online page to download – and share! – PDFs packed with stats on major product categories, along with the study itself. Share the link (www.asicentral.com/study) across all your social media sites.
  • Awesome social media insight from master videographer Devin Graham, whose YouTube videos now boast a combined 200 billion views – yes, that’s billions with a “b.” As ASI’s Dave Vagnoni (@VagnoniASI ) tweeted from the summit: “Seriously, hire @devinsupertramp before you can’t afford him.” Devin, along with ASI creative guru Jake Krolick (pictured on stage), implored the industry audience to inject excitement into everything they do and to experiment with extreme ideas and videos that will capture the attention of the next generation of promo sellers and buyers.

For more advice and tips, check out ASI’s video interviews with:

  1. Lion Circle’s (asi/67620) Rich Carollo, who’s been leading the charge for competitively priced Made-in-the-U.S.A. products.
  2. Tommy Lewis of Bob Lilly Professional Promotions (asi/254138), winner of the Power Summit’s annual “Marketing Smackdown.”
  3. Keynote speaker Adrian Gostick, New York Times bestselling author of The Carrot Principle and an expert on motivating employees.

And don’t forget to check out ASI’s Facebook page, for pics by Jake (@Phillyspread).

The whole point of smaller, more intimate get-togethers like the Power Summit is for people to learn from each other, make new contacts and deepen friendships with people they already know (or think they know).  So I’d like to thank everyone who joined us, and each and every speaker and panelist. Quality ruled!

Throughout the summit I was thrilled. But I was also saddened to hear a young sales star – who sells several million dollars in promo products a year – say he doesn’t think our industry is sexy and that he never tells friends what he does for a living.

In my final address to the Power Summit attendees I shared that story – and really let loose in response. I told our audience I’ve been excited by the industry since the day I started nearly 11 years ago. I’m proud of what I do and of the incredible ROI promotional products provide. Every day, I’m amazed by the continual creativity of our products and the talented people in our industry. I can’t imagine having more fun anywhere else.


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