It rained in Cleveland recently, and when I reached for my umbrella, I saw the logo on the fabric and had a flashback: I had worked for a company in the 1990s that had given out umbrellas to prospects at an annual association meeting — more than 20 years ago. So, what’s noteworthy about my old umbrella (besides the fact that I haven’t been umbrella shopping in a long time)?

Branded premiums and promotional products can be an extremely effective tactic in a smart marketing strategy. Here’s why you should be using branded premiums to market your business.

Why marketers use branded premiums. A branded premium is a specialty advertising item that bears a company’s name or logo. Look around your desk right now and you’ll likely find them everywhere: magnets, notepads, pens, coffee cups, jar openers, key fobs, bag clips and — yes — umbrellas.

Branded premiums help companies maintain top-of-mind awareness with clients and prospects. According to the Advertising Specialty Institute, branded promotional products are a $19.4 billion dollar industry and are used by virtually every business in America.

Branded premiums can be effective at trade shows, in direct mail campaigns and in sales presentations. But with thousands of options to choose from, it can be a challenge to decide which ones are right for your business.

Seven tips for choosing branded advertising premiums:

1. Match the premium to the value of the prospect. The size of the sales opportunity should drive your premium budget. Inexpensive items (pens and magnets) may be the right choice if you encounter hundreds of prospects in frequent face-to-face sales situations such as at community health fairs. But if you’re targeting C-suite executives, pens and magnets just won’t cut it. Spending $50 to $75 for a high-quality premium can be a good investment if you’re ordering a small quantity for an extremely targeted, well-qualified list of executive prospects.

2. Select a premium with real utility. Many premiums are cute and clever but end up in the trash. I advise clients to pick premiums people can use every day, such as clocks, tote bags, portfolios or mugs, and to consider premiums that sit on a desk when pitching to executives.

3. Choose premiums that will be used repeatedly. A printer in the Cleveland area dropped off branded premiums that we use every day: small plastic stands with rubber backing to hold our phones. Each morning when I place my iPhone on the stand, I see their logo. That’s brand awareness.
4. Be wary of wearables. Marketers often choose premiums people wear, such as hats and t-shirts. I’ve seen wearable premiums vanish quickly from a trade show booth, but how many hats and tees really get worn once the prospect is back home? I think it’s smarter to order branded clothing for your staff.

5. Offer premiums in your direct-marketing campaigns. In a direct-marketing campaign, adding a branded premium helps sweeten the offer and spur prospects to “act now” to receive their free bonus.
6. Tie your premium to your marketing theme. “Gianfagna” rhymes with “lasagna,” and the most successful lead-generation marketing approach I’ve ever used for my marketing agency was a lasagna-themed direct-mail campaign using branded premiums that played on our tricky name. We sent Gianfagna-branded aprons, measuring spoons and lasagna servers to a small list of marketing directors. Prospects loved it, and everyone remembered our name.

7. Find a good vendor. Nearly 27 million listings appear when you search for “branded premiums” on Google. I’ve used web vendors with mixed results. Shop online but also look for a good local supplier who can be a real marketing partner — someone who can meet with you to share ideas and handle all the details of your order, especially for high-end premiums.

It’s a smart marketing strategy to offer prospects branded promotional products, especially quality items that can offer years of use (my umbrella!). It’s an investment that can keep your name in front of prospects for years to come.

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Jean M. Gianfagna is a marketing strategy expert and the founder and president of Gianfagna Strategic Marketing which provides marketing strategy and creative services to leading business-to-business and consumer marketers. Read her blog for more marketing tips at http://www.gianfagnamarketing.com/blog.