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Customers don’t want promo products. They want merch.

Why we need a vocabulary adjustment.

4/27/2022 | Taylor Borst , Taylor's Take

I am in no way the first person in our industry to advocate for the term “branded merch/merchandise”. Leaders from PPAI, ASI and other top distributors and suppliers have been discussing this shift for quite some time. This isn’t just change for the sake of change. The truth is many customers just don’t resonate with “promotional products”. We kill ourselves trying to educate customers on what promotional products are. The customer KNOWS what they are. They’re just calling it “merch”.

We’re speaking difference languages and it’s our responsibility to be the translator.

I’m not saying we need to ban the phrase “promotional products” – and to be honest, I’m not sure I could personally make the switch at this point. We’re part of the print and promotional industry and there is no problem with continuing to use it internally to our heart’s content (plus, you know, old habits die hard).  

But what we sell is branded merchandise – because that’s what the rest of the world is calling it. We need to adapt and approach customers on their terms.

Much of this shift has been the result of increased social selling, pop-up shops and online branding. If the metrics tell us anything, it’s that “merch” is the predominant way to explain branding added to a product.

TikTok hashtags:

·         #merch – 2.4 billion views

·         #promotionalproducts – 3.2 million views

·         #promoproducts – 291,100 views

Instagram hashtags

·         #merch - 4.4 million posts

·         #promotionalproducts – 703,000 posts

·         #promoproducts – 174,000 posts

Streaming services like Netflix and HBO also refer to their products as “merch”. Additional examples are common in the entertainment industry, helping to channel this further in the mainstream.

Team Coco (Conan O’Brien’s media company):

Charlie Berens’ Manitowoc Minute:

Office Ladies Podcast (shout out to fellow The Office fans!):

Taylor Swift’s official website:

Other popular customer-friendly terms to note is “gear” and “swag”, both of which have been commonly used in our industry and will likely continue to be relevant. Hashtag metrics are a bit tougher with these words since they have multiple meanings.

We adapt for customers constantly. It’s what keeps our industry growing, evolving, and moving forward in the right direction. The changes we often prioritize tend to revolve around production times, product availability, decoration details, shipping, technology needs, etc. These are the obvious, foundational elements we can’t ever avoid. But we can’t forget the subtle game changers either. The way we communicate our value-add can make all the difference. It’s time to speak the customer’s language.  

Taylor Borst is Sr. Director of Marketing & Vendor Relations for American Solutions for Business. Joining the print and promo industry in 2015, she specializes in social media, promotional products, and supplier relations. Taylor is currently a Sous Chef with PromoKitchen, board member for UMAPP, on the PSDA Emerging Leaders Committee and is an advocate for education and youth involvement in the industry. Connect with her on Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn.
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