Best promotional giveaways for start ups on a shoestring

Learning Pool piggies and team

We all love a good marketing freebie – I bet you have at least one on your desk or in your drawers that you acquired somewhere along the way. I know I have various funky shaped highlighter pens and a dusty pad of sticky notes in mine.

The promotional goods industry in the UK is worth over £710m and a glance through the ads at the back of any issue of Marketing Week will reveal a dizzy array of weird and wonderful goodies.

But for all new start ups money is tight so spending cash on give aways is a bit of a scary business.  How much should you spend, since you can’t accurately measure the return you’ll get?  And why should you bother?

It’s important to think about why you want to give stuff away and what it is you are trying to achieve in doing so. 

Most of the time the answer will be that you want to raise the awareness of your company and brand after you’ve gone and this is where promotional items come in.

Dragons’ Den Investor & Serial Entrepreneur Doug Richard runs a social enterprise School for Startups and he extols the virtue of including whimsy in your business. 

He describes this as giving your customers something that they might not be expecting or perhaps giving prospects something when they join. 

Richard cites Steve Jobs’ Apple bounce* as a great example of whimsy (*when the scroll on an iPhone hits the end and gently bounces back up a bit).

I smile to think how Jobs must have sold that idea into his tech team and how he would have had to convince someone somewhere that the development time required would have a commercial payback. 

Here’s a list of what promotional items have worked for us at Learning Pool:

  • Blue piggy banks
  • Stress pigs
  • Pens
  • Button badges
  • Plastic bags (recycled)
  • Pink chocolate pigs

And here’s some other stuff we’ve tried once (and probably wouldn’t get again):

  • Chocolate coins
  • Balloons
  • Air fresheners
  • Boomerangs
  • ‘Remember your password’ business cards

The piggy bank give away worked for us because our prospective customers – the public sector in the UK – all have to save money as a result of stringent central government budget cuts.  Our services help them to make efficiency savings in their training – hence the piggy bank.

The blue piggy bank we created was so successful that at the LGA conference in 2009 it became the must have freebie for each delegate.  Word spread over the three days and we must have got rid of over 200 of them. 

We even had one Leader of a council sending in a photo of her piggy bank in prime position in the Council Chamber – she used it for the fines she charged members for various misdemeanors.  Perfect!

However, every pig has its day so we then moved on to the pink stress pig you see in the photo above.  The blue piggy bank sometimes broke in transit (not ideal for a company based on a different land mass to its customers).  Plus other companies had started to copy us. 

We’re keeping the pink pig, Peggy, happy with a couple of new additions in the form of a purple pig, Prince , and a black pig, Betty.  Both purple and black pigs are limited edition and much sought after as a result. 

Peggy has been on her travels and we love to receive photos from customers and friends of her in different places – on the train travelling back from one of our events, at the White House with Mary McKenna, and on the shelves and mantlepieces around the country.

Peggy is our bit of whimsy.

What are the best promotional items you’ve had from a company or given away yourself and what makes them memorable?

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