Wednesday, 03 October 2018 13:13

Marketing for Shops: Let Your Customers Become Your Brand Ambassadors With Ad Specialties

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A body shop in the Bay Area gave me a swag bag full of stuff a few years ago that included pens, a t-shirt, a baseball cap, a coffee mug and several other items displaying the shop's logo.


I could see right away that they were quality items, which is why they stayed out of my trash bin.


In fact, I wear the t-shirt and the baseball cap all the time because they're comfortable and I like the design. I realize that I've become a walking billboard for the business, but I'm okay with it because I'm getting some free high-end apparel and other cool stuff as part of the deal. As a marketing tool, it's working because the investment that the shop made in ad specialties has paid for itself---at least in my case.


Anything that has your company’s name on it is called an ad specialty. From my experience, almost every body shop in the country makes a practice of giving away at least one to three ad specialties to their customers, associates and vendors. It's a huge business; in fact, the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) has identified it as a $19.4 billion industry with a network of more than 25,000 distributors and suppliers throughout North America.


Putting your logo on an item and getting people to use it is the biggest challenge for any business, but by taking a creative and strategic approach, many shops are getting maximum exposure out of their ad specialties. By thinking outside of the box and finding unique items, some companies have become well-known for their ad specialties, such as In 'N Out Burger, Ford Motor Company and Skechers.


Identifying a high-quality ad specialty and personalizing it for your current followers is also a great way to further strengthen your position with your customer base, according to Brad Healy, owner of Custom Concepts in San Jose, CA.


“If you've already fixed someone's vehicle, why not keep them in the loop by sending them an ad specialty every six months to remember you?" Healy said. "I show body shops how to use a form of personalization that is unique so that when others see your message, it comes through clearly.



"Being creative is also a great way to really connect even more with your most-prized contacts. Some shops will put the company mascot on the item, such as the shop dog or pet. Corny sayings like ‘We Meet by Accident’ will also work, believe it or not. The most important thing is to not buy inexpensive items because it makes you look cheap. Instead of purchasing 5,000 cheap plastic pens, for example, maybe buy 2,000 higher-quality pens in order to keep them in the hands of your customers longer."


A well thought-out ad specialty is more likely to pay for itself over time and maybe even generate a profit in some cases.


“The longer a customer will use that item, the longer your name and brand will remain at the top of their minds, which means your efforts will grow exponentially,” Healy said. “We want something that they will use repeatedly and that will remain on their desk for a much longer period of time. Some shops (mostly restoration) sell a line of apparel, which is the ultimate situation because people are paying them to do their branding for them.”


Some shops are always looking for seasonal ad specialties to gain even more exposure during certain times of the year.


"During the summer, some shops use flip flops, sunglasses and beach towels, and in the winter, I will often suggest beanies and even sweaters or jackets if they have the budget," Healy said. "One of my clients even asked me to create book covers for the back-to-school season, and they received huge kudos from the students and their parents."


According to Healy, the products that leave the most positive impressions and that recipients keep longer are: outerwear, shirts, recognition items (awards, plaques), caps/headwear, flash drives, health and safety products, desk/office accessories and bags.


The ASI conducted an in-depth study a few years ago to illustrate the importance of ad specialties in the automotive marketing, branding and advertising world:



● Over half (52 percent) of the time, ad specialties leave a more favorable impression of the advertiser.

● Eighty-one percent of product recipients indicated that an item’s usefulness is the primary reason to keep it.

● There are nearly 8,000 different automotive-related promotional products currently in ASI’s database.

● The automotive industry buys more promotional items than do all other consumer product companies combined nationwide.


Study results show that most people own approximately 10 ad specialty items on an on-going basis and hold on to them for an average of six months, a far longer time period than any other traditional form of advertising.


What’s your ultimate goal in giving away a pen, hat or key chain? Who’s your target audience---millennials, small families or the senior market? Are you trying to reach out to prospective customers? Or are you staying in touch with your VIP clients---those who seem to get into more accidents or have higher-end vehicles? Are you doing a campaign targeting your vendors, insurance agents, local community leaders or organizations?


It all comes down to finding your target market and continually branding. But maybe just importantly, invest a little more money into your ad specialties or buy them in smaller quantities and distribute them less liberally. The idea is to get people in your community to wear that same shirt ad hat more than just once!

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