A Promotional Product is not a Marketing Strategy

Several years ago, I was hired for a full-time position handling marketing for a company. One of the executives asked me to develop a marketing plan for the organization, so I asked for the business plan, to which he responded, “What?”

I told him that I needed to know what his goals and objectives for the organization were – in what areas he saw opportunities to grow and what metrics he was using to define success – so I could base the marketing plan around that. His response was, “You’re a marketing guy. You don’t need a business plan. Just come up with a plan.”

I then asked what my budget was for market research efforts, to which he responded, “What?” I explained that I needed some frame of reference to understand where the organization fit in the local marketplace in relation to the competition and where the growth opportunities and basic SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) existed. His response was, “You’re a marketing guy. Just come up with a plan.”
Frustrated and confused, I performed my own secondary research and developed a comprehensive marketing and outreach plan as best I could. I presented it to the executive along with a budget for each aspect, anticipating that I would only receive approval for a handful of items as opposed to the kitchen sink.
I never expected the response I got. He opened a desk drawer and said, “You know what we really need? Petri, I was in a client’s office earlier and he had this cube on his desk that unfolds into different shapes and has lots of cool pictures on it. My eyes were drawn to it and I couldn’t stop playing with it. I think what we need is a cube like that. Can you get me a cube?”


I honestly thought he was joking. I sat silent for a moment, then asked how that fit into the strategy and the marketing plan I just presented. He said, “I think this is what we need.” And that was that. I stalled successfully for a year and a half until he finally demanded “THE CUBE” and he got his cube.
I am not a fan of promotional products as a strategy in and of themselves. However, I have not let the cube experience sour my feelings about the potential of branded pens, key chains, apparel, etc. as a supporting campaign element or unique event takeaway.
They have their place. As a tactic. Not as a strategy.

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