The COVID-19 pandemic was a lifechanging experience for everyone. No person was unaffected by the crisis, whether it was experiencing the illness first hand, adjusting to e-learning, or switching to remote work.

Another big change was in the professional world. Many businesses, from gyms to restaurants, struggled to keep their heads above water in 2020. As a result, corporate swag was, understandably, not really in their thoughts.

So what does all of this mean for the industry as a whole? Will we still have band t-shirts at concerts and drink tumblers at Starbucks? Will personalized koozies still be handed out at fundraisers and trade shows? Here’s what we can predict about the future of branded swag!

“When the first wave of coronavirus hit the economy, the $25.8 billion promotional products industry got soaked. Canceling conferences drained the lifeblood from swag companies.”
– Alyssa Newcomb, writer for Fortune Magazine

How Was Small Business Affected By COVID-19?

Prior to the pandemic, small businesses were frequent shoppers of branded swag. They ordered pens, bag clips, keychains, and other cheap giveaways to bring along to trade shows and promotional events. Some were even getting crazy and opening pop-up shops that were full of branded merch!

But in 2020 social gatherings were basically obsolete, which eliminated some of the need for this swag. President Trump took it even further by saying gatherings of more than 10 people should be limited. The result of all of this was 41.3% of small businesses being temporarily closed due to the pandemic, and a decline in orders of custom logo products.

How Was Company Swag Impacted by COVID-19?

Source: news.dunkindonuts.com
Source: nightshiftmerch.com

With so many businesses in limbo, the swag industry was obviously hit hard. The Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) reports that distributor sales dropped by 44.4% in July 2020 from the previous year.

Still, it’s not all doom and gloom. The orders are still coming in, mostly for PPE products like face masks and hand sanitizer. Take for example Dunkin’ who ordered custom face masks in their iconic orange and pink. They’re selling these at their drive-thru in select locations.

Meanwhile, there are others who are ordering merch to work in tandem with their virtual events. For instance, the Black Dahlia Murder, a metal band from Detroit, offered quirky custom t-shirts to fans who bought the live stream of their holiday concert special.

Both of these examples prove that there is still a need for branded swag. It’s just about being creative and using the circumstances to guide your advertising campaigns.

What is the Future of Corporate Swag?

It’s safe to say that businesses will still want company swag in the future. Logoed items are always going to be well-loved gifts and a valuable way to market for restaurants, bands, podcasts, realtors, schools, and other businesses, big and small.

Corporate swag may not be at in-person events for a while, but it can still be used for:

Corporate Gifts

Your team wants to feel valued, and sometimes that’s as simple as making sure they get amazing corporate gifts. It could be for their work anniversary or the holidays, but either way, 98% of companies see corporate gifting as an indispensable part of their business strategy.

With that in mind, it’s safe to assume there will be orders for custom mugs, journals, and other logoed gifts going forward into the future. These gifts can be mailed to your employees as they work-from-home, a trend that seems to be here to stay for many companies.

Rewards for Loyalty

Customer loyalty is more important now than ever before. Show your top clients how much their support is valued by strategically sending out branded gifts. You can easily ship this out through direct mail.  

It turns out direct mail is a lucrative way to reach customers. Recipients purchase 28% more items and spend 28% more money than people who don’t get the mail. Double that number if the mailer includes a gift! In-person meetings aren’t possible right now, which makes this strategy a good alternative.

Social Media Contests

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have totally changed the way we interact, which is why 91% of businesses use social media marketing to reach their customers. We can expect the amount they post and the number of Facebook and Twitter Ads to increase going into a future that may be entirely virtual.

You can expect an average of over 34% of new customers to be acquired through social media contests. Swag as the prize has a much bigger reach than cash or a gift card.

Donations

If you have extra in the budget, order custom swag that you can donate to homeless shelters, schools, or others in need. You’re aligning your brand with altruism, which is always a good marketing move.

73% of customers want to shop with companies that contribute to charitable giving. With COVID-19 affecting millions, the timing couldn’t be better for your business to lend a helping hand.

Your marketing budget may be tighter due to COVID-19, but you can still find value in swag. Trade shows and conventions may or may not return soon, but in the meantime, do what you can with what you have – technology!

It’s just about being creative and using branded merch wisely.

When it comes to which swag you order, think “home.” Ask yourself – which items can people use every day as they’re living their new lives?

You can expect the following swag items to be the most popular in the future:

Face Masks

Time will tell if face masks are going to always be required in public, but while we recover from the pandemic, it’s a good idea to offer branded masks. These can be just as effective as any billboard in getting your name out there.

The face mask market is projected to grow to 22.14 million by 2021.

Hand Sanitizer

We’re aware of hygiene and have been conscientiously washing and sanitizing our hands. You’ll reach a large number of people by using sanitizer as corporate swag. It can be a pleasant scent or be filled in a cool bottle, as long as it contains 60% alcohol, which is the recommended amount by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The hand sanitizer market is expected to reach $2.14 billion by 2027.

Webcam Covers

Tech giveaways are going to continue to reign supreme going forward. Perhaps the biggest opportunity comes from printing your logo on webcam covers. A majority of people are working at home, and there are students taking online classes and engaging in e-learning. That means everyone can use the extra security!

As of June 2020, 42% of the U.S. labor force was working at home full-time.

Phone Chargers

In 2020, the only way for us to stay connected was with our cell phones. It could have been a quick text, a funny Snapchat, or a long phone call, but no matter what, technology has made it possible for us to keep up with those we’ve been missing. All of this makes phone chargers even more valuable!

People spend an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phones every single day.

Wireless Earbuds

Apple AirPods were a huge hit with people across the country in 2019 and 2020, and as a result, Bluetooth headphones shot to the top of many wish lists. You might not be able to afford Apple AirPods as company swag, but you can still get wireless earbuds that are just as high-end and stylish!

Apple sold over 60 million AirPods in 2019 alone.

Drinkware

What are two things we all can’t live without? Food and water. As a result, it’s safe to assume that custom drinkware will continue to be valuable promotional items. Your business can’t go wrong printing your logo on water bottles, mugs, tumblers, and pint glasses.

Drinking enough water is important, especially during a pandemic. Yet, 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated.

Kitchen Utensils

Restaurants have been struggling due to the pandemic, but the silver lining is that more and more people are cooking and eating at home. You can get a lot of brand exposure advertising with promotional kitchenware like aprons, cutting boards, and food containers.

55% of people say they’ve been eating at home more frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bags

While we may not be traveling, people still can get a ton of use from bags. If you want to use them as corporate swag, your best bet is to pick a style that can be used in the great outdoors. People are hiking and taking walks since they’ve been stuck at home, which means they need a bag that’s lightweight and resistant to the elements.

According to The New York Times, there has been a spike in the number of people who go on hikes during the pandemic.

T-shirts

Pajamas, t-shirts, and jeans are now fair game to wear to work. We all want to be as comfy as possible, which is why your business should order custom tees as merch items. A cool graphic print will go a long way!

About half of U.S. workplaces have a casual dress code.

Slippers & Socks

Let’s circle back to the whole “comfort at work” thing. During Zoom meetings, your co-workers can’t see your feet. That means you can forgo the uncomfortable heels and Oxfords in favor of cozy slippers and socks. Rock those bunny slippers with pride!

Over 50,000 companies are now using Zoom for their work meetings.

Indoor Fitness Products

The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to stay indoors, and as a result, many people had to find creative ways to stay in shape. Indoor workouts became more common, which is why your business would do well with swag like yoga mats and pedometers.

Only about half of U.S. states reopened their gyms in June 2020 when the social distancing restrictions were lifted.

The most popular promotional items stand the test of time and will always be useful to have on hand. These giveaways fit the bill and are sure to reign supreme into the future.

What All This Means for Marketers

Big changes are on the horizon in the world of promotional products, and it’s a waiting game to see how these manifest. Either way, here is some guaranteed advice that you should start practicing asap!

#1: Don’t Waste Your Time on Garbage

You swag should only be things people can use in this “new normal.” That includes PPE items as well as stuff that’s useful around the house like yoga mats and cutting boards.

#2: Go Virtual

Get ready for trade shows, pop-up shops, and other events to be virtual in 2021 and beyond. You can still offer swag at these “events” by creatively using QR codes and social media.

#3: Try to Make Life Easier

Offer custom swag that people actually need to get through their day-to-day. COVID-19 has been tough on everyone, so put your brand in a position to help, whether it’s through donations or just making sure everyone has sanitizer.

Final Thoughts

We are going to be experiencing the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis for years, but one thing’s for certain, your business is going to need to be more creative in your marketing to win over new customers.

73% of consumers are optimistic about 2021, so your business should be, too. Keep the good vibes going with marketing swag!

References

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About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over four years of experience in the industry. She is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products and has had work published for the Promotional Products Association International and the Advertising Specialty Institute.