Changing the conversation

As the UK and other markets start to get back to ‘normal’, PM is receiving reports on the strong forecast for 2022 and the upward trajectory for orders in the industry. So how has the market changed in the last two years and what should the industry expect in the next 12 months? Indicating a need for a change in the conversation, PM explores the trends and influences impacting the market and importantly, how the industry can stay a step ahead.

PM has been looking into the spend trends affecting the industry, what is driving spend and behaviours plus the challenges with trust and how we are best placed to address this with promotional merchandise.

In our report about the wider industry, the wider ad spend in the UK indicates an incredibly strong investment planned for UK advertisers. This indicates confidence which historically triggers spending in other business sectors. With major advertisers set to spend £32.2bn, this shows a rise of 8.5% on 2021 spend. Some big numbers and companies looking to regain share of voice in markets. A recent Sourcing City Purple Club Report (February 2022), indicated the pattern of the pandemic unfolded, showing the peaks and troughs as the UK went in and out of lock downs during the period. With an expected dip in late 2021 with the rise of the Omicron COVID variant, the industry saw a fast recovery by the end of January as public confidence started to rise with the easing of restrictions. Demonstrating just how fragile the recovery process has been, the value of the industry was tentatively cited as £800m vs the previous value of £1.1-£1.5bn currently. The positive outlook for the year ahead, indicated climbing back to this market value is within reach but will take time. A strong UK forecast bodes well for business owners as they plan resources to answer rising demand.

Asking more questions

Do we ask enough questions at order stage? Do we understand what end user clients are spending, what they are spending on and why? Asking the BPMA for their view the answer is straightforward – we should be asking more.

‘Coming from the end user side myself, I knew before starting this role I wasn’t an expert. I’ve been buying promotional merchandise throughout my career, either in my agency roles or client side on behalf of brands, and whilst I’ve always had a pretty good idea what I needed, what I loved was when I was asked more questions or had better suggestions for products provided unprompted, particularly if these helped tick another campaign box for the project I was working on. Finding out more about what your client needs is something we should never be afraid of asking’ said BPMA CEO Carey Trevill. Asking the right questions at the start could not only impress the end user but also help the entire supply chain demonstrate the value add in the process. Trevill encourages some simple approaches to understand more about where end users are spending right now and on what channels (e.g. print, digital), what are they planning to spend in future and on what areas and importantly what outcomes they are expecting. This last question is considered the most important as every piece of branded communication is there to prompt a response. Finding out what this is might just be the key to providing a better-than-expected response for the client.

With research from think tanks WARC and McKinsey citing some important trends in how major business is viewing areas like financial growth and sustainability, a recent study suggested some 46% of companies put equal importance and financial growth and environment; the ‘double bottom line’. Research also picked out three key areas to boost the way companies are accountable;

  1. Changing manufacturing, packaging and distribution, improving supply chain transparency
  2. Making public commitments which companies will be held accountable
  3. Encouraging green consumer behaviours in messaging

This all sounds sensible and expected given the accelerated awareness of climate change in the last 24 months but with 95% of marketers stating they believe marketing can make a difference in the sustainability journey (World Federation of Advertisers/AdNetZero 2021), they felt the gap in corporate adaption of the same approach was lacking. Whether we are talking B2B or B2C, we are all consumers at heart and with 92% of consumers agreeing brands have a responsibility to change consumer behaviour, we ignore the prompt to find out more about what our end-users need at our peril.

Measuring our impact

Equally, the measurement of our sector has often been limited to impressions studies which whilst great, don’t align with other broader marketing measures. Understanding what end-users are doing to measure impact is also essential to future orders. 54% of marketers surveyed by WARC stated market penetration and customer gain are important barometers of effectiveness. With an estimated 66% now re-thinking the channels they use for communications, the time is ripe for promotional merchandise to make a bid for budgets. Surveys conducted by the BPMA continue to indicate brand recall and propensity to purchase as exceptionally high, even during the pandemic, far outstripping the type of results seen in other channels. 73% of marketers surveyed said the way our behaviours have changed during the pandemic will impact strategies in 2022 with customer experience high on the agenda for change.

How can we help address some of the challenges end users want to address? Taking the knowledge 51% are looking to emphasise their sustainability commitments in their communications, eco solutions to carry messages long term through promotional merchandise seem like obvious answers.

Trust has again been highlighted as a huge challenge for most markets and of course, trusting communication from official sources has been in question for some time. Understanding the actions companies should be making to have an impact vs what we as consumers are prepared to do does present a gap, according to the latest Edleman Trust report. Making it simple to participate and meet values is a very important consideration when companies consider the onward impact and effectiveness of branded messages.

The origin of goods is also driving a call for more British-made goods with recent Made in Britain research citing 80% of companies want to buy more locally produced goods and 73% say they want the businesses they work for to buy more British-made products.

Understanding more about the journey your end user is on will help every part of the merchandise supply chain deliver solutions that matter, whether it’s the product origin or values, helping bridge the effectiveness gap between digital communication and physical goods and embracing trends emerging from the pandemic such as wellness and mindfulness.

PM’s top tips

  • Purpose and presence: keep solutions authentic to the brand or service your working for, delivering a tangible measurable impact to help meet goals
  • Be flexible, but think long term: adapt to short term volatility and demand, keep core strategic objectives and long term growth in mind by understanding more about outcomes
  • Use your knowledge wisely: our industry is an untapped resource for companies needing business advice – you are the experts with highly valued knowledge

With proven research which shows £1 invested in marketing for an SME can go x8 further than a larger corporate, changing the conversation towards merchandise will not only be great for them but great for your business too.

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