The Downfall of Cheap Promotional Items:
Luxury Branded Merchandise Is the Future

On average, you have 8 seconds to capture your target market's attention. Don't waste your opportunity with cheap promotional items. In the sea of competition, we must constantly raise the bar and find more creative ways to emotionally connect with our consumers; high-quality merchandise can help you do that. 

Haven’t you heard? Cheap promotional items have been canceled.

The 2022 consumer has deemed promotional products as dead. Why? All too often, brands have bombarded their employees and potential customers with cheap and tacky promotional items that either end up in the trash or on the shelf collecting dust. 

We’ve all been there before. Whether you’re walking through a trade show or showing up for your first day at a new job, you've been handed a gift. Initially, you’re probably excited by the token, but then reality sets in, and you end up with a cheap bag of plastic, unuseful items that no one wants. Between boring stickers, flimsy pens, and poorly made t-shirts, these items give an initial negative impression and are likely never to be used. Not only is it a letdown, but it’s also downright annoying to have to figure out how to get rid of the items politely. 

Now let’s turn this scenario around. Instead of giving people items they don’t want, try gifting branded merchandise that is high-quality, functional, and ensure that its an item people will actually use. Using premium and luxury items will pretty much eliminate the scenario we discussed above. 

Think of how you would feel if, on your first day at a new job, you were presented with a company-branded HydroFlask water bottle or a high-quality sweatshirt. You’ll likely feel valued and excited to use these new items. After all, high-quality gifts show that your company cares about you! 

Branded merchandise, when done correctly, can be highly effective and showcase a wide variety of benefits both for you as a brand and for your consumers. According to recent research, branded items make a significant impression on today's customers, with 85% of people remembering the presenter or advertiser who gave them any particular item. 

Form a positive first impression by learning to effectively utilize branded merchandise and say goodbye to cheap promotional products for good! 

The Death of Cheap Promo Products

As previously mentioned, cheap promo items are quickly becoming an “old-school” way to advertise and market your brand. Many people find that promotional items are tacky and useless. These products also don’t typically have the best feelings surrounding them.

Within seconds of being handed some free swag or merch, it tends to go in the trash. Not only does this do the exact opposite of what you are trying to accomplish, it 

  • dissolves brand awareness

  • doesn’t generate qualified new leads

  • leaves a negative first impression

  • causes you to lose money

  • creates environmental waste

Many promotional products are made from inexpensive plastic. With plastic being one of the top contributors to environmental waste, promotional products are a part of that waste. Consumers are shifting to try and be environmentally conscious. While you don’t want to “greenwash” your items showing you care about your environmental footprint can go a long way. 

While the products turn into waste, it’s also essential to consider the number of dollars companies spend on these items. From the initial meetings about the ordering process and manufacturing to shipping and receiving these orders, people spend a lot of money on promotional items. In North America alone, the promotional product industry is worth about $26.3 billion dollars.

Instead of wasting money on poorly manufactured products, there are more effective ways to use merchandise to your advantage, not your disadvantage. 

What Is Custom Branded Merchandise?

The difference between custom branded merchandise and promotional products is simple. Branded merchandise is high-quality items (apparel, tech, household items, etc) that are designed to reflect the company brand, mission, and values. Promotional products are cheap, mass-produced items that typically only have the logo printed onto them. 

Branded merchandise items are typically made using higher quality materials and brands. Some quick examples of branded merchandise are: 

  • Columbia Vest/Jacket

  • Otterbox Phone Case

  • Untuckit Button Down

  • RayBans Sunglasses 

  • Nike T-Shirt/Long Sleeve 

While these are just a few examples, it's important to note that one of the main differences between branded merchandise is the quality of the item. These are brands that are already well-known and loved. People already use them and incorporate them into their daily lives. 

These items are designed to be more than just the company logo. They may be personalized with someone's name, colorfully designed to represent the brand's mission/values, or for specific events or gifts. 

Branded merchandise takes a longer time to produce than promotional items. From conception to the final product, there are many steps that take time and thought. This will cause the time frame to be longer; however, you will see and experience the vast differences between quality over quantity. 

Some examples of cheap promotional products are: 

  • Flimsy Pens

  • Fragile Mugs

  • Poorly Made T-Shirts

In short, these items are meant to be produced quickly. Because of this, these items are often lower quality, likely to break, be thrown away, or not used at all.

People remember the products that you show to them. Choosing the right product is key – 72% of people say that a brand’s reputation is reflected in the quality of the products they receive. 

Whether this product is gifted internally or externally, you want to put your best foot forward. When working with branded merchandise, you may go through various design choices, stages of creativity, and other steps to ensure that you are going beyond a simple logo and font. 

The final production of your item will be unique to you and your company and apparent to those who see it. Using branded merchandise instead of promotional products shows that you care about your employees, your consumers, and the environment.

What Are the Best Products to Use?

When it comes time to choose a product to brand, you want to make sure that you’re finding the best type of item for you and your company/customers. With every business being different, your business merch should be different from others. As mentioned, one of the best things about branded merch vs. promo items is that branded merchandise steps away from the “one-size-fits-all” approach. 

The best types of products to use for your branded merchandise are products that you know are already used and loved by your consumers. This strategy can ensure that the people receiving the items are more likely to use them, love them, and therefore give you all the benefits that come with custom branded merchandise.

Think about items and brands that you love. Why do you love them? How do they add value to your life? When asking yourself these questions, you’re probably thinking about the functionality and the quality of these items. They’re also likely aesthetically pleasing and easily fit into your lifestyle. The same goes for branded merchandise. You want to apply the same thoughts to that process. 

Statistically, jackets and other outerwear pieces are some of the most commonly used. 

Wearables dominate the next three highest impressions for branded swag:

  • T-shirts get 3,400 impressions

  • Headwear such as hats also get 3.400 impressions

  • Bags like totes and duffle bags are just a little lower, with 3,300 impressions.

Items that are geared to be used multiple times for multiple reasons can also be highly effective because consumers see them as being more environmentally friendly. Instead of doing some type of knick-knack or product that doesn’t serve a purpose, is viewed as being wasteful and not as environmentally friendly.  Nearly half of all consumers 46% will have a more favorable opinion of your brand if your promo products are environmentally friendly. 

Quality is one of the essential aspects of creating well-branded merchandise. Think of the products you see people using, think about currently trending items, and use that to your advantage. Think of your own favorite brands like Nike, Comfort Colors, Lululemon, Champion, etc., and see if you may be able to use products like that.

What Are the Best Brands for Custom Merchandise?

The answer is simple when thinking of what brands are the best to use. The best brands to use are ones that create high-quality products. No matter what you are looking to use, finding items that can withstand the test of time are crucial to your success.

All too often, we’ve received an item that we are excited about and want to implement in our daily lives, but after one wash or use, that item is no longer functional and ends up going in the trash. 

Some of the most popular and well-liked items that have been used as branded merchandise are as follows but are not limited to: 

  • Topo Brands

  • The North Face

  • Carhartt

  • Eddie Bauer

  • Adidas

  • YETI

  • HydroFlask

  • Oakley

  • Puma

  • Levi’s

  • Titleist

  • RayBan

  • Champion

  • Untuckit

  • Herschel

  • Marmot

These are all premium brands, which is how you want your brand to be perceived. While finding an item that comes from a brand or manufacturer that is less well known can cause people to view you the same. While brands some brands can work great, they don’t have the same wow factor as those other premium brands.

You’ll also find that you’re creating less product waste by straying away from the cheap pins, flimsy pens, and fragile mugs. It may be more expensive to go with a premium brand, but in the end, you’re more likely to reap the benefits that branded merchandise can bring.

These items also tend to be produced by better quality manufacturers, leading to better environmental and ethical impact. Considering all of this will show that you care about these same issues, allowing people to feel more aligned and relatable to your company.

How Does Custom Branded Apparel Boost Employee and Customer Satisfaction?

Aside from a uniquely designed item created to reflect your business, values, and mission, branded merchandise can help improve employee and customer satisfaction. Internally, employee satisfaction, specifically during today’s Great Resignation, is one of the top reasons people seek out new job opportunities. Externally, it can help form a sense of community and help boost brand awareness. Every size of business, from a solopreneur to a corporation, can benefit from branded merchandise.

Internal Benefits

Company Culture

One of the most significant benefits of using personally designed merchandise is the growth of company culture and employee satisfaction. These items offer an opportunity to picture what matters to the business, then provide it as a gift for employees. A few ideas for when to offer branded merchandise as a gift include:

  • Welcome Gifts

  • Anniversary Gifts

  • Holiday Gifts

  • Celebratory or Milestone-Related Gifts

  • Internal Congratulatory Promotional Gifts

Similarly, these items can directly reflect what your company values. Tailoring products to fit your audiences' specific needs will showcase who you are as a business better than any poorly made pen or unappealing branded water bottle could. 

Employee Satisfaction

In today's day and age, employee satisfaction is one of the top reasons people leave their current places of employment. People prioritize hybrid work schedules, flexibility, and how valued they feel in a professional space. Small rewards, such as a high-quality bumper sticker, coffee mug, t-shirt, tote bags, socks, small scrapbooking stickers, etc., can offer cost-effective ways to let employees and contractors know you value them. 

While it may not be the end solution to solve “The Great Resignation,” it can provide you and your employees with a sense of community and value. 

External Benefits 

Customer Experience

Branded merchandise improves the customer experience by letting consumers feel like a part of the company or business. People buy products because they want to feel like they are a part of something, whether it be an aesthetic or a lifestyle. For example, think of a product that you recently bought. You bought it because of the brand, and while there are probably many other products that serve the same purpose, the one you bought made you feel like you were a part of something.

You can use merchandise by selling products to consumers, giving them away at events, gifting them for loyalty purposes, etc. 30% of consumers are open to receiving more information about your brand when you do activities like giveaways or contests. Utilizing merchandise for contests and giveaways is another excellent way to improve that experience.

Building Brand Awareness

Your brand reaps marketing benefits when your employees, contractors, customers, or vendors wear or use your branded items. When people wear or use your branded merchandise, their family, friends, coworkers, and strangers see your brand. Their modeling of your branded merchandise creates an instant positive impression. Think of it as an everlasting advertisement.

You can easily extend these benefits by creating a custom hashtag to use with branded merchandise posts. Invite employees, consumers, etc., to take a photo of themselves using or wearing their branded items, then post them with your hashtag. By doing this, you instantly extend the usefulness of your gift. Extend the invitation to do this separately from your gift-giving. The offering of a gift of any kind should come with no strings attached.

How to Use Branded Merchandise Correctly and Effectively

The way you use branded merchandise matters. While consumers may not be able to understand the full ins and outs of what it takes to design something, they will be able to understand the quality of the product right away. 

Quality is one of the biggest differences between branded merchandise and promotional products, which is why it's often reflected in the price tag. 

Spending more money on branded merchandise will allow you to experience the full amount of benefits that we’ve discussed. The product you curate will be tailored to fit into the lifestyle of the people you will be giving it to. 

The whole idea is to move away from mass producing and mass gifting. Spending more on fewer products and strategically gifting to the right audience you know will buy or the right team members will improve morale. 

Creating fewer products can also give a sense of exclusivity to the product and your brand. This can increase buzz and awareness, making people feel more inclined to become a part of your business. It can also help grow the demand, which in turn can help boost profits and overall revenue. 

Why Should I Spend More Money on Custom Merchandise?

Custom products go beyond what most people expect. Instead of spending your company’s money on unnecessary items, you want to find a product your consumers don’t have yet or know they need. This way, you’re more likely to give them something that they will actually keep and use.

You also want to consider how the design of your product will appear. Currently, items with minimal logos and branding are doing better than huge logo-heavy items, which you want to consider. The design of your item will also be part of your success story. Luckily, when you work with a branding agency, you will have access to designers that can help give you the look and feel you are going for without sacrificing other aspects. 

You will also have a more comprehensive selection of products to choose from. Promotional products can be limited to only select items, but with branded merchandise, the sky is truly the limit.

Whether you’re looking for apparel, signage, event items, etc., an agency can help you create personalized products that showcase your brand and its mission. Plus, it can even promote a better initial connection with the person receiving the product, too.

What Is a Branded Merchandise Agency?

When looking to start utilizing the merchandise, you want to ensure that you are working with a branding agency, not a promotional products company. A custom branding agency focuses on the initial creation, development, maintenance, and improvement of a brand specific to its merchandise.

These agencies first learn about your business so they understand it and its goals and objectives. The agency then works with you to convey these values, goals, and objectives to your target audience. The agency develops a strategy from this information that helps grow its brand through merchandise items. 

Agencies often offer leadership and industry guidance with respect to:

  • Creativity and Innovation

  • Supply Chain Management

  • Customer Service

  • Fulfillment and Distribution

Branded merchandise agencies work with you to develop a plan for your merchandise, strategies to implement it, and help you obtain the items from dependable vendors. Due to this careful curation, working with a branding agency may have a higher turnaround time than a promotional products manufacturer. While this may seem like a downfall, remember that you are working with much higher quality items, and the time is definitely worth it. 

Branded merchandise agencies do more than just help design unique merchandise designs. While not all of them have the exact same features, there are things you can look for to ensure that you are finding the best of the best. A well-branded merchandise agency should assist you with the following: 

  • Design

  • Sourcing and Procurement

  • Project Management

  • Inventory Management

  • Distribution Integration

  • Sales Intelligence

A creative merchandise agency should work with you from start to finish, offering its invaluable objective perspective to help you build a branded merchandise line that offers a consistent, cohesive, and compelling message. Great branding can go so much farther than a cool design, it can help scale revenue and drive the positive forces of your business forward. 

In Conclusion

Let a full creative agency like ImageSeller help you showcase your company. Instead of getting the same products as other companies but branded with your logo, your business obtains custom-designed products that feature your logo or brand. Our staff partners with you every step and collaborates with you to build a plan, then implement it.

Make a real difference in your business's success with branded merchandise by partnering with ImageSeller today. Go beyond promotional products that are wasteful, tacky, and cheap and experience the full benefits of branded merchandise. Check out our work and see some of our most recent projects, and reach out today to see how your brand can stand out with completely customized merchandise.

40 Examples of Unique Merchandise to Inspire Your Branded Merch Program

Need Inspiration for Your Branded Merch Program?

Download our guide, "40 Examples of Unique Merchandise to Inspire Your Branded Merch Program," to get a glimpse at some of our favorite custom-branded products we've created in partnership with our clients to date.