Business people everywhere are familiar with promotional products or tchotchkes; I would bet each of you has at least one product-branded stress ball or bobblehead sitting by your desk as you read this. Many people think of these wares as the junk one accumulates at a trade show. But there is a whole new generation of attractive, well-designed promotional products to support your brand, encourage customer loyalty, and promote new products or services in your business. Here are a few tips for making memorable promo pieces that will catch and hold your customers' attention.

Make It Well-Designed, Useful, Informative

The most effective promo pieces are both memorable and functional. Here are some favorites from the desks and homes of ProSales editors. Photo: Charlie Brown/ Good design rules. An item can be inexpensive and still be well-designed. Select, don't settle; remember that your brand is on this item.

Give items that your customers can use every day. Margarita glasses are fun but will be thrown away. A tape measure, a thermos, or a notepad will be retained and therefore will keep your company name in front of your customer.

Always have your contact information on your product. This is frequently overlooked. Your company logo plus your Web site is fine. Make sure your potential customer can find you easily so you get return on your investment.

Give Valued Clients Valued Goods

Send a high-quality promotional product to a client in recognition of a first or large order. Include a handwritten note. The personalization and genuine appreciation of your customer's business is the important thing here.

Use the delivery of branded product as an access tool for your salespeople. "Hey, I was in the neighborhood and wanted to deliver this to you. By the way, do you have any projects that I might help with?"

Support your company's attributes with non-traditional direct-mail promotional products. For example, send branded work gloves with a detailer attached describing your company's hardworking culture or a branded flash drive with a card attached speaking to your company's dedication to the best new technology.

Deploy a call-to-action initiative using a high-value branded product. Encourage the potential client to visit your Web site and provide contact information; if they do, then send them the soccer chair, etc. You incur an expense only if your target audience does exactly what you want them to do. If the threshold of information you seek is low, such as basic contact info, then the cost of the gift should be low. If the threshold is high–say, contact info and all pending projects using your products–then the gift should be commensurately priced. This is a highly effective tactic.

Procurement Tips

Find a good Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) distributor to serve your needs. The distributor should have an in-house art department and fulfillment capability. If they don't, keep looking. If you don't have a good source locally, seek out a distributor in the closest major metropolitan area. Virtual proofs can be provided via e-mail and the final product shipped directly to your location. The advertising specialty industry is full of mom-and-pop operations. A small firm can be fine, but make sure it has the capabilities and taste that are in sync with your organization.

Take the use of promotional products seriously. Don't assign the task to your receptionist! The pharmaceutical, financial services, and technology industries spend tens of millions of dollars on promotional products. There is a reason: They are very effective.

Ask your distributor for a catalog from Leed's. Leed's ( is a best-of-breed supplier with diverse product offerings of good quality and a broad range of price points. Get the catalog. You will not be disappointed.

Consider clothing. Shirts, jackets, and hats are a huge part of the promotions business and are highly prized, but they are expensive, sizing can be tricky, and you must watch the quality of embroidery and screening. Make sure your distributor provides you with samples of its decorating capability and insist on a pre-production proof before an order is run.

–Thad Bench is president of Benchworks, a fully integrated promotions and communications firm with offices in Maryland, New York, and Los Angeles. 800.536.4670.