The more we work to solve our clients’ problems, the more valuable we can be to businesses and the entire marketing community.

In the 20-plus years I have called myself a marketer (18 of them in promotional marketing), I have seen amazing technology changes and rush orders defined as anywhere from three weeks to three hours. I haven’t seen everything, but I have seen a lot.

I started thinking, what is next? Where is the marketing industry—specifically the promotional marketing industry—going, and what can we expect to see over the next five years?

I’ve had some long conversations with friends who have been in the industry as few as five years and as many as 30. I’ve spoken to multi-line reps, distributors and suppliers to get various perspectives. Opinions vary as to what those changes will or should be, or what they will look like, but everyone agrees that as the world changes, so must our industry.

For example, we should go beyond worrying about which company name is on the carton that contains the client’s product, and start worrying about whether the piece inside the box speaks to the brand, message, market and value of the client. Does the product help our clients support their brand? Does it offer a call to action that engages the client and is it seen as valuable by the end user (the client’s client) who receives it? In the end, those are the issues that matter. Are we able to help clients communicate effectively and tell their story so their clients will care, and in a way that will drive the business cycle?

Unfortunately, that is not where we are today. Too many suppliers do not understand that the business they are in is the communications business. Instead, they believe they are in the decorated product business. As a result, our business could be in the hands of the nonindustry online sellers of the world very shortly.

I also don’t think many distributors truly understand their clients’ businesses, or their own. This is due to the unbelievably low point of entry required to enter our market.

This industry needs young people who understand how promotional products can dovetail with digital campaigns and those who speak the language of today’s business. Properly trained and educated, these people could be the next great industry ambassadors and elevate our industry to new levels as the most memorable advertising medium.

However, there are some great things in our industry that are giving me hope. PPAI, with its recent alliance with marketer/speaker Seth Godin and its new industry awareness initiative, is starting to communicate the message of selling value. So are the folks at with their mentorship program, in which I am involved. However, we need to do more. We need to learn to speak the language of business and communications. We need to know what issues businesses are concerned about, find out how our clients’ industries are changing and ask about their communications challenges. The more we understand and work to really solve their problems, the more valuable we will be seen by businesses and the entire marketing community. This takes asking questions—many questions—as well as critical listening and understanding.

From both the supplier and distributor side, we must learn to understand the client as they are today. That client is the end user and we all need to speak their language and provide them with value, or someone else will. Suppliers, both directly and through their multi-line reps and distributors, must work together to build effective communications pieces that will help our buyers meet their goals and achieve results.

Distributors: We are not competing simply against each other; we are competing against other advertising media that perceive us to be a waste of time and money. Let’s show them they are wrong. Let’s be the solutions providers who work with our clients to get them better returns on their investments.

We, as an industry, need to write more blogs and be further involved in social media. I don’t mean this in terms of showing specific products or advertising what is on special today but by talking about industry trends, case studies, best practices and why stories matter. Be an expert and take the time to listen to others and teach.

Be mentors for those coming up in the industry. Help people to learn the right way to show value and solve problems. We, as an industry, will all be better off because of it.

Suppliers: Create videos that talk about value of your product to end users and how what you offer can help distributors communicate more effectively to their audience. Help them understand how your products can be seen as effective tools to create a call to action and create value for the brand it represents.

I started off this piece by telling you that the world has changed—so embrace it! You can’t go backward and pine for the way things were when everything was on an “A” and no one knew our industry’s codes. Today, anyone with a computer can find the true cost of the products you sell faster than you can. Selling at lower prices to try to hold on to business is a losing proposition. The big, online companies own that space and will always do it better and more cost efficiently than a traditional distributor can. Deal with it. Instead, sell value, and talk about communication needs and how you can help solve problems. That is where the future is for our industry. Either embrace the change, or get ready to wake up one morning and realize that someone has already eaten your lunch.

Ben Baker is president of Richmond, British Columbia-based distributor Your Brand Marketing.

Take The Next Step

Learn more about elevating your approach to your business by attending a free PPAI webinar.

You Don’t Sell Promotional Products!

Speaker: Forrest Fairley, Director of Image Products, Deluxe Corporation/

Safeguard Forms & Systems, Inc.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Webinar Overview: The more distributors begin to understand, adopt and believe that promotional imprinted products are no different than other traditional advertising mediums, the more successful they are likely to be. The distributor’s biggest competitor is not another distributor, but the entire advertising industry. Research has shown that the average small business spends between $4,000 and $10,000 each year in marketing resources to grow their business. Our job is to convince the business owner that promotional products are the best and most effective way to realize ROI.

Free to PPAI members, $10 for nonmembers

Register at and click on Education and E-Learning.