One of my most treasured possessions is in my coat pocket right now. It has no financial value, probably cost less than a dollar to make, and I got it free many years ago. It was a gift. In fact it’s a key fob, a present from a hotel chain that I’ve used, on and off, for many years. What makes this key fob special is its design. I don’t mean just the look, although that is good; I mean every single aspect of the what it does and how it does it. That’s quite a big claim for a key fob, so what’s the big deal?
First, it does it’s very simple job very well. Keys stay firmly attached and don’t work loose, but it is easy to take old keys off and put new ones on. It’s very sturdy, so the chance of it breaking and scattering keys into the gutter is small. When new, it was a shiny gold colour, but not too flash. Now it has a well-worn look and the familiar feel of an heirloom.
But what makes this a classic piece of design is that someone has thought long and hard about what makes a good key fob. Although it is made of metal it’s not especially heavy; but it is heavy enough for me to know it’s missing if I don’t pick it up as I leave home. It has a well-proportioned rectangular shape, but there are no sharp corners to rub a hole in my pocket linings – this was designed by someone who knows what it is like to lose a bunch of keys crossing the road on a rainy day.
Over the years, the simplicity, good looks and practicality of this small gift has made me think hard about design generally – and about the process someone went through when deciding to give away a few thousands of this key fob, instead of something else. In fact, choosing the right promotional gift can be tricky, but the rules for choosing a great one are simple enough. Assuming you’ve already identified your market and audience, here’s how it works.
Make it useful
If the gift isn’t useful it won’t be used. Obvious, surely? But how many trashy gifts have you thrown away without even opening the wrapper? If you’re anything like me, it will be a lot. If you can see it’s useless, the chances are you will throw it away, even if it looks nice. Even worse, it might get stuffed into a drawer and add to the clutter. And if it is not used, will it, or the person who gave it to you, be remembered? I doubt it.
So, make it useful. Choose something that people will understand quickly and will be happy to use because it makes their life a little better. Be careful of gimmicks. I was once given a pen that had a miniature torch surrounding the ball point that came on at every third click. ‘Brilliant’, I thought – but I’ve never needed to write in the dark and been unable to find a light, so the pen just lies in the car, unused, and I can’t remember who gave it to me. You don’t have to invent something new – a familiar object often works well as long as you think carefully through the rest of your choice.
Make sure it looks good
Who wants an ugly gift? Not me and not your customers. Make sure it looks good and that it will still look good in a year’s time. For longevity, think carefully about colour: this year’s fashion could be sharp marketing, but you still need to make a deliberate and reasoned choice. Don’t go with a colour or pattern just because you think it’s trendy – do your research first. Ideally, have it made with your own branding too.
Make sure it is well designed, well made and well packaged
This has to be another obvious fact, but it is surprising how often it is ignored. If your gift – and remember you are investing some of your precious budget here – is badly made and not fit for its purpose, it won’t last. And you don’t want anyone who gets one to associate your brand with ‘cheap and tacky’.
Make sure that your gift is well packaged too. Go for something that makes your brand stronger, and consider packaging that’s a little out of the ordinary, something creative. Choose something that has been made by a manufacturer who cares; someone who understands the message you want to send.
Would like to receive this as a gift?
Finally, choose something that you – or your partner – would be pleased to receive or even buy. If you wouldn’t want it, then you can be pretty sure that lots of your customers will feel the same. So, make it useful, make it attractive and make it long-lasting. In short, make sure that whatever you buy to give away is well designed and well made – and that it’s something people want.