Tell your brand’s story with promotional products


Recently I visited my friend Brian, who was looking for bikes on Craigslist. Now, Brian already has two bikes — a fixed gear and a tandem — but he wants more. Brian’s not the kind of guy to be satisfied with a practical fulfillment of his needs; he obsesses over things. When he adopted a cat a few years ago he wasn’t satisfied with that, either. He let the cat have four kittens in his house, then he adopted a ferret and brought his childhood pet snake from his parents’ house. The animals all live in harmony with his roommate’s hedgehog. Brian is neither greedy nor rich. He doesn’t have a television set and you’d be hard pressed to find a suitable water glass in the house, but he proudly owns a 100-piece collection of vintage mushroom pottery.

Brian’s actually not that different from most people. We like to think that we buy based on price comparisons and consumer reports, but most of the time we act on gut feelings. I may be looking for a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment with a balcony, but if I fall in love with the quirky floor-planned 1 bedroom with poor insulation, I’ll start talking myself into the buy. “That screened-in porch could totally work as a second bedroom… and the real estate agent said it used to belong to an heiress in the 1920s!”

We often choose story over sense. In a globalized market there are too many choices, and we’ll pick the one that stands out. That’s why it’s important to think of your brand not as a transaction maker, but as a storyteller. Coca Cola designates its entire museum to telling the story of its product, and their ads too. This commercial turns a simple transaction — buying a coke from a vending machine — into a complex narrative. Notice the ending:

Back to my friend Brian. During our conversation he remarked that he likes the Craigslist bikes with a story behind them. “I want to know why they’re selling them,” he said. “Maybe it’s the guy’s daughter’s bike, and she’s going away to college, and she’s not going to use it anymore. Maybe they’re moving out of the country. Whatever it is, I want to know.”

I found similar responses when I was selling my couch on Craiglist earlier this year. “Why are you selling the couch?” people would ask, even before they started haggling the price. Putting a story behind your brand lends it authenticity. And the power of promotional products is that they communicate that story to your customers.

So what is your brand’s story? And how will you use promotional products to tell it?

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