Marketing Swag: What’s Hot, What’s Not (& What Is it Even?)

Good marketing swag is more than free stuff to toss in your junk drawer. Savvy bank and financial marketers use it to acquire customers and build long-term brand loyalty. The key? Developing a strategy built around utility and consumer preferences based on data.

Picture a busy expo hall filled with banking and financial services professionals. They’re mostly there to network, catch a few fintech demos and learn more about the industry. But there’s another pull: filling those branded totes with swag.

The ritual of snagging pens and water bottles is a time-honored tradition. But promotional products aren’t just about the freebie appeal; they’re effective in driving customer acquisition and delivering a cost-effective return on investment (ROI).

A good promotional swag strategy helps build brand awareness and recall; 61% of consumers can still name the company that gave them promotional swag a year after receiving it, according to PPAI’s 2021 Consumer Study Report. Positive brand perception is another driver and plays into human psychology. Gift-giving triggers the desire to reciprocate, predisposing recipients to a favorable view of your brand. That’s reflected in the PPAI data; 75% of consumers are at least somewhat likely to switch brands after receiving a promo product they loved from a brand they had never used before.

Swag remains a valuable tool for engaging with and attracting customers. Here’s how bank and financial marketers make the most of it — and utilize it to acquire customers.

Bank Marketing Swag: What Is It?

So, what exactly is marketing swag? These branded items, both physical and digital, are designed to generate awareness and positive brand associations. There’s nothing new there; swag has been around for a while.

For brands, a primary driver of using promotional swag is its ROI and cost-effectiveness — the right product can turn someone into a customer and a walking billboard. Swag often has a lower cost per impression for brand exposure than traditional advertising. And consumers use high-quality items more often, driving continuous impressions over the long run — especially with branded items like apparel, notebooks and drinkware.

For example, data from the Advertising Specialty Institute shows the cost per impression of a $10 insulated travel mug is only one third of a cent. Yet, it can drive over 3,000 impressions during its lifetime, with 63% of consumers using the mug for at least one year and 30% of consumers more likely to do business with that brand.

But the landscape is changing in a few key ways. Many marketers are strategically shifting toward promotional items that are more useful and functional for day-to-day experiences. “Our swag has evolved from mere promotional items to valuable resources, like branded calculators and premium financial planning notebooks, making them effective tools for client acquisition and engagement,” Andy Chang, founder and chief executive of The Credit Review, told The Financial Brand.

Read more:

What’s Hot in Bank Swag

So, what’s driving the conversation in swag?

1. Utility-focused items: In the financial services sector, there is a trend shifting toward high-quality promotional products that are useful to the consumer.

As Adrian Lawrence, chief financial officer of Exec Capital, says “Practical, high-quality items that offer real value to the recipient, such as branded power banks, high-grade reusable water bottles and premium notebooks, have proven highly effective.”

That lines up with consumer interests. Nearly 60% of consumers say quality is more important than quantity when it comes to promotional products, according to PPAI data from February 2023. And 73% are more likely to consider buying from a brand that gave them a promotional item they kept.

2. Shifting to needs post-pandemic: In response to the digital transformation accelerated by the pandemic, many bank and financial services marketers are pivoting towards swag offerings that reflect those changes.

“Since the onset of COVID-19, our strategy has slightly shifted to include digital swag such as free e-book downloads on financial literacy, webinars and access to exclusive online tools,” says Chang. The focus on educational resources helps further build brand loyalty — another way to provide value to consumers.

Plus, in the wake of the pandemic, people are working from home more often. Keeping increased hybrid work models in mind, Exec Capital moved to items designed to support this trend, including branded webcam covers and tech hygiene kits.

3. Lifestyle interests and needs: A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for marketing swag: lifestyle, interests and context matter. ASI data from 2023 highlights how different types of swag is more influential depending on region. For example, outerwear and fleece work best in the Northeast, while performance wear and polo shirts resonate in the Southwest.

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Vickie MacFadden, Founder of PromoRx, told The Financial Brand, “As with most merch, one size does not fit all. What works for a credit union in a more rural area could be a bust in a metropolitan market. We know financial services brands want something useful, but what’s useful is not always the same definition for you or me. So, we encourage financial clients to have different giveaways per quarter, for example.”

picture of oneaz credit union hat

Liza Buchanan, SVP of Marketing at OneAZ Credit Union, follows many of these best practices, telling The Financial Brand: “At a rodeo, we’ll take items like oversized foam cowboy hats — at dog-friendly events, we’ll give away branded dog leashes and bowls. You know it has worked when people come up and ask, ‘Are you the ones with the cool cowbells?'”

Digital-first institutions like OneUnited Bank create swag that resonates with customers’ values. For example, though the bank uses AI-driven technology, they also have an artist-in-residence, Addonis Parker, designing cards. The art, which may center around a message such as love and unity, strikes a chord with customers and some get a new card for every design.

image on one united onelove card

“Even though we offer AI-driven digital banking services,” Teri Williams, COO of OneUnited Bank, told The Financial Brand. “Our cards are designed with an intimate human touch rather than through Photoshop or AI.”

Dig deeper:

What’s Not in Bank Swag

The focus for marketers is keeping potential customers top of mind first, not what’s easiest (or cheapest) for the brand to create. There’s typically little benefit for a brand promoting products that consumers won’t use, not to mention advertise on their own.

“Consumers don’t need, want, or remember items that just sit on their desk, get tossed into a drawer or worse — in the trash,” says Buchanan. “As ideal as it may be to have 3-4 standardized items you take to all events, being more thoughtful about the essence of the brand you want to convey and the connectivity of your message is key.”

McFadden echoes this message, “Post-Covid, our financial clients are ordering swag at higher price points, or sharing branding space with well-known companies, such as Stanley or Yeti, as opposed to the cheaper items consumers don’t really want,” she says. “Now, there’s less of a ‘paper the world’ attitude in hopes of finding something that may stick.”

Tracking Engagement is Critical

A key component to determining what works or doesn’t for brands is tracking. For example, a popular option is using QR codes that lead to specific landing pages or lead generation forms and can help determine which items are driving engagement. Giveaways and customized flyers at events also work as effective ways of tracking interest in products and capturing customer information.

Using consumer data not only helps determine the ROI of any promotional campaign but is also vital for learning what attracts and retains potential customers. Buchanan says every year OneAZ refreshes their promotional kits based on consumer feedback and captured data from flyers, QR code scans and inventory tracking. That information provides insights into new items that may resonate, while including the most popular swag from the year before.

“Consumers don’t need, want, or remember items that just sit on their desk, get tossed into a drawer or worse — in the trash.”

— Liza Buchanan, OneAZ Credit Union

Lawrence agrees on the importance of tracking data to develop a strategy. “We’ve employed methods such as unique QR codes on items, which lead to specific landing pages, allowing us to monitor engagement levels and conversion rates,” he says. “This data-driven approach helps in refining our swag strategy to focus on what delivers the best ROI.”

“The swag that resonates most for those we strive to serve is personalized, cool and fits into their lifestyle,” says Buchanan. It’s that approach that’s key for bank and financial services marketers to take when approaching marketing swag.

Tracking what resonates with customers and creating more utility-focused items that are useful, practical and still generate high impressions and ROI can help your products stand out.

Liz Froment is a financial services writer based in Boston. She specializes in banking, lending and wealth management with an interest in technology. Her work has appeared in Business Insider and The Motley Fool, among others.

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