Branded Merchandise: How to Create Winning Merch for your Brand

by Mark Stephens

You can gift-wrap them, or maybe just put them in a paper box; you can give them to someone or buy them for yourself. What am I talking about? I am talking about things!  Just like billions of other people on the planet, both you and I love things, especially those we can connect with at an emotional level. And, good merchandise branding is all about evoking various emotions! 

Think about the coffee mug you bought from your favorite coffee shop or that t-shirt you picked up when your favorite band was playing in your city or town! Yes, they remind you of so many things. One can easily have a feel of your taste and lifestyle with the things associated with you.

In simple terms, this is branding with you turning into the brand ambassador! Brand merchandising takes brand recognition a notch further. Brand merchandising makes your customers feel like they are an important part of the brand, and as it turns out, they are!

Brand owners and marketing professionals know the importance of branding merch, which is why they devote a significant amount of time exploring various tactics that can hook the customer’s attention. Be it a motivational slogan or your brand logo, or maybe a simple illustration: people are quickly attracted to merchandise with attractive designs.

According to Ibisworld.com the current size of the promotional products industry in the US is $15.6 billion and is expected to grow by 4.8 percent by the end of the 2021 fiscal year. The stat reflects the faith that companies have in branded merchandise.

Who is this article for?

Brand owners, graphic designers, artists, content creators, start-ups, and marketing students looking for in-depth insights into branding merchandise will find this article useful.

 This article covers the following:

  • What is merchandise branding?
  • Why is branded merchandise important?
  • Know your brand
  • Know your customers
  • Why is a visual brand persona important?
  • Types of Merchandise
  • Some winning brand merch ideas
  • Branded merchandising as a marketing strategy
  • Do’s and Don’ts of brand merch

What is merchandise branding?

In simple terms, the act of branding your merchandise, such as printing your company logo on t-shirts or coffee mugs, or creating stuffed key rings of your brand mascot, is referred to as merchandise branding.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of merchandise branding, let us explore what branding is first.

Branding is the process by which companies tell the world who they are. Branding involves various marketing strategies to communicate your brand identity to prospects, clients, vendors, competitors, investors, and clients.

Pringles Originals highlights key points about the brand by using an interesting color scheme, innovative packaging, and a modified logo. The combination of red and yellow portrays passion, energy, and joy. The iconic Mr. P logo adds a fun vibe to the entire packaging design.

The brand identity comprises various design choices you make, which finally communicates a visual story. From the color palette to logo to text, the brand identity contains various visual elements.  Coca-Cola, for example, compromises the following design elements:

  • The logo does not highlight what it sells.
  • Red and white color palettes portray passion, energy, celebration, and class.
  • The simple Spencerian script provides a touch of uniqueness.

Brand merchandising is about creating an original logo along with building brand identity (), after which the brand incorporates them along with other attractive visuals on merchandise to hook the customers. Marketers and business owners target such products that are of daily use to promote their brand. These products include drinkware, men’s and women’s apparel, t-shirts, hoodies, and accessories. Marketers then give away these merchandise as gifts or at a discounted rate. For example, marketers give away books or t-shirts to students at school or college campuses. The intention behind merchandising is to create brand awareness and appreciation.

Why is Branded Merchandise Important?

Among many tactics used by business owners and marketers, branding merchandise remains at the top of the food chain. Every product that bears the company logo is branded merchandise, which is used to foster brand identity. However, the importance of branding merchandise does not remain limited to promoting brand recognition.

The following are some advantages of branded merchandise:

  • Lead generation: Lead generation is the key to success. Companies devise new ways to generate leads while retaining old customers. Branded merchandising is a great way of generating leads and holding on to the old ones. Branded merchandising does not let your customers forget about your brand easily. If nothing works, branded merchandise will!   
  • Cost-effective marketing: Putting up an ad on TV or billboard may cost you a fortune, especially if you are a business with limited funds. Brand merch will provide you with a cost-effective way to market your brand.  While the conventional “Above the Line” advertisements, such as TV, radio, and billboard, can give you a wider reach, brand merch will allow you to influence a targeted group of consumers effectively.
  • Victory against competitors: A large number of businesses fail between their first and fifth years because they are unable to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Brand merch is a powerful weapon that can yield unimaginable results, especially when you are trying to find ways to differentiate yourself from your competition. Not every business works on branded content; therefore, brand merchandising can help you stand out from the crowd. 

Know Your Brand

Knowing yourself is key to almost anything you do in life, especially when it comes to successfully branding yourself. Unless you know who you are as a brand, brand merchandising will not be as successful as you intend it to be. Think of your brand as a person and ask the following questions:

  • What do you offer your customers?
  • Do you have a solution to a problem?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • Are your products/services priced higher or lower when compared to your competitors’?
  • Are you serious or playful?
  • What makes you different from your competitors?
  • What are your mission, vision, and values?
  •  Are you conventional or contemporary?
  • How large is your company?

Know Your Customers

Just like figuring out what your brand is about, understanding your customers is just as important. Asking the following question will help you understand your target audience:

  • What do they expect from your brand?
  • What do they value?
  • How do they want the brand to communicate with them?
  • What kind of products/services do they enjoy having?
  • What additional features do they want on merchandise?

Creating your visual identity based on what your customers value and want from your company will ensure you stand apart from the pack. Understanding your customers will enable you to create customized merchandise for them along with establishing an authentic connection.

Why is a Visual Brand Persona Important?

A visual brand persona is what attracts consumers to your brand. Once you determine what your brand is and who your customers are, you will be in a position to create a visual persona that will appear irresistible to your consumers.  

  • Color: Different colors are said to evoke various feelings in people. People are deeply influenced by colors, which marketers use intelligently to connect with the customers. Blue, for example, symbolizes peace, wisdom, and reliability, whereas white portrays cleanliness, purity, and a new beginning.
  • Fonts: The fonts you use play an important role in how consumers view your brand. Sans serif fonts make your brand look approachable and affordable, while serif fonts make you look classier. Every font is unique as they symbolize different things. Investing time in choosing the right typeface will enhance your brand value.
  • Voice: From copy to ads to voiceovers, your voice must be aligned with all the elements that make your brand unique. If you are a serious news agency, your voice should be professional and detailed, and if you own a coffee shop, your voice should be friendly and approachable.    
  • Graphics: Another important aspect of creating a powerful element of creating an attractive visual brand persona is graphic design. Shapes play a key role not only in logos but in branding merchandise as well. Just like colors, shapes have a psychological effect on people. For example, squares symbolize stability and security, whereas circles evoke positive energy and friendliness. 

Types of Merchandise

There are various types of merchandise, each with its unique qualities. After conducting thorough market research, you will be in a position to choose the category of merchandise that best suits your brand and marketing purpose.

  • Convenience Merchandise: Things that are required for a comfortable living, such as food items and personal hygiene products, fall under the category of convenience merchandise. These kinds of products are easily available for customers. However, this category does not include smartphones or your favorite shirt. Customers do not go through a decision-making process before buying products under this category.
  • Shopping Merchandise: These are the kind of products that customers want a lot of information about before making a decision. This category of products is purchased less because of thorough research and numerous comparisons. Costly items such as furniture, smartphones, and electric equipment fall under this category.
  •  Impulse Merchandise: Luxury items that a customer buys after buying all the necessary items at a shopping center is referred to as impulse merchandise. Items such as magazines or candy boxes fall under this category. In simpler words, things you buy that are not on your shopping list are impulse merchandise. In his book, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, Paco Underhill mentions, “Two-thirds of the entire economy is impulse buying.”
  • Specialty Merchandise: From international holiday tours to expensive vehicles, products, or services that are very costly fall under this category. A customer is ready to pay a fortune and travel long distances to buy such products. These uber expensive products or services are something that customers take pride in.

Some Winning Brand Merch Ideas

Marketers and business owners use almost every kind of product or service to promote their brands. However, there are some products that can easily attract customers. Given below are some winning brand merch ideas.

  • Accessories: Phone cases, hats, deodorants, hats, socks, and various kinds of accessories can be used as branded merchandise. Accessories are especially popular with the college-going crowd, so if you are looking to successfully promote your brand, including some accessories apart from books and T-shirts at the college campus may turn out to be a great idea.
  • Hoodies and Sweatshirts: Hoodies have always been popular because of the comfort they provide. Hoodies and sweatshirts with your company logo or interesting captions can be a great way to connect with potential customers. You can also give them to first-time consumers as freebies to turn them into repeat customers.
  •  Home and Living Products: Are you looking to attract whole families? Are you looking to promote your brand as fast and as effectively as possible? Well, there is a quick solution for you: home and living products can be highly useful merchandise for promotion. Giving away products such as bean bags, pillowcases, curtains, bedsheets, and mugs can be a fantastic way to promote your brand.
  • T-shirts: One of the most popular apparels on the planet, T-shirts can work both as casual and office dresses. T-shirts with slogans and designs are popular amongst every age group. High-quality T-shirts with your company logo design on them can be an easy way to promote your brand. If you are an artist, you can design T-shirts and sell them from your online store. 

Branded Merchandising As a Marketing Strategy

Branded merch is often used as an effective marketing tactic due to the following reasons:

1. Brand recognition: Your number one priority as a business owner should be to create brand recognition; this is especially true for start-ups.  If you are a start-up or a small business owner, investing in the right form of marketing could be confusing. Branded merch allows you to take your brand to a specific group of customers along with creating the maximum impact.

Picking up items of daily use will ensure that the customers remember you for a long time. The idea of branded merch is to make your product visible and accessible for as long as possible, which is why items of daily use, such as flash drives and T-shirts with your company logo or message on them, are the best way to foster and retain brand recognition.

2. Brand introduction: One of the biggest roadblocks for small businesses and start-ups remains the challenge of effective brand introduction. Distributing your products for free to customers will let hundreds of thousands of people know about your company. Distributing your merchandise will enable people to differentiate between you and your competitors’ products.

You should print your logo, along with your contact details and the website on the merchandise, to create the maximum impact while introducing your brand to the world.

Point to remember: Brand image or perception is the result of marketing, customer experience, product quality, and promotion done in the past. Y

3. Helps build an emotional connection with the customers: Branded merch helps build an emotional connection because you communicate with the customers at a personal level while distributing the merchandise. To create an emotional connection with the customers, giving away freebies alone will not suffice. Apart from distributing merchandise, you must ask them how they are along with showing empathy.

Another very important area that you should think about is authenticity. In fact, the best way to connect with the customers emotionally is to engage them authentically. Talk about various aspects of their life rather than just giving out the merchandise. The value of the merchandise increases manifold if you can connect with them authentically.

4. Helps reduce ad costs: Small businesses and start-ups have to engage themselves in various aspects of developing their brands. Budget restrictions often cause them to curtail their marketing strategies, which often hamper the brand recognition process. The conventional methods of marketing require large sums of money, which businesses can put to other use, like obtaining raw materials for the products. For them, branded merchandising comes as a blessing.

Businesses can easily procure various products from the market and print their logos and messages on them. Next, find a place where a lot of people gather, like college campuses and shopping malls. Then, give away your freebies!

Point to remember: It is a good idea to distribute useful merchandise, which can be used regularly by the customers. Things like a flash drive will stay with the customers and remind them of your brand, plus they are low-cost.

5. Helps build a loyal customer base: One of the intentions behind using branded merchandise as a marketing strategy is to build a loyal customer base.  Loyal customers are the best brand ambassadors because they help spread brand awareness. Several surveys reveal that a majority of shoppers who received branded merchandise were most likely to associate with the brand in the future. A study published on Prodigy found that “89 percent of consumers… would like to see more merchandise from their favorite brands and influencers.” Branded merchandise propels customer loyalty without the use of additional marketing efforts.

6.  Integrates into any business model effortlessly: Whether your business deals with products or is involved in catering various kinds of services, branded merchandise can easily integrate into any business model. Businesses involved in manufacturing products can stockpile some of their items to be used as promotional products. If you deal with providing services, you can offer free services to the customer for a limited period.

As a business owner, you can make branded merchandising a permanent feature of your marketing strategy. Apart from the items you manufacture or the services you provide, products of daily use such as T-shirts, bottles, and grooming items can be distributed as freebies.

7. Helps grab the attention of customers: Brand owners and markets are continuously developing new ways to hook the attention of the customers. The tangibility that branded merchandise provides helps in engaging customers with the brands, which is why many believe that it scores over digital advertising. 

Daniel Gaugler, CMO of Printing for Less , a tactile marketing company, believes, “The gift can be a hook that’s going to provide a connection. It gives you a little bit of incentive—the putter to do the call. But more importantly, the company sending this gift delivers their value propositions [the reason for sending the gift].”

8. Make new customers: A recent study shows that businesses spend five times more to attract new customers as opposed to the money they spend to retain old ones. The study also found that a staggering 44 percent of companies focus on acquiring new customers, whereas only 18 percent focus on retaining them. The study reveals that acquiring new customers remains a key factor to growing a business. With that said, small companies find it difficult to attract new customers because of limited funds. Branded merchandise provides a safe gateway for small businesses and start-ups to up their game. Merchandise with a company logo and a motivational caption can help a business connect with new customers at an emotional level.

9. Helps increase sales: Employing branded merchandising as a marketing tactic can increase your sales. It has been found that the average sales per customer and total sales go up several notches when branded merchandise is distributed to the customers. Apart from retaining old customers and attracting new ones, branded merchandising can work wonders for your company’s sales funnel.

      Promotional products put the customer in a state of mind where they make impulsive purchases, and brands are encouraged to up-sell and cross-sell.

Good to know: When a brand impresses a customer to buy better versions of the product in question is referred to as upselling. Cross-selling is the practice of encouraging customers to buy related items.

Here is a great video on “How to Upsell and Cross-Sell to E-Commerce Customers.”

10. Better business exposure: Branded merchandise ensures that your brand gets the exposure it deserves. Businesses choose this form of advertisement because it allows brands to connect directly with the customers. Some marketers will even tell you that branded merchandising is so powerful that it can leave other forms of advertising behind.

While it is true that branded merchandising is an effective way of advertising, underestimating other forms of marketing, such as TV and radio ads, will only limit your marketing efforts. If you have the financial resources, experimenting with various forms of marketing will only strengthen your brand value.

Do’s and Don’ts of Brand Merch

Branded merchandise can be a boon to those who have just entered the market; however, your marketing efforts may not add up if you don’t think through your marketing intentions. Given below are some tips to ensure maximum output from brand merch.

Do’s

  • Use items that can be used for a longer time: Items such as hoodies, bags, power banks, T-shirts, and flash drives can stay with the recipients for a long time. The idea behind branded merchandise is to let the customers know about your brand; hence, items that have high usability will keep reminding the recipients of your brand.  
  • Focus on what you want to achieve out of your promotional products: Focusing on the result at the very onset of your marketing campaign will allow you to be clear about the purpose behind distributing promotional products. Do you want to boost brand recognition, build a sales funnel, and hook new customers? Answers to these questions will enable you to be focused on what you want to achieve out of your promotional products.
  • Implement appropriate strategy: Unless you have a clear idea about who your target audience is, implementing an effective strategy will become difficult. Conducting thorough research and defining customers’ persona will enable you to implement appropriate strategies. 

Don’ts

  • Be invasive: Ensuring your promotional product is non-invasive will have a long-term impact on the target audience. The best merchandise does not scream for attention: it is subtle yet impactful. When your promotional product is able to strike the right balance between being subtle and creating enough impact, you have winning branded merchandise that can retain old customers and hook new ones.
  • Limit your reach: The idea behind brand merch is to reach as many people as you possibly can. However, certain factors can limit your reach. Products such as fitted T-shirts may come up as a challenge because not every size will fit all. Items such as caps and socks can be great promotional items.

Conclusion

Branded merchandise presents an opportunity to connect with new customers and find out how old ones are doing. For customers, it is an opportunity to carry a piece of your brand home. The unique brand-customer relationship develops further through branded merchandise.

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