Our clients have changed, their needs have changed, their mandates have changed and their corporate cultures have changed—and we, as an industry, have not.

We are still trying to sell the same inexpensive products to a Millennial audience that is far more environmentally, socially and economically conscious than the generations that preceded them. They want their “swag” (I still dislike that term) and are looking to us to be creative and develop solutions that meet their triple bottom-line economics—social, environmental and financial.

They not only want their items at a reasonable price, but they also need to ensure the items are produced ethically and in a manner that’s safe for the environment. For proof of this, one does not have to look any further than the motivations behind California’s Prop 65.

How many companies can provide a true audit, both social and environmental, for every item in their catalog? I challenge every distributor to ask your suppliers for this data and have a conversation with your clients as to why this is important.

We need to be better stewards of our industry. We need to stop selling whatever is cheap and cheerful just because your client tells you they can only spend $1 per item. Instead, we need to be asking them these questions:

1. What is the lifetime value of your end user?


2. What brand message are you trying to convey? 


3. Who is your audience and what call to action do you want them to follow?

We need to stop being order-takers and start being consulting partners to help clients find the right product that tells the right story and is valuable to the person who eventually receives it.

We need to create opportunities to dovetail promotional marketing pieces into overall marketing campaigns and have the promotional marketing items enhance the overall reach and recall your clients are trying to achieve.

We need to talk intelligently about brand perception and what giving away inferior or low-value items does to the client’s overall brand perception. We need to educate them on how it is better to distribute 1,000 $10 items that fit their brand, are valued by the end user and are on message than 10,000 $1 items that end up in the landfill.

What are you doing, as a member of this industry, to aid in its survival? What are you doing to educate yourself on your client’s brand, message, market, vision and values? What are you doing to put a stop to promotional products being viewed as commodities and seen instead as brand worthy? What are you doing to ensure that promotional marketing evolves and is viewed as a viable medium that enhances overall campaigns and ensures a call to action that is listened to, understood and engaging?

It is the responsibility of all of us to help raise the standards within this industry and our medium and keep it relevant and respected.

We need to work together as suppliers, multi-line reps and distributors to educate ourselves about how marketing and branding are changing. We need to open our ears to what our clients truly expect from us. And we need to determine how our industry must evolve so that it does not follow the paths of other industries that lost their relevance and became obsolete.  


Ben Baker, a former distributor in Richmond, British Columbia, is the author of Powerful Personal Brands: A Hands-On Guide To Understanding Yours and is the host of the IHEART Radio syndicated YourLIVINGBrand.live show. He provides workshops, keynotes and consulting on branding and brand strategy. Download a free book chapter at www.powerfulpersonalbrands.com. Contact him at www.YourBrandMarketing.com.