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A Promotional Product Marketer Abroad: 5 Takeaways From PPExpo

September 1, 2021 5 min read

Being invited to any event in your industry calls for a little excitement, but being invited for recognition as a speaker? Now that’s a true honor.

I was recently afforded the opportunity to speak at the Promotional Product Expo in Conventry, England – the United Kingdom’s biggest product exposition. Paul Kehoe, organizer of PPExpo and PPE Roadshows, discovered Delta through my blog and invited me to speak about 2017 promotional product trends as an Industry Insider. Needless to say, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity I wouldn’t dare pass up.

My goal as a speaker was to educate professionals about promotional product marketing trends, and whether they differ from the US to the UK. The intimate nature of this event allowed for compelling conversations with professionals eager to socialize and learn; you could practically feel the upbeat energy in the air.

Cathy Houston speaking about promotional product trends as an Industry Insider Cathy Houston speaking about promotional product trends as an Industry Insider at PPExpo.

Another goal of this journey involved my own growth as a promotional product marketer. Here I had this incredible opportunity: an exclusive look at the inner workings of another country's promotional product industry. How do marketers in the UK engage and interact with clients? What are some promotional product trends I should know about that aren't on my radar yet? By immersing myself in the community of promotional product professionals from the UK, I was exposed to valuable insights about my own industry.

Takeaway #1: There are more young promotional product professionals in the UK than in the US.

I’m not going to lie; this was a bit of a surprise for me. The UK industry is chock full of younger marketers that operate in the space of vendors and distributors. In my past blogs, I’ve touched upon the fact that many professionals are older and have worked in the industry for decades. Unlike the UK, the promotional product industry in the US is not currently attracting younger marketers. On the contrary, many of the young professionals I met at PPExpo were thrilled to just be there; I could truly feel their passion for this industry.

We need a younger persona to represent the promotional product industry, otherwise our industry will get lost in the noise. One problem facing the industry is that vendors and distributors continue to push cheap products that younger generations, like Millennials and Gen X, don’t value. This industry has a huge potential for creativity and growth that can be achieved by bringing in younger professionals.

Attention #millennial marketers: the #promotional products industry is calling you!

With the need for industry research and creativity, working in the promotional product industry is a great opportunity for young marketers, and attending PPExpo made this fact loud and clear.

Takeaway #2: It's all about decoration.

I had the opportunity to speak with many manufacturers from the UK, and there was one essential aspect of promotional product marketing that came up again and again: the value of decoration methods. At PPExpo, I learned that a strategic design has the power to make your company's promotional products an everyday item in your recipients' lives.

Promotional IPad Mini Pouch Step and Repeat Graphic Pattern This iPad Mini Pouch utilizes a step-and-repeat method of decoration - a single graphic or pattern (the robot) is repeated throughout the design.

Let’s take the electronics pouch above, for example. The step-and-repeat pattern of the Skucon robot gives the product the unique appearance of a retail-brand item. As I covered in my talk at PPExpo, companies are using retail-brand product decoration trends, like patterns and graphics, to appeal to younger generations. Millennials and Gen Xers resonate with products that utilize a retail-brand inspired design, as these kinds of designs give products a higher-perceived value.

A little more thought and effort is required to come up with the perfect design, but the end result is worth it. The more work you put into a product's design, the more customized it is to your brand. There are endless opportunities for brands to create a truly original product with decoration methods – it’s all about considering what’s out there!

Takeaway #3: Packaging increases an item's perceived value.

Promotional Beebop Headphones Packaging Beebop Headphones come in a package with compelling graphics and typography. Image by OrigAudio.

Here’s a trend that is prominent in both the US and UK: the value of a product’s packaging. Promotional product marketers are leveraging the fact that a product with compelling packaging tends to resonate more with recipients.

The reason for this is simple: when recipients open a beautifully packaged product, they feel as if they’re receiving a gift. Giving promotional products with effective packaging utilizes psychological benefits, like the showing of appreciation and gratitude, to make an emotional connection with the recipient. The psychology of gift giving combined with a packaged product makes for a strong connection between your brand and the recipient.

Another reason to use packaged products is related to the surge of retail-brand inspired designs and products. To recipients, getting a packaged promotional item is akin to getting a new product right off store shelves, which increases the perceived value of the product. Products in retail stores come uniquely packaged to each brand, so why should it be any different for your company's promotional products?

The Beebop Headphones pictured above are high price point items that are appropriate for special occasions, like employee appreciation gifts. However, this doesn't mean that packaging is only available for higher price point products.

Promotional Product Packaging Snap In Cord Organizer and Grip Ring Stand

Cost-effective items are beginning to come with packaging as well. Becoming increasingly common are items that range in price from $1 - $3 and come with simple packaging, like the Snap In Cord Organizer and the GripRing Stand. For inexpensive products, simple packaging methods, like a plastic sleeve, significantly increases the items' perceived value.

For instance, the product's functions and benefits can be displayed on the package - a clear and effective way to communicate the product's value to the recipient. In the case of the Snap In Cord Organizer, there is a description of the product on the paper backing: "Simply wind a cord or cable, insert coil into ring, and snap closed." Packaging methods for all price ranges of promotional products communicates value to the recipient - making packaging an essential trend to watch.

Takeaway #4: Product personalization is a way to form an emotional connection with the recipient.

At PPExpo, many manufacturers mentioned that they are seeing the importance of offering a personalization feature for promotional items. People have positive reactions to gifts that are perfected just for them by including personal information, like a name or special date. Products can even be personalized per recipient by colors, patterns, and graphics.

I see a direct correlation with this promotional product trend and the general consumer trend of individualism. The UK website Trend Monitor defines the trend: “individualism refers to the consumers’ increasing desire to be recognized as having ‘personal needs’ rather than being part of the ‘mass market.’” Promotional product marketers and companies ordering products can leverage this global consumer trend by implementing personalization for the recipients of their branded products.

Takeaway #5: Consumers want products with multiple functions.

A promotional product’s usefulness is the number one priority for consumers. For recipients, promotional items are a waste of space if they don’t serve a function. In fact, I learned at PPExpo that consumers prefer a product that has at least 2 or 3 functions. If a promotional product can solve a pain point, it will earn a regular place in your recipient’s life. You can find hundreds of promotional products that fit these standards.

EvryBox Promotional Bluetooth Speaker Not only does the Evrybox Bluetooth Speaker produce high-quality sound, it can simultaneously charge your device. Images by OrigAudio.

An ideal example of a multi-function promotional product is OrigAudio's Evrybox Bluetooth Speaker. Names can be deceiving, however - this product is not only a bluetooth speaker. With additional functions such as a built-in mobile device charger and microphone, this product has the potential to serve a purpose in recipients' everyday lives.

Closing Thoughts

Representing the US promotional product industry in a foreign country is a feat I once would have never dreamed possible. Driving on the opposite side of the road and navigating London's busy roundabouts was a huge learning curve in and of itself, never mind the valuable industry insights I gained from all of the wonderful professionals I met.

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This post was originally published March 1, 2017