Six Promotional Product Industry Trends Marketers Need To Know

What trends impact the promotional product industry? Here's a guide to what's new, and how to rock your next campaign.
Promotional Product Industry Trends

Pens, tote bags, T-shirts, wearables, branded tchotchkes…

If you said swag or promo product a decade ago, these would be the types of things that would come to mind.

Combining technology and creativity has turned promotional products into a way to build connections, create brand awareness, and drive loyalty. It also unlocks a whole new way to engage with your prospects, customers, employees, and everyone in between.

The promotional product industry is subject to various social and economic forces that can change what it means to provide a memorable swag experience.

We’ll dive into today’s promotional product trends and how they will likely impact corporate gifting initiatives in Q4 of 2022 and early next year.

1) Adapting to Work-From-Anywhere

Return to office? Hybrid working? Distributed employees? Regardless of where your organization lies on this shift in working environments, one thing is sure: the office is no longer the standard for work.

Regardless of what Goldman Sachs or Tesla decide, there will be a significant share of the workforce that won’t commute to an office anymore. Working remotely isn’t exclusive to small businesses or other market segments, either.

When it comes to corporate gifting, this shift in working environments has a considerable effect on promotional items and engagement.

CHART: U.S. Employee Work Locations (Office vs. Home) - Gallup
On-site work ticks upward, but remote remains top choice (via Gallup)

No longer can you drop a door-opener gift via direct mail to HQ addressed to your prospect, because they are unlikely to visit the office. Likewise, they may reside in another country entirely. This brings its own complexities, which we’ll get into later.

Employee engagement and team building are also harder. Remote and hybrid environments add additional obstacles when trying to encourage a sense of cohesion among employees.

The solution to these issues is to make gift outreach as exciting as it was to get mail when you were a kid. That means kitting, unique packaging, and creating an unboxing experience.

Rather than the company trawling for employees’ home addresses, a gifting platform like Alyce safely and securely collects a recipient’s mailing address.

2) It’s All Personal Now

Everyone’s heard the quote, “It’s not personal; it’s business.”

In the novel, The Godfather, Michael eventually declares to his brother, Tom: “Don’t let anybody kid you. It’s all personal, every bit of business.”

The shifts in how we work caused by the pandemic have made many reconsider the separation between work and personal life.

For some, it means being clear about work time and personal time. However, without an office, one can easily slide into the trap of working all the time without many breaks, so many people have made an effort to put a wall up between the two.

Still, people bring their whole selves, including their personal interests and priorities, wherever they go. Our #5to9 passions are still part of who we are. Whether we work next to our colleagues in a cubicle or on the other side of the globe, we still like to work with people who have shared interests and values.

So, when sending a gift, you must demonstrate that you recognize the personal side of a person’s life. Don’t just send a company-branded pen with a generic message like, “It would be ink-onsiderate of me not to send a pen with our logo on it.”

A better idea would be to gift a writer their favorite kind of pen with a note that says: “Make sure you think of me when you finish your Great American Novel.”

Likewise, corporate gifting software helps to promote that sense of solidarity between team members. For example, branded backpacks and quality drinkware sets are a safe bet to celebrate company milestones.

We saw this a lot during the peak of COVID, when we sent out kits for popcorn night, movie night, and chocolate tasting because that sort of kinship spans several time zones.

3) More Sophisticated and Conscientious Buyers

The sophistication of buyers and customers has rapidly increased. We’ve all heard that buyers do more research now than ever, using social media, websites, or their networks. Yet, Gartner reports that “buyers only spend approximately 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers.”

Let’s reiterate that stat—buyers spend 83% of their time chatting internally and further researching their potential purchase.

The underlying trend that we’re seeing is the weight now granted by evaluators in their research phase to certain aspects of the company. As a result, decision-makers today consider seriously the purpose and values of a company, and it can spell the difference between a deal and no deal.

Receiving popular promotional items back in the day was almost an expectation for many. For example, when you went to a tradeshow, it was nearly a foregone conclusion that you would leave with a dragon’s horde of pens.

Today, however, a sustainability-minded person may see that pen as a waste of plastic, as they already have plenty of pens. The environmental impact of gifting industry products continues to grow in importance among stakeholders throughout North America and around the world.

One way to account for this environmental trend is to source your products from a promotional product distributor that bakes corporate social responsibility into its business model. For instance, the drinkware company, MiiR, donates a portion of its proceeds to water organizations worldwide.

2022 Promotional Product Industry Trends

4) Crackdowns on Data Privacy

The ability to share information quickly and easily over the internet has ballooned rapidly over the last few decades.

Hoarding unneeded client data has made it easier for bad actors to get a hold of this data from service providers and use it for nefarious purposes.

Legislators and consumer advocates have taken notice. There has been a sharp rise in privacy-related laws to the point that, as Gartner reports, 65% of the entire world will be covered by some sort of privacy policy by next year (up from 10% in 2020).

The result is that end-users are understandably wary about sharing their information without assurances that companies will secure it properly.

When sharing addresses and other personal information, have your legal team double-check the privacy procedures that any distributors and partners have in place.

5) Continued Global Supply Chain Issues

We can’t discuss the promotional products industry without mentioning the supply chain. Yes, it’s still a noteworthy topic in 2022 as we look ahead to 2023. Unfortunately, the forecast for Q4 is looking gloomy.

As we saw during the pandemic, an issue in one part of a manufacturing process that happened several months ago may not be felt until months later and will continue for years after. And it’s not just about shipping containers, either. Manufacturing functionality can be impaired by localized power outages, for instance.

Digitizing traditional supply chains has shown to bring more efficiency. McKinsey found that an AI-enabled supply chain improves logistics costs by 15%, inventory levels by 35%, and service levels by 65%.

Still, industry reports suggest the supply chain isn’t out of the water yet, thus affecting corporate swag across the board.

From a lack of labor and materials, to shutdowns and heatwaves, these cascading effects make it clear that there will be instability in the promotional product category in Q4 of 2022 and beyond.

That makes it all the more important to have conversations now about anticipated gifting times and seasons (such as the holidays) or upcoming tradeshows. This planning will help brands ensure smooth delivery and proper inventory and give them padding if issues arise.

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6) Global Customs and Compliance

Like privacy laws, it can be nearly impossible to keep up with the vast array of local customs and laws around international shipping.

I’ve heard a few horror stories from marketing managers after they used a cheaper promo marketing vendor that didn’t do its homework. Trust me, you don’t want to explain to your VP why thousands of dollars of lithium-ion batteries got confiscated days before a big tradeshow.

Sending swag worldwide means you must plan around invasive customs inspections and ensure your recipient doesn’t have to pay taxes and duties upon receipt.

It’s not just about being able to ship those items; it’s about doing it well.

For instance, we worked with someone recently who was trying to ship hot sauce to their clients through another distributor but was having trouble getting their packages through customs. When we looked into it, we found out why. Hot sauce is a regulated FDA product in the United States, meaning you’re not allowed to ship outside the country without specific certifications.

One more thing to consider if you’re gifting internationally is the local mores around gifts. That is, there are massive differences across types of merchandise, such as sizing, sustainability, value, and how much branding should be included on promotional products.

🌎 We recently published a 53-page guide loaded with international gifting tips to improve your success when sending gifts abroad. Download it now—no email is needed.

Staying ahead of these trends is critical to running a successful gifting campaign. If you partner with promotional product professionals, they will lend their know-how by suggesting corporate gifts that would be appropriate for a person in, say, New York but would also be just as suitable for someone in Papua New Guinea.

Promotional Product Trends: Supply Chain, Data Privacy, and Global Compliance

Deliver Bigger Results with Promotional Products

While promo product trends cross borders literally and figuratively, there are still a few universal practices to make your gifting campaigns more personal, relevant, and thoughtful.

  • Approach gifting from a people-first perspective. Think through what recipients legitimately want. A bottle of hand sanitizer, or a premium-quality hoodie worth bragging about?
  • Plan your campaigns as early as you can. Supply chains are still stressed, but early planning pays off to avoid unwelcome surprises. This helps you secure new products before suppliers run out of stock.
  • Make contingencies for different gifting experiences. If a physical gift idea doesn’t quite work out, consider a digital gift experience. These provide a familiar e-commerce-like redemption process without the burden of logistics.
  • Work with partners and distributors that know the industry. These promotional product professionals navigate product selection, licensing, procurement, custom packaging, and speedy shipping for you.

If you’re looking for more insights on these promo product trends, watch our entire presentation below. I gave this presentation with Tej Shah, one of our friends over at Overture. Lastly, remember that Alyce is ready to handle your swag boxes and branded swag so you can wow prospects, customers, and employees.

September 19, 2022
Amanda Novelline
Amanda Novelline

Amanda Novelline is the Brand Solutions Architect at Alyce, leveraging her 15+ years of experience to shape the programs, partnership alliances, and sales enablement. She enables customers to build integrated marketing, gifting, and event strategies with tangible ROI. Amanda Novelline hails from north of Boston in Andover, MA. She attributes her passion for following retail trends, fashion, and gifting to growing up at her parents’ promotional products distributorship, learning data entry, and building creative incentive programs at the ripe age of 8 years old. Amanda’s love for marketing (and dance!) led her to study at Georgetown University’s business school. She later embarked on careers in technology publishing ad sales and subsequently back into the promotional products industry, where it all began.