Fast Forward: A Sound Message



A Sound Message

Evoke brand awareness by imprinting your client's logo on wireless earbuds.

Apple transformed wearable tech when it swapped headphone wires for microchips—and a more convenient, wearable option. Promotional products distributors can take advantage of this hip innovation by offering clients custom skins for the now ubiquitous, wireless earbuds. Using their logos and brand-specific colors, companies can create buzz for their brands while wearers jam to their favorite tunes. (And with some popular earbud brands boasting a 24-hour battery life, there’s no telling how many people will take notice.)

Companies that manufacture wireless headphones also sell wireless charging cases. The charging case, which is larger than the individual earbuds, offers additional real estate for companies to imprint their designs. This also grants clients the option to customize the earbuds, the wireless case or both. And without having to worry about the mess of tangled wires, wearers are free to partake in extreme sports and outdoor adventures, or simply chat on the phone, while bringing your brand along with them.

According to Reuters, the wireless earbud market is anticipated to grow through 2023, because of the increasing demand for virtual reality gaming. According to a report by TechSci Research, by 2022 the international market is anticipated to reach $19 billion. But aside from gaming, there are other uses for the low-maintenance earbuds, and more opportunities for them to be seen. Not only may consumers listen to music or talk on the phone using the earbuds, but they can privately enjoy their favorite movies and TV shows too. In short, they may very well wear them every day, throughout the day.

Wireless earbuds are still a relatively new-fangled technology, with Apple having introduced its AirPods to market in December 2016, and Bose following suit in September 2017 with its own sleek design. But because of its newness, consumers are generally purchasing the standard factory colors being offered. Not only will your colorful, logo-imprinted promotional products be unusual, but they’ll certainly serve as conversation starters for your biz.



‘Alexa, Add Toilet Paper To The Shopping List’

How to prepare your brand for voice-service assistants.

It’s one of the easier parts of your day. After a sleepy yawn and morning stretch, you ask your handy assistant, Alexa, to pull up your shopping cart. ’Tis the holiday season, after all, and you’re trying to be proactive. But unbeknownst to you, your virtual cart may contain items that were not selected by you, but by Alexa “herself.”

Voice-search assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa and Echo, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri have come to be synonymous with convenience. You’re driving, and you recall your favorite TV series is airing tonight but can’t remember when. Thankfully, it’s Siri to the rescue. Or, it’s a busy week, and you forgot to purchase a gift for your friend’s housewarming party this weekend. Not to fear, Cortana is here, and will help overnight a personalized cutting board to your house.

But aside from the convenience factor, these voice-search assistants may be influencing the products that you and your clients are purchasing. Using word-search algorithms, these tools can direct consumers to specific products without guidance from the sellers. This has not posed a significant challenge yet—and that’s a heavy-weighted “yet”—as voice searches make up a small portion of overall sales. But it may very well create issues soon, particularly for the personal, home and packaged-food sectors, as the technology is anticipated to grow in popularity.

Before the age of voice-search assistants, retailers invested in shelf space at one-stop shops, like Walmart, BJ’s and Costco. And they certainly still do. To distinguish themselves from competitors, companies invest in marketing techniques, so consumers will recognize their products and, hopefully, turn these companies into household names. Voice-search assistants are obscuring this process, because if consumers request a product (i.e., an acrylic coffee table) only the first and second products that surface might be suggested. This is because voice-search technology was created to provide a single response to users’ questions, rather than use the entire search engine results page (SERP). No mention is being given to products that may be new, lesser known, or placed lower on the SERP. Not only is this limiting to the consumer, but it can be detrimental to suppliers and distributers alike.

The results provided by your voice-search assistant may also be influenced by its parent company, which has been the case with Echo and Alexa. The New York Times reported a test of Amazon’s Echo, which drove consumers to purchase Amazon products at least 17 percent of the time. To add to this, Amazon owns more than 120 private labels like Pinzon (bedding), Wickedly Prime (gourmet snacks), Mama Bear (diapers and organic baby food) and Core 10 (activewear). And in 2009, Amazon introduced its AmazonBasics, a line of household commodities ranging from batteries to paper towels and everything in between. The New York Times reported that 70 percent of the time, people conduct internet searches for common items, like a “bowling ball,” “serving platter” or “lampshade.” This makes it easier for companies like Amazon to suggest their own product line for purchase, even manufacturing popular items to offer consumers themselves. And once a consumer purchases a product using Alexa or Echo, this same product is remembered and suggested for reorder in future purchases.

According to research company Gartner, the number of Americans that use voice-search assistants is slated to reach 36 million by the end of this year. Amazon is the heavy-hitter in this market, Gartner reported, responsible for 70 percent of sales made using voice-search assistants. But don’t fret, because suppliers and distributors still have time to prepare. Here’s how to start prepping your business for voice search.

Update your company website. For a voice-search assistant to find your brand, it needs to find your website. By keeping your information up-to-date—including your company’s contact information—and by having a website that is readily accessible, it will be easier for customers to find your business using keywords. (Think SEO).

Update your company’s information on business-review sites. When voice-search assistants are collecting information, they also look to review sites like Yelp, Yellowpages or Manta. Be sure to update your company’s information on these sites as well. (And continue to provide top-notch customer service, as consumer feedback is shared here.)

Use long-tail keywords. Since voice-search assistants work using voice-recognition software, it may be helpful to use long-tail keywords, rather than seed keywords alone. Long-tail keywords are search phrases designed to target your consumers’ intentions. These phrases, which are specific to your business, have low competition and high conversion. For instance, a consumer who requests, “Pillsbury snowman-shaped sugar cookies” is more likely to get an accurate hit than a consumer who simply requests, “Pillsbury.” One way to include additional long-tail keywords is through an FAQ page, where these keywords can be woven into questions.

Use conversational language on your site. Because voice-search technology is all about voice-to-text translation, people are using natural language as opposed to formal. When considering keywords and SEO, think about what your clients might say to conduct the search, and create keywords using this information. Also, when publishing content on your website, be sure to address the who, what, when, where, why and how questions as clearly as possible.



Planters To Offer Peanut-Flavored Beer

Iconic American snack-food brand goes ‘nuts’ for beer

Go nuts—at least that’s what Planters is saying with its new peanut-flavored beer and fitting digital marketing campaign, #BeerGoesNuts. The iconic American snack-food brand recently jumped onboard the craft beer bandwagon, following suit to Dunkin’ Donuts, IHOP and Blockbuster, to offer its silly named, but notable brew, Mr. IPA-Nut.

The beer, which was said to have a citrusy aroma with honey-roasted peanut undertones and a touch of salt, sold for a limited time in the Greater Chicago area, where it was brewed, in honor of National American Beer Day (October 27). The market response questioned why Planters—the 112-year-old brand that is immediately recognizable by its mascot, Mr. Peanut and his famous monocle —would be interested in entering the craft beer world. Simply put, Noon Whistle Brewing in Lombard, Illinois, had something Mr. Peanut wanted.

Planters, which is owned by Kraft Heinz Company—the fifth-largest food and beverage company in the world, and the same manufacturer of Velveeta, Classico, Smart Ones, Kool-Aid, Jell-O, Philadelphia, Maxwell House and Grey Poupon—partnered with the small, three-year-old brewery, which manufactured less than 2,000 barrels of beer in 2017, all of which was sold locally. (To put this into perspective, a microbrewery is considered one that produces less than 15,000 barrels annually.) The beer, which used 800 pounds of whole honey-roasted Planters peanuts and peanut powder, was exclusively available at the brewing company and select stores for $9.99 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans.

But perhaps IPA-Nut is not so unusual, after all, as the product follows suit to other companies’ unexpected decisions to experiment with beer. In October, IHOP collaborated with Droga5, an advertising agency in New York, to launch its IHOPS Pumpkin Pancake Stout—a beer brewed with IHOP’s pancake mix—that was available in the Greater New York City area. Also, in October, Dunkin’ Donuts partnered with Boston, Massachusetts-based Harpoon Brewery to offer coffee beer to consumers in the northeast. On a smaller scale, in September the last operating Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon, partnered with Bend-based 10 Barrel Brewing to create its own craft beer. So far, it’s proven to be a way for these brands to step outside of their traditional mold and experiment with new products and a new consumer pool, while adding a hint of shock factor.



Holiday Slowdown

How to motivate yourself—and stay 
motivated—through the holiday season.

The holidays are a time when work-life balance can become a distant memory. Not only has the pace ramped up at work due to increasing demand and preparation for taking time off, but—as we all know—there’s an endless list of errands to fulfill at home. According to a study by Healthline, a San Francisco, California-based consumer health information website, 62 percent of Americans consider themselves to be very stressed or somewhat stressed during the holidays, and only 10 percent consider themselves stress-free.

To get through the season, you’ll need to motivate yourself and continue that momentum into the new year. Here’s a few suggestions.

1. Write down your goals. Yes, maybe it’s cliché, and maybe you’ve done this before, but jotting down a list of aspirations can encourage you to keep pace with achieving your goals. Employers, supervisors and managers should encourage employees to perform this exercise as a reverse end-of-the-year review. Remember that part of goal setting requires dedication to task completion. Keep track of what you finish and what you don’t and use this to realign your day-to-day objectives. If your company has an employee mentorship program in place, encourage the mentors to perform similar exercises with their mentees.

2. Be optimistic. Inhale positivity, exhale negativity and keep it that way. Certainly, failure is a possibility, but it’s not clouding your vision. Set an example in the workplace by seeing the glass as half full and encouraging your employees or colleagues to do the same. According to Harvard Business Review, there are six ways to do this: a) be sympathetic; b) offer support when needed; c) practice forgiveness after error; d) inspire each other; e) recognize the significance of every employee's work; and f) approach each other with regard, appreciation and confidence.  

3. Treat yourself. Whenever you achieve one of your goals, reward yourself. Develop a recognition program in your business to recognize employees’ achievements. If your company experiences department-wide or company-wide success, plan a way to celebrate. Not only will this recognition communicate the company’s concern for its employees’ well-being, but it will also continue the cycle of motivation and success.

4. Clean. Out. Your. Inbox. Before you break for the holidays, address all projects, answer any inquiries and tie up loose ends. A growing e-mail list is sure to be overwhelming when you return to work, and you’re likely to miss important information, like last-minute deadlines or issues that merit immediate resolution, creating more challenges for when you return. Nix procrastination in the bud, starting with your e-mail. 



Bringing Light To Taboo Topics

A CEO uses jewelry to encourage conversation about mental health.

Jen Gotch, the founder and chief creative officer of Los Angeles, California-based Ban. do, has what some might call a “fluffy” brand. Her products—which include office supplies, handbags, cosmetics, women’s apparel, shoes, tech gadgets and home goods—are ornamented with allover floral prints, hot pink hues and comical sentiments, like, “Breath of fresh air” and “All over the place.” Much of the apparel is brightly colored or adorned with bold stripes or polka dots. Even the pencils she sells include a metallic finish. So, it came as somewhat of a surprise when Gotch introduced a line of necklaces with nameplates that stated the names of mental illnesses, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder and depression.

It was a bold move, as many of Gotch’s consumers followed her company, but not her personal social media accounts, where she candidly shared her reasons for creating this line. Gotch, who has admittedly struggled with mental illness throughout her life, partnered with Venice, California-based Iconery, a jewelry brand, to create the line as a way of calling attention to mental illness in modern-day society. In less than 12 hours of releasing the limited-edition jewelry, it was sold out.

Gotch has always maintained a candid discussion about mental health on her personal social media handles, having been known to rate her days from one to 10. The necklaces were intended to serve as conversation starters, inviting people to more openly discuss mental illness and related challenges instead of shunning the topic. No longer limited edition, Gotch continues to offer the necklaces in a gold or silver finish exclusively through for $48. She donates all of the proceeds from these necklaces to Bring Change to Mind, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about mental health.


 Five Minutes With Jeff Blauer, President, ShedRain

Just Add Water

Jeff Blauer discusses the strategies at work in partnering 
with IMAGEN Brands.

ShedRain, a Portland, Oregan-based supplier known for its high-quality umbrella designs, will make sure you’ll weather the storm—comfortably and fashionably, that is. But now, so will IMAGEN Brands, as a new partnership announced in October established the company as the sole provider of ShedRain products to the promotional products industry. Jeff Blauer, president of ShedRain, fills PPB in about the strategy behind this new partnership.

PPB: What was ShedRain’s strategy behind this move?

Blauer: Two-fold: First, the industry as we all know it is changing. A lot of consolidation is giving one-stop suppliers more power and reach. Although our promotional products business has healthy growth, we see the future with a powerful print and sales machine, like IMAGEN Brands—broader reach, faster service and a central print/distribution point closer to our customers. Second, our retail division is exploding with opportunities and this move gives us more time and resources to concentrate on innovation and development to feed our retail customers as well as our new partners at IMAGEN Brands.

PPB: In what ways was this decision a difficult one? What variables were considered?

Blauer: ShedRain has been in the promotional products business since the 1970s (our founding was in 1947). We have built an enviable reputation over the years, many close customer relationships and a rep force that is like family. We knew that this decision would affect these things, so it was extremely difficult. We even went down the road of almost opening an East Coast printing facility to keep up with the demand for fast 24-hour printing and shipping and being closer to our customers. We did not want to lose what we had. It’s really hard to shut down something that you have become so good at for so long. It was a long, arduous effort to come to a conclusion of about where the industry was going and where we fit in for the future.

PPB: How does this partnership impact ShedRain employees? Management? Customers?

Blauer: ShedRain has always treated its employees like family. We have great longevity with so many of our associates. It’s something that makes us very proud. The fact is that changing our model to exclude the promotional products printing business means there are associates who will be affected. Thankfully, our retail business is in need of people, so we are able to offer most of these associates a new position. Our promotional products customers will be affected in a positive way—the excitement for customers who want ShedRain is that they will be able to get the same ShedRain-branded styles and quality from IMAGEN Brands, but much faster and closer to where they do business.

PPB: What can we expect to see from ShedRain in the future?

Blauer: We pride ourselves in our history, innovation, development and fashion leadership. Our retail distribution is a testimonial of who we are: Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Dillard’s, Macy’s, Target, Kroger, Bed Bath & Beyond, Costco and Whole Foods, just to name a few. We are the only umbrella brand in the promotional products industry with a significant retail presence. Our retailers rely on our leadership in innovation and fashion, and we are able to bring those consumer-preferred styles to the promotional products industry. Expect to continue to see the latest technological advances in umbrellas and weather-related products.


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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