You can set parameters to determine if your idea of giving out free stuff is effective. You can check if the online traffic to your website has increased. You can also check if the sales ticked up after giving people something for free. You can also see if there was an increase in online interaction on your social media accounts because of your efforts to provide promotional gifts.
However, it is not easy to determine if people liked what you gave them. Are they using those products? Do they love the design? Does it increase the chances of them being loyal to your brand? You may not know the answers to these questions unless you survey the recipients. The best way to determine if people will appreciate a free gift is if you, or other people you work with, would appreciate it.
People love something useful. They appreciate mugs and pens because they use these items each day. They might not necessarily enjoy shirts because they already have a lot, and they are only advertising your company by wearing these shirts. Tumblers, umbrellas, and notebooks are all useful, and anyone would appreciate getting one for free.
You want to give out something for free because you also hope that people will use it and advertise your brand in the process. There is nothing wrong in doing it if your primary goal is to increase awareness and loyalty to the brand. However, it becomes a problem if you overwhelm the products with a massive logo. You are making recipients your models, but without paying them to advertise your products. They might decide to not use the item, or even decline to receive it.
It is understandable for you to be strict in determining the budget for promotional products that you are giving out on a massive scale. You are trying to reach out to many people, so you can't afford to splurge. However, it does not mean that you should sacrifice quality and hand out something that won't even last long. You need to focus on quality because you want the people to use what you gave them for some time. It does not only make them appreciate the items but also offers you the chance for free advertising over an extended period.
You need to think of products that are appropriate for the people you are targeting. You can't give out free beer bottles to people who are trying to practice a healthy lifestyle. You also shouldn't give free items that are sex-specific, which could only be used by men or women. Think of things that are suitable for all the people you are trying to attract.
Giving promotional merchandise is a conventional marketing practice. Some companies find it useful, while others don't. The truth is that the practice would not have survived if it were not effective. However, there is no guarantee that things will end the way you planned. You still need to design the items carefully and select the target market or demographic you will give the products to.
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