Promotional products are among the most effective forms of advertising, perhaps because customers mostly seek to avoid or ignore most advertising messages online and on TV, but actually want to receive promotional products. Existing customers will become more loyal when you give them free promotional gifts, and prospective customers will be more likely to convert into existing customers. And most people will keep those promotional products and use them for six months, a year, or even longer, which spreads your brand messaging around to everyone who sees your customers using your products. Even when customers get tired of the promotional products they receive, 64 percent give them away instead of throwing them in the trash.

So, how can you use promotional products effectively to grow your business? You have to start by buying products your customers will actually want to use, then give them away to the right people — those who will appreciate them the most and who are most likely to generate more sales leads or make a purchase.

Give Worthwhile Gifts

Everyone loves free stuff, but when you give a cheap or low-quality item or one that isn’t useful, you’re not really giving a gift, you’re giving a chore. Customers want to keep and use your items; they don’t want to have to turn around and throw them away.

Make sure you invest in high-quality promotional products made to last with good materials. Customers will want to keep a well-made promotional product, and they’ll use it for six months or a year, or maybe longer. When they’re done with it, they’ll give it to someone else or maybe donate it to charity, where it’ll get your branded messaging before a whole new audience.

Some promotional products, like engraved pens and coffee mugs, might appeal to just about everyone, but you need to offer a variety of products so you can more closely target different segments of your customer base. Consider your target customer demographic and what kinds of freebies they’d most enjoy. If you run an auto body shop, for example, your customers might like automotive gifts, but if you run a dog grooming business, you’re looking at a whole different set of potential promotional items. Choose products that will appeal to your target demographic, and don’t hesitate to get feedback from your customers to help guide you towards the most popular items. You want your promotional products to stay in use as long as possible, to get passed around, and maybe even to be worn or carried with the customer in public (the most coveted placement of all for promotional products). So focus on identifying which products are most likely to see that kind of use, and give those to your customers.

Give Them to the Right Customers

Sometimes, like at trade shows and events, for example, you give out promotional items to just about anybody who strolls by your booth. And that has its place, but for the most part, you want to target your promotional products — especially the nicer, more expensive ones — toward the customers who are mostly likely to generate more sales and leads. Have your salespeople give promotional products to your clients as free gifts — they’ll get back 22 percent more referrals. Offer promotional products to customers in your loyalty program, or to those whose purchase reaches a minimum dollar amount. You can have different tiers of promotional products, too — smaller, cheaper ones to give out to a wider audience, and more elaborate, higher-quality ones to give out to specific customer groups.

Create Some Buzz

You’re probably focusing on creating buzz around your actual products — the ones people pay you money for. That’s great, but generating some buzz around your promotional products can do just as much to increase brand awareness, draw in new customers, and boost customer loyalty.

Creating buzz around branded merchandise is especially effective when you have different exclusivity tiers for your promotional products. If only some of your best, most loyal customers are getting the nicest promotional products, and you can generate some buzz on social media about how exclusive those promotional items are, others will want them and will do what they can — including spending money on your other products — to get their hands on them. Plus, they’ll be tweeting and posting about your brand the whole time. Use hashtags and social media to get people just as hyped up about your promotional products as they are about your actual products.

Promotional products are a powerful tool for growing a business. Customers love them, and they’ll be much more likely to buy your stuff if you’ve buttered them up with some swag first. So go ahead and order your first batch of promotional items — they’ll be gone before you know it.