Promo Buyer Trends For 2020

9 Jan

Some trends spend years growing incrementally before reaching a tipping point. Other times, a well-placed tweet or celebrity endorsement is all that’s needed to send a trend into hyperdrive. Keeping up can be like a roller coaster ride.

“With the speed and impact that social media has come to have on our industry, we sometimes don’t even know what to expect or plan for next,” says Michael Wenger, co-owner of Top 40 distributor Quality Logo Products (asi/302967). “To say we have all been on our toes would be an understatement.”

Sure, some trends may disappear in a flash (thanks for stopping by, fidget spinners); often though, they just keep building. Trends expert and speaker Daniel Levine says many of the same trends companies have seen in recent years will continue to grow in 2020.

“The most common question I’m asked is, where will that trend be in five years,” says Levine, director at the Avant-Guide Institute in New York City. “The answer is almost always, it will be more intense than it is today. That’s the nature of trends. And trends have a lot of momentum. They usually keep coming and get stronger, until something big gets in their way. All of these trends we’ve seen churning up in business will continue to get more intense, and that’s very much true in the promo products industry.

Sustainable Products

Sustainable products are resonating with young buyers, such as this reusable wheat straw kit (5224) from Hit Promotional Products (asi/61125); The straws are composed of reclaimed stalks from wheat and come in a protective travel case.

Adds Levine: “Take a look at what’s been successful in the last year or two, and take that to the next degree.”

Distributors and suppliers say they’re looking forward to growth next year, and look to accomplish that by taking advantage of a few key trends. Here are their top predictions for 2020.

Social Responsibility
Younger consumers are increasingly throwing their money behind brands and products that stand for something. According to the consulting firm IEG, cause sponsorship continues to grow and was expected to hit $2.3 billion in the past year.

Distributors and suppliers say this will continue to create opportunities for the promotional products industry. “Customers want to feel good about their purchases and are asking for products that align with their values,” says Pam Stauffer, director of design for Top 40 supplier Gemline (asi/56070).

Stephanie Friedman, vice president of sales and marketing for City Paper Co. (asi/162267) in Birmingham, AL, has seen a similar phenomenon play out. “There are many companies that want to express their social activism or their social responsibility,” she says. “It’s been such a big area where we’ve seen success: how promotional products can give back to their communities and their employees.”

Sustainability is one of the defining social causes that’s impacting the industry. At the recent ASI Power Summit, Florence Mosnier of the International Partnership for Premiums & Gifts led a session on emerging global trends, and called sustainability “more than just a fad.”

Mixing Materials

Mixing of materials is elevating the perception of promo products and giving them an aura of “handmade” quality. One example is this ceramic two-tone mug with wood lid (1626-35) from Leed’s (asi/66887);

“We believe,” she notes, “there’s only a future for companies that commit to sustainability.”

That impact has translated most directly to single-use plastic items. Products like buildable wheat straw kits and metal drinkware are becoming more popular as municipalities ban plastic bags and straws. “Any time a government mandates a change, it’s going to have an impact,” Stauffer says. Friedman predicts that trend could continue into plasticware and other products. “First it was the cups. Then it was the straws,” she says. “The plates and napkins and the utensils will follow the trend. Our space will respond to it with materials to combat that.”

High Quality
The effort to reduce needless waste is driving another trend in the promo industry: the demand for higher quality items. “This idea of quality and heritage and something that has a feeling of being handmade is something I’m seeing in many different industries and appearing in advertising from a lot of brands right now,” says Levine. “People are looking for more meaningful products and experiences. Consumers want things that are more durable.”

Currently, consumers have the dollars to back up that desire. Low unemployment, rising wages and a high level of consumer confidence will push retail sales to $3.8 trillion this year, according to the National Retail Federation.

“People are willing to buy better quality items,” Friedman says. “Really looking at the quality of a product rather than the price is something we’re definitely seeing, which is interesting given the whole tariff situation. More people are willing to invest a little bit more in a piece that has longevity, and that will be able to sustain some usage.”

“Customers want to feel good about their purchases and are asking for products that align with their values.”Pam Stauffer, Gemline

Everyday products that fit consumers’ lifestyles and take their cues from retail definitely fit in with this trend. Thomas Trudel, marketing coordinator for Spector & Co. (asi/88631), says the Canadian supplier is marketing products like its popular Ashbury bag line by highlighting their functionality and lifestyle appeal.

“Our Ashbury bags have been highly influenced by all the travel-friendly ones coming out in the retail market,” Trudel says. “There are wonderful hybrid bags catering to one- to two-day trips as well as three- to five-day trips that we’re calling Overnighters and Weekenders.”

The use of mixed materials offers a hand-made aesthetic that is resonating with buyers. Examples include ceramic drinkware with wood or cork accents, or cotton caps and canvas bags with leather embellishments.

“You see that in fashion, and it’s carrying over into the hard good materials, which is really exciting,” Friedman says. “It’s a nice contrast of materials being used to do the same old thing but in a new, dynamic way.”

Memorable Experiences
Want to stand out in the crowded field? Experiential products are in demand.

For International Chocolate Day in September, Spector & Co. created concept pieces in which it transformed powerbanks and journals into chocolate bars. “The efforts placed behind these types of products are instantly apparent and significantly impactful to brand awareness and separating them from the noise,” says Trudel. “We could’ve taken the International Chocolate Day logo and debossed it on the journal and called it a day, but we’re more fun than that! We want our partners to follow suit and push their creativity to the next level.”

Chocolate Day

Companies are creating unique products and turning them into a memorable experience. For International Chocolate Day, Spector & Co. (asi/88631);; decorated power banks (T1233) to look like chocolate bars.

City Paper used its expertise in custom packaging to create a “moment experience” ahead of the Super Bowl for an advertising agency that works with Anheuser-Busch. The package was molded to fit two Bud Light cans and a football; when the box was opened, the user could hear the roar of the crowds.

“The moment of opening the box created an experience for the end-user and was a very cool moment of interactivity,” Friedman says. “It really drove home creating the feeling of being at a Super Bowl and hearing the crowd roar, and what that feels like. How do we take something as simple as a box and elevate it to create that moment? Maybe it’s video. Maybe having virtual reality glasses that take the user through an experience. There are so many different ways we can elevate it.”

Crissa DeBree is a contributing writer for Advantages.

If you are interested in these products to promote your own business, or if you wish to see some samples, email for information and pricing.

And as always, if you really want to do something sustainable, do not buy promotional products. All products are consumption at one level or another. So if you must buy, 1) Buy local (i.e. made in USA), 2) Buy useful, long lasting items, 3) Buy sustainable/recycled/recyclable products if possible.

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