What are Promotional Products?
Promotional products are essentially any objects used to create brand awareness. For example, the fleece blanket that Sports Illustrated sent as a thank-you gift is one because it helps you remember to renew your subscription. The stainless steel travel mug that your university's IT department passed out your first day of class is one because it makes students aware of IT as a resource. The t-shirt that you got when you ran a 5K to raise funds for breast cancer research is one because the shirt spreads awareness for Race for the Cure's campaign. Almost all of them are imprinted with the logo of the entity they are meant to advertise.
Branded items are often called walking billboards because whatever logo is imprinted upon them travels wherever recipients carry the blanket, mug or t-shirt. You can use these items to advertise any brand, whether that brand represents a large corporation, small business, non-profit, school or government institution. You can even use them at your wedding; think of cocktail napkins that say "Juan & Michelle -- May 15th, 2010."
Although the most common merchandise includes t-shirts, hats, pens, keychains, mugs and magnets, most distributors can put your logo on almost anything. The products are manufactured by factories either domestically or abroad and shipped to vendors who perform the custom imprinting. Your distributor works as a liaison between you and the vendors to provide customer service and manage your order.
The top five buyers of logoed items are the education, financial, not-for-profit, healthcare and construction industries, in that order. The real estate industry comes in at number seven. Real estate agents often market their personal brand, since an agent's success is strongly linked to her as an individual. Think of all the business card magnets, calendars and pens you've seen with the face of a real estate agent on them.
Most other industries, however, use logo items to brand entire companies or organizations. Branded merchandise is a cost-effective method with which to advertise. Read "The Effectiveness of Marketing with Promotional Products" to learn what return on investment you can expect from your items.