Jerome Hoxton has an experiment he asks people to try if they are unsure about the impact of advertising on promotional products — those free pens, notepads, highlighters, T-shirts, golf balls, mouse pads and myriad other items companies place logos on and give away. Ask 10 people on the street if they have ever received a promotional item. He says all 10 likely will say yes, and six or seven of them will go further.

“People remember what they got and who it was from,” says Hoxton, president of Newton, Iowa-based Newton Manufacturing Co. “That is the effect of advertising on promotional products.”

Take a second to think about products on your desk or in your office. That’s some powerful messaging, messaging that lasts.

More than $19 billion worth of promotional products are sold each year, so there must be a measurable return for the companies that go that route. With thousands of products to choose from, advisors can choose something that fits their interests and their marketing campaign, while satisfying economic and staying-power concerns.

“The cost per exposure is extremely low,” says Bruce Felber, creative director at Felber & Felber Marketing, Twinsburg, Ohio. “And the longevity is definitely there.”

Companies use promotional products to advertise for a variety of reasons. Felber already mentioned the longevity and economic aspects. The Promotional Products Association International is a trade group that conducts research and helps connect marketers in need with qualified promotional products consultants. PPAI found there are many principal uses of promotional products:

  • Tradeshow promotion
  • Customer retention, appreciation Goodwill/enhance image
  • Improve, reward, recognize employee performance
  • Create awareness of news products/services/facilities
  • Reinforce existing products/services/facilities
  • Generate sales leads and responses
  • Fundraising/increasing donations
  • Open doors, secure appointments
  • Motivate dealers, retailers

Financial advisors should find a couple of those most interesting, as they apply to a financial services practice: customer retention and appreciation, and generate sales leads and responses. The first is a great way to drive referrals — the lifeblood of any solid advisory practice. The second relates to direct mail — the foundation of practices that rely on seminars to find new clients. Promotional products can help greatly with both, and industry experts have ideas of how to make it work.

Improve direct mail response

Advisors know better than anyone that direct mail is competitive. Individual pieces are competing against a cacophony of other mailings that all want the recipient’s attention and ask for action. Seniors especially are getting hit from all sides with offers for annuities, Medicare Part D plans, long term care insurance and more; plus, in high-population areas, they are receiving invitations from numerous advisors who want them to attend informational seminars. The potential for a given piece of direct mail to be disregarded is high. That doesn’t have to be the case.

“If you are doing direct mail and not using a promotional product, you are losing up to 100 percent of potential return,” Hoxton says. “You can double or triple your response rate with a promotional product.”

Even if the product is as simple as a pen or a keychain, the recipient will remember the sender for a long time.

“It doesn’t have to cost a ton to make an impression,” Felber says.

Key chains are carried every day. Calendars are hung on the wall and viewed daily. They make an impact. Hoxton says emery boards are among the least expensive products available, but they can make an impact when done right.

Felber calls it dimensional direct mail, and it works because people tend to open nonflat mail first. It draws the eye and arouses curiosity. It’s something different, something with promise.

Hoxton and the folks at Newton Manufacturing helped a bank put together a direct mail-promotional product campaign aimed at small-business owners. The bank sends invitations to a seminar via direct mail. Included with the invitation was the sheath for a multi-tool. The message said something like, “You need the right tools to do the job.” Business owners who attended the seminar received the multi-tool that went with the sheath.
“No matter the price point, it comes down to application,” Hoxton says.

Application involves making sure the promotional products are tied to a larger plan of action. For a look at what makes promotional campaigns successful, see sidebar below.

Gain referrals

Clients don’t just refer their friends and family to someone because they’re working with him at that particular moment. Advisors know that gaining referrals is about earning trust and making a connection. Seniors can go anywhere for their insurance and investment products, so it’s the experience they have with an advisor that makes the difference — imprinted products help.

“Promotional products are the most personal and permanent form of advertising,” Hoxton says. “And in insurance, it is that personal relationship that has to be sold.”

Promotional products — items with no strings attached — are essentially gifts from advisors to clients. They are ways of saying thank you that continue to work for the advisor long after they leave the office. When someone is asked who his financial advisor is, he can tell his friend the advisor’s name and show him the imprinted pen or the keychain or the golf ball.

Advisors whose referral campaigns include appeal letters to established clients — it could work in print and electronic newsletters, too — would do well to offer promotional product incentives, according to PPAI research conducted in 2005. PPAI found that appeal letters plus an offer of a promotional product incentive resulted in five times as many referrals as the appeal letter alone: 4.8 percent of responses vs. 0.8 percent. Offering an incentive — the promise of a free product — worked far more effectively than sending the promotional product out with the letter, too.

If imprinted products are done well, clients are going to offer up referrals to their advisors, and they are going to be walking advertisements every time they take out a pen to write or pull their keys out of their pocket or toss a tee to a forgetful golf partner.

Advisors need to think beyond their client base, too, Hoxton says. Advisors are missing out on opportunities if they don’t have their logoed products on hand at all times. Leave a pen at a restaurant and see how many other diners see your name.

To really make an impression and land some strong referrals, Felber says advisors can use promotional products to reward long-time clients. Usually, the show of appreciation is returned.

“Give your best clients a nice clock or something along those lines,” Felber says. “That’s something they’ll remember more.”

And it can be a conversation starter. “Your advisor gave you that? Mine just gives me reminders to send him names and phone numbers.”Promotional products are everywhere and they are used by companies and individuals in every industry. Big corporations have long realized how valuable an imprinted pen or golf ball can be. But with relatively low price points and relatively long returns on investment, even independent financial advisors can get into the act. Generating leads through better direct mail and garnering more referrals are just two of the ways senior advisors can put promotional products to use — two they can identify and relate to immediately. The key, it seems, is to remain visible even when the client or prospect doesn’t know he needs advice and guidance.

“It’s not easy to predict when a buying decision will be made,” Hoxton says. “You want to be there when it is.”