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Giving away generic, branded promotional merchandise has become passé. Run of the mill souvenirs from sponsorship activations no longer serve to excite consumers. In an increasingly digital world, event attendees expect more than a company branded biro or baseball cap, and rightly so. Now is the time for our industry to wake up to the innovation required in souvenirs and merchandising.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that branded merchandise increases brand recall – the British Promotional Merchandise Association (BPMA) is one such source. A BPMA study showed that two thirds of people who received a promotional product in the year previously could recall the brand on the product. But that is no excuse for laziness, and times have changed. As marketers, we should be looking to find innovative ways to surprise and delight consumers, rather than simply shelling out for USBs because it’s tried and tested.

As your Business Intelligence colleagues will tell you, no two of your customers are the same. The key question here is, then why should we expect 10,000 individuals to value the same branded notepad? This lack of imagination will be reflected consumers’ perception of your brand and the extent to which they feel valued as a customer.

When it comes to physical interactions between brands and their customers, events and pop ups are still highly popular. Advances in technology have revolutionised event logistics, from ticketing to second screening. Inviting consumers to contribute to and thus amplify live events is becoming commonplace, for example through live Twitter walls. So, it is a constant source of surprise to me that marketers miss the opportunity to carry through this innovative approach in souvenirs and merchandise. We seem content to allow customers to leave events with generic, analogue stash.

This is something I am keen to see changed.

Our team recently built a live photo printing station on behalf of Southern Comfort’s two-day sponsorship of The Electric Run. The installation was designed to increase engagement with attendees, as well as create a lasting and individualised memento for them. We distributed branded, polaroid style photos to runners who posted photos on Instagram using the bespoke #Electricsoco hashtag. Hundreds of runners went away happy – proudly boasting both their medal and a free personalised Polaroid-like postcard.

Southern Comfort also saw the benefit. Not only did 800 of their customers leave with personalised promotional material steeped in company branding, but the campaign created a new group of digital ambassadors. The process of tagging a photo on Instagram led to over 350,000 impressions for the event content. I question whether 1,000 Southern Comfort branded shot glasses would have had the same effect.

Perhaps just as important as impact, is cost. Shelling out thousands of pounds on shot glasses may feel like an overspend when they are simply shoved to the back of the kitchen cupboard. Instead, innovations like the social media printing stations act as a bridge between the digital world and a physical gift – and they won’t so easily gather dust.

Of course, there is room to push the boundaries. Rather than simply printing photographs, you might like to laser print the tagged event photos onto t-shirts, wristbands, posters, notebooks, toilet roll – yes, really… anything is possible.

It’s time for brands – especially those that see themselves as appealing to the millennial generation – to start taking promotional merchandise more seriously. One of the best examples I have seen recently was Coca-Cola’s Twitter powered vending machines, which toured train stations in London in August, 2015.

Visitors to the vending machine were told to tweet their favourite variant of Coca-Cola, alongside #ChooseHappiness, in order to get their hands on a branded t-shirt and free bottle of Coca-Cola. Simple to integrate into any live event, this is a great example of how to take generic promotional merchandise and make it exciting, engaging consumers while also encouraging them to become brand ambassadors on social media.

This deeper level of engagement is key. There is no better ambassador for your brand than your customer. Capturing the passion and enthusiasm they bring to events should always be a KPI for event organisers, rather than simply measuring how many people leave with a branded baseball cap. There is no substitute for user generated content. It is authentic, cost-effective and guaranteed to get consumers engaged – it’s their own content after all.

Perhaps this Christmas, start producing the kind of event souvenir that will excite the digital generation. It’s not as hard as you might think. Let tech do the legwork for you. When it comes to making a customer feel valued, customisation is king, technology the kingmaker.

For more inspiration about how to make the most of your events, we’ve set up a group on LinkedIn for events professionals to share experiences, knowledge and case studies. Find it by searching ‘Maximising ROI – Industry Insights’.

This blog post is published on 12ahead

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