Everyone has walked away from a conference or corporate event with a lackluster tote bag full of branded items at some point. Do you ever keep any of those items, or have they all ended up in the trash? Have any of those items really left an impression on you about the brand or event?
Odds are, there’s still something around your house that you’ve kept, whether it’s a pen or water bottle or even a t-shirt. The good news is, the promotional products industry is going through an evolution, with an emphasis on quality of products and ease of access.
After winning an award in 2006 for his full-length documentary, Jeremy Parker admitted to himself as a junior in college that he did not enjoy filmmaking, and decided to pursue other strengths and passions. Namely, he wanted to dive into promotional products to revitalize the industry and make branded “swag” into something exciting, engaging, and useful.
He started a creative promotional product division under MV Sport, called Vote For Art, where he cut his teeth in the world of promotional products, aiming to “make collegiate apparel cool again.” Today, he’s co-founder and CEO of swag.com: the best place for companies to buy quality promotional products that people will actually want to keep.
During his interview on the Making Bank podcast, Jeremy shares his rich history in the promotional products industry and the insights he’s learned about workplace culture along the way. From befriending Office Managers to prioritizing the quality of their promo items, Jeremy insists that promotional products, when done with intention and care, can add massive value to a company’s culture.
A Fresh Take on an Old Industry
In the early days of swag.com, Jeremy realized that the promotional product industry is growing, but the buyer has changed. He tells Josh, “The buyer is no longer a 45 or 50 year old office manager. They’re millennials, they want to see things curated. They don’t want to speak to people on the phone. They want to do everything themselves.” Jeremy took this new knowledge as the inspiration to create a new, tailored platform for the modern buyer.
Gone is the era of printed catalogs, cold calling, and dozens of back and forth emails with a potential buyer. Jeremy worked to build an online platform that was streamlined, quick and easy to use, and offered a curated range of high-quality, useful items.
Office Managers are the “Glue”
On top of a more intuitive and modern platform, swag.com set out to discover how they could make the biggest impact on positive workplace culture. Their team found that by focusing on working with office managers first, their impact is wider and more successful overall. Jeremy admits, “It wasn’t obvious,” in regards to seeking out office managers instead of marketing teams or HR teams, for example.
But, Jeremy and his team noticed office managers are “the glue that holds the corporate culture together.” If office managers buy a thousand t-shirts, those t-shirts get distributed all over the company. Then, those top quality t-shirts are already in every department, and swag.com is suddenly a “Trojan horse” inside the company for the next time they’re in need of promo products.
Why Promotional Products Provide Value
In today’s globalized internet culture, people crave value and authenticity. “People are trained to avoid marketing and marketing channels at all costs,” Jeremy says. From skipping commercials on TV to installing ad-blocking software on web browsers, brute force ads and marketing doesn’t work like it used to.
However, when someone gets a great piece of swag or branded merchandise, they’re excited. The hats and shirts get worn, the water bottles and notepads and keychains get used. It all comes down to quality.
Mediocre or uninspired swag often ends up in the trash, which will “tarnish your brand” as well as cost the company money. If you invest in promotional products that people will actually use or wear, Jeremy insists “that has an amazing power.” The people that receive those items become walking advertisements for your brand in a more authentic and organic way, especially if they post photos or videos online while they’re at it.
The same goes for employees, which is why great company swag can have such a profound effect on company culture. If staff is used to being given low quality swag that they never use or wear, morale takes a hit. The gesture can come across as inauthentic; a company is willing to give free stuff to its staff, but not take the time to make sure it’s what their staff actually wants.
On the other hand, however, when an employee can expect top quality swag from their work, they wear it with pride. They look forward to company events. They wear the shirts outside of the office, they start conversations with friends about it. Don’t underestimate the power of awesome company swag; as long as it’s high quality and something your staff is excited about, your brand will soar and the culture will thrive.