This post is by Simon Worrall of CM Copywriters.
Each year, companies spend hundreds of millions on branded T-shirts, mugs, stickers, and pens. Go to enough conferences and you’ll amass terabytes of memory sticks and a wardrobe of T-shirts, hoodies, and caps.
Promotional products are also a way of making money. In 2008, Europe’s soccer elite scored around $800 million from merchandizing. And now online brands such as GitHub and Mozilla sell merchandize online. Most promotional products, though, are given away free.
20th Century Fox have done this in a clever and quirky way. They sent A.V. Club a faux-fox-tail tie to promote Fantastic Mr. Fox. “As promotional gimmicks go, it’s oddly appropriate, if a little sick,” said the entertainment publisher in a post discussing promotional products they’d received.
But not everyone’s use of promotional products is quite so fantastic. Do you really think promotional pens are churning out a strong return on investment? Spend $100 in giving away pens and sell $1,000 in products! The answer is a clear no: the recession hit the merchandizing industry like a punch in the face.
Not all promotional products quiver when they’re asked to justify the cost of being free; there’s one product that fries memory sticks, bursts pens, and shrinks hoodies. And, best of all, companies already have thousands stocked in their warehouse. It’s time they stopped buying branded umbrellas and started giving away their products for free.
Today companies must be more surgical with their marketing spend, and that’s where you can help. There’s never been a better time to get companies to give you their products so you can write a review. Provided you write honestly, and never promote brands blindly, you can become an important source of product information in your industry. This will bring new readers to your blog, and strengthen your credibility with advertisers.
Make your case
When online retailers give away their products, they want to measure results and get a tangible return. Your job is to convince them that you can deliver this.
The first point to make is that if you blog about a product, your followers will buy it. Best of all, you can deliver continuous sales results. There will be a surge when you first post the review, and then a stream as more readers find it in your archives. Be careful though. Don’t commit to writing positive reviews before you have tried the product. There’s no better way of poisoning your blog than endorsing poor products.
You will bring traffic to companies’ sites. Of course, linking to their site will help them get traffic from Google, but it’s more than that:
- You can link to buried product pages—retailers find getting this type of link notoriously difficult.
- You can rank for search phrases that are typically out of reach for retailers.
Next, you can help them with their conversion rates. If someone goes to a retailer’s site after reading your independent product review, they’re more likely to buy the product. This is especially the case if your blog is well established and has a good reputation; if they trust you, they trust the company.
Finally, companies worry about defending their brands. Their worst nightmare is some crazy customer ranking for their name. Good product reviews from established blogs help them to avoid this; you’re part of their insurance policy!
Companies like influencers
If a retailer sells a physical product, they don’t make money by giving it away for free. They make money from the way that people react to the product. The problem is that most consumers don’t react. They read and follow; they don’t blog or tweet.
As a blogger, you’re an influencer; that makes you one of the chosen few. If you can make a company understand that your blog is one that matters, one that people listen to, they are much more likely to give you products to review.
It’s even better if your followers are influencers themselves. If you are in this position, you don’t need to have a hundred thousand readers to create enormous value. For instance, every political pundit in Washington reads ABC News’ The Note, despite its comparatively low readership. By influencing The Note, you can influence The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
If you have this type of audience, make sure that the retailer knows this. Otherwise, they will just look at your site statistics, and undervalue your influence.
Here’s another idea if your audience is influential: be bold, ask the company for several copies of the product, and run a contest. Giving away free products to your followers is a great way of rewarding their loyalty and encouraging them to stick around, and the business will be happy to get people thinking about their product.
Understand the retailer’s business case
Here’s a secret: the price of a product doesn’t reveal much about the cost of making it. Price is the value that people place on the product; cost is the raw materials and labor that go into the product in the first place.
When you approach a retailer, you need to think about product cost, not the price. Have you ever seen a software sales letter that ends with $300 in free bonuses? There’s a reason why you’re getting them free: there’s no cost to making each new product. There’s a one-time cost and barely any costs thereafter.
Do some basic arithmetic before approaching a prospect. Can you drive enough sales to make it worthwhile for them? How much will it cost them to give you one of their products, and will they get enough money back? Unless you can show them you can do this, you’re going to walk away empty-handed.
Getting a $10 bunch of flowers from a florist is easy. But unless you’re filming the latest James Bond movie, Aston Martin won’t be sending you a car anytime soon.
Your site metrics aren’t everything, especially if your blog is highly influential. But, retailers will want to see your metrics. Here are some of the key metrics they will use to evaluate your reach.
- PageRank: This is often derided as an SEO metric, but it does give some idea of the volume and quality of your inbound links. Companies will often look at this as a quick first check before spending more time looking at your blog.
- Twitter and Facebook: companies will look at your Twitter and Facebook audience to judge your reach. If you don’t have a big audience, show them that people are sharing your content. You should also show that you have a bigger audience than your competitors.
- Comments per post: this gives insight into the size of your readership and how strongly they respond to your blog. Companies are cautious when using this metric; it is the easiest of all to manipulate and varies depending on the subject of your blog.
- Monthly visits: companies tend to focus more on monthly unique visitors, rather than total page views. This is because page views are easier to manipulate.
All of these statistics have some value, but they all have flaws as well. Therefore, rather than relying on one, companies generally consider them as a whole.
How to contact companies
Get in touch with companies directly. Find the right marketing contact on their corporate website and send them an email. If you can’t find this, give them a call and ask for the best person to speak with. This will usually be a public relations or marketing employee.
Here’s an example of the type of email you can send:
Re: Business Proposal
Hello Name Surname,
Good morning. I saw your recent press announcement about the new range that you’re launching next month, and I was particularly interested in your 1960s-inspired hard-sided luggage. Your timing seems perfect—’60s fashion is everywhere at the moment, and my readers love it!
I have written a fashion blog for several years now, and it has grown to about 30,000 followers. I had a huge amount of comments recently on several posts I made on ’60s fashion, and also on another post about traveling in style. Putting these together, it seems to me that my readers would be very interested in your new range.
Would you be interested in providing me with your product so that I can review it and share feedback with my readers? I was also thinking of running a prize contest after the review; a lot of my readers are in the fashion industry themselves and this would be a great opportunity to spread the word!
I would be very happy to give you more information about my blog and the type of readership I have. You can also read my blog at Blog Address.
I’m excited about this idea, and hope that you are too. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!
Product reviews and contests are a great way to increase your followers, and keep them coming back. Getting companies to give you their products takes a little homework, but you can do it—and you’ll get some great products for free!