Branding Products Serving Nonprofit Missions –

5 Questions & Answers ….plus 4 Cautions

1. What are imprinted  promotional products?

visability-backgroundUseful and/or decorative merchandise adapted to serve as a communications vehicle. The technique: Imprinting these products with an organization’s name, message and/or logo. Unlike other media, a promotional product is a physical entity. It is retained by the end-user. It lasts for a long time. Thus, for good or ill – its impact on the brand is also long-lasting.


2. How are they used?

Because they are high-impact brand recognition products that make a lasting impression, many marketing programs consider logo-imprinted products as essential tools in building brand recognition and affinity. This is especially true for nonprofit marketing and fundraising programs, which is why nonprofits refer to them as “branding products.”.

Logo-imprinted branding products are called “premiums” or “incentives” when they are used to induce a person to perform a specific act, like register with an organization or enroll in a program or make a charitable contribution or become a volunteer or subscribe to a blog. Many sophisticated organizations use these incentives to attract donations.

Even though highly successful as incentives, the most important application for nonprofits is brand-enhancement – building recognition within the highly competitive Affinity Market.

3. Are they effective?

They are very effective.  This power is validated by nearly thirty years of research which compares all 2_10336_21262_actmg-271broadcast, print and promotional media. That research has been conducted by universities, marketing consultants, the Direct Marketing Association and and the marketing departments of large corporations.

Here’s a cool indication of their impact on influencing attitude and behavior is their usage. Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and most other publications use them to encourage subscriptions. Manufacturers of consumer goods use them to encourage purchases. Grocery stores and food producers are heavy users, as are colleges and universities, banks & credit card companies, beverage manufacturers. In fact, branding products are marketing tools for nearly every organization that competes for loyalty and support.

A massive list of organizations that find these products to be enormously persuasive could be presented here. The better approach to illustrate their power is to suggest the reader consult his or her own experience and observations and build a personal list of branding product usage.


4. Are they used heavily by nonprofits?

The promotional products industry generates sales of $20 billion annually. The nonprofit sector invests between $3 and $4 billion in these marketing tools, making it the largest user of logo-imprinted branding products!  ***

Here’s one reason: nonprofits invest in developing and sustaining a constituency of loyal supporters. To the nonprofit that is a financial reality. To the supporter it is an emotional connection. For both parties an inexpensive useful and lasting product carrying the organization’s logo is a badge of affinity whose perceived value greatly exceeds its actual cost.

Another perspective – our own experience. Although the only company that specializes in serving the nonprofit community nationwide, VisABILITY is a small organization. Even so – in our first 25 years, (the last time we counted) we had supplied logo-imprinted branding products to 21,000 nonprofit fundraising and marketing campaigns.


5-  What should nonprofit marketing executives know about the strengths and weaknesses of me_hoodie #2imprinted branding products?  Their benefits and risks?

VisABILITY understands that thousands of studies confirm the effectiveness of imprinted products, as does our own experience. Nevertheless, we want to bring the following cautions to the attention of the nonprofit community. These are considerations we fear much of the research misses or fails to emphasize:

YES – Years of research shows that nothing puts your brand in front of more people, more often, more positively and with less cost per impression than high-quality products imprinted with your logo. It will enhance the affinity of its owner and spotlight your brand through repeat impressions as long as it is in use.

CAUTION! Because its impact is long-lasting, you must not apply your logo to a crappy product. Do not buy for price. More about this below.

CAUTION!  When used as contributor incentives, branding products may be weak acquisition incentives. Our experience indicates modest success in attracting new contributions and new memberships. The people they motivate to make a first-time contribution are already committed to your mission.

YES – They are MOST powerful when used to induce action, to enhance commitment, to be used as personal-branding devices for current constituents who already have an established relationship with your organization.

As badges of affinity they have an unbeatable record of relationship enhancement for all supporters. As fundraising premiums they meet two essential challenges faced by development directors.

(1) RENEWALS: Well presented premiums push supporters off the fence and generate renewals from donors who otherwise might not contribute again.

(2) UPGRADES: They have an equally admirable capacity to produce gift upgrades.

Caution! No matter how much you personally love the thing, once your branding product is in the hands of the end-user, it is forever beyond your control. Yet it will affect your brand, for good or for ill, as long as it is used. For this reason the quality of the product and its imprint must reflect the quality of your organization.

Every promotional products factory and salesperson knows dozens of ways to reduce price by reducing quality. The product made and/or imprinted with these shortcuts will look OK at first, then disappoint.

The most direct route to products that will eventually undermine your brand….the most expensive way to reduce cost….. the easiest way to dishonor your constituency ….is to shop for price.

YES – Presentation is essential to the impact of any product imprinted with your organization’s graphics.

CAUTION!  Selecting a branding product to be imprinted with your graphic is only the beginning. Your vendor can only supply a useful but inert product with a pretty logo. The rest is in your hands.

It is up to you to craft the messages that make the item important. The messages that enhance its perceived value. The messages that tie the product to your organization and its mission. The messages that make it become a self-branding item for your supporters.

BOTTOM LINE: The product is static; your selection and logo and presentation gives it energy and appeal – and highlights the way the item reflects your constituent’s affinity for your work.

It is the ability to reflect affinity that allows the product to become a personal branding item for the owner – declaring his or her commitment to your organization. A high-quality, useful and properly presented branding product becomes  a powerful contributor incentive, a great marketing tool and a personal billboard with great influence over those already committed to your mission.

***You may be interested in the ranking of other sectors. Industry records indicate that the second largest user of imprinted branding products is the financial services industry (banks, credit unions, investment services, etc). The ranks of users then includes (in declining order) manufacturing, insurance, automotive, government (all levels combined), entertainment and sporting events and media – broadcast/print and advertising/public relations agencies.

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