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Several years ago, when I was still an indentured servant of The Man, I rented a postage meter from Pitney Bowes. Not long after I began stamping away with abandon, Pitney Bowes sent a postcard offering me a complimentary mug for renting from them. All I had to do was write down what name I wanted on the mug and send the card back.
Three weeks later, I received in the mail a mug naming Satan "Office Executive of the Year" for his wise choice in postage meters. Even today, whenever I drink from that mug, I think of Pitney Bowes. And the devil.
Okay, maybe that wasn't such a great example. But the point is that if you want people to shell out money for whatever you're selling, you need to keep reminding them that you're alive. The best way to do that is to give prospects something with your name on it that they'll use often and associate with good things (so toilet paper and trash bags are out).
Used to be, if you wanted to keep your name in front of prospects and clients, you got to choose from such winners as naked lady pens, magnetic business cards, and golf balls. Unless you wanted to drop a bundle, that is, in which case you could spring for wood-look plaques or cheesy inspirational sayings in goldtone frames.
Now, though, you can find premiums more befitting the creative genius -- and fiscal challenges -- of the IP. With the variety of inexpensive options available, you can edge the competition's lame hats and pom-poms-with-feet-and-eyes ("weepuls" to those of you in the biz) off prospects' shelves -- and you can stockpile your chosen goodies without winding up on a street corner collecting change in a personalized mug. But whatever you choose, just be sure to avoid pens, warns Chris Coleman, owner of the technology marketing company Folio Z in Atlanta. "It's such a dead giveaway that you couldn't afford anything else," she says.
Date Your Clients
Independent consultant and speaker Marilynn Mobley sends pocket calendars along with a clever letter about how she hopes the prospect will use it to schedule time with her. "They're very nice, high-quality calendars with lots of useful info, like maps, area codes, and toll-free numbers of hotels, car rentals, and airlines," she says. "I took great care in selecting them because I wanted them to be too nice to throw away. On the front, I have my company name, Web address, and phone number engraved."
The calendars cost about $1.75 plus $1 to mail first class, so Mobley sends them only to people she believes can either give her business or refer business to her. Each year she sends out 100 calendars in the following order of priority: current clients, past clients, other IPs with whom she teams on projects, suppliers, and people she met over the past year in networking situations. The calendars are so successful that recipients often call and email to ask if she plans to send them out again.
Business Cards = Boring
Business cards are boring. They're flat. They're square (okay, rectangular, but you know what I mean). It's hard to give one away without feeling like some glad-handing schmoozer. So Michael W. Michelsen, Jr., an independent writer specializing in business topics, turned his business card into a premium. Instead of giving out the same old dead-tree business card, Michelsen hands out a five-inch long plastic paper clip with his name, phone number, and the tag line "Great Copy!" imprinted on one side. "I give the clips to virtually anybody I come into contact with that might be a client," he says. "I also send them out in Christmas cards. They aren't too big to mail in letters either, and I've done that too. Virtually anybody who would normally get a business card from me gets one of these instead. I have three in my pocket right now."
Jennifer J. Johnson, owner of the marketing firm Johnson & Company, goes a little more upscale -- and a lot more down-home -- with her premiums. This past Christmas, she purchased fleece blankets from Kmart and Target for as little as $10 dollars apiece and had them embroidered with her logo for another $4 by a company that creates promotional clothing. The blankets, which she gave to associates, past clients, current clients, and prospective clients, reinforce Johnson & Company's "home-based and proud of it" image (every member of Johnson's team works from home).
The home-themed premiums don't stop there. Last Christmas, Johnson & Company gave female associates and certain female clients fuchsia silk pajamas from Victoria's Secret with the company logo embroidered on the pocket. "It's a playful recognition that we work at home," says Johnson. "We've also given out white terry cloth robes with our fuchsia logo on several occasions to clients, board members, and potential associates."
Give a Clue
For those who don't have the budget for jammies and blankies, Folio Z's Coleman suggests tip cards. The size of a credit card, these cards can be imprinted with anything you want. "If you're a CPA, perhaps you'd send a card with your name and logo on one side and a short list of tax deductions people sometimes fail to take on the other," Coleman says. "If you're a beautician, the card can have something like 'six ways to avoid split ends.' It should be informative and relate directly to your business." Folio Z's own cards have their company contact information on one side and a fill-in-the-blanks form that helps clients determine their positioning statement on the other.
Another benefit of tip cards is that prospects are more likely to open them. After all, what would you rather open: a flat paper envelope that's potentially a jury duty notice or a chain letter -- or something that feels like a credit card?
Get Personal -- Really Personal
These ideas too tame for your on-the-edge, happening business? Try perfume pens ($10.00 each) and flashlight-umbrellas ($12.18 each) from Corporategear.com or plastic fang whistles ($4.80/case) and plastic pocket skeletons ($4.80/gross) from The Oriental Trading Company. And if you don't mind someone squishing your logo in a rage, stress balls are another good choice. "We have a stress ball in the shape of a hand grenade," says David Verchere, CEO of Corporategear.com. "When you pull the string, it vibrates. It's vaguely obscene."
Though you may think vibrating balls are intimate enough, Coleman suggests including a personal note with each premium. "You need to make it clear that it wasn't something you just jammed into an envelope and put in the mail."
The last and most important tip: Don't let prospects choose what names to put on their premiums, unless you want them to be reminded of the Lord of Darkness every time they encounter your logo.
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