Like others in the promo industry, we had to evolve to make it in 2020. 

As we adapted to the chaos of last year, we let our customers’ needs guide us – and we saw those evolve a great deal too. We saw that, while they will always look for promotional products that are useful, have staying power, and lead to high impressions, the offerings that fit the bill are not what they used to be.

Across the industry, promo pros saw all new and significantly shifted use cases alter the market. Promo products that were once useful in an office environment may not be in a work-from-home environment. When we have nowhere to go, on-the-go promo tech like USBs and power banks are going to end up in the junk drawer. Now, a face mask will likely yield dramatically higher impressions than a T-shirt. 

With all this adapting and learning and observing in mind, here are our takes on what promo product trends to watch in 2021.

1. PPE, like it or not, is still important

Last year, PPE promo items like hand sanitizer and face masks overtook more traditional top sellers by a large margin. And that makes sense. This year, while some of the staple promo products will pick back up, PPE is not going away. However, end-buyers will be looking for an upgrade. Take face masks for example. Now that consumers are not dashing to find (or make) any sort of serviceable face mask (and are now deep into accessorizing and sloganeering with this essential item), end-buyers will need to step up their game. For this promo item to resonate with their customers, full customization and unique designs are what the doctor ordered.

2. Promo everyone can enjoy at a distance

Our ongoing collective commitment to stay as far away from each other as possible makes the outdoor and leisure categories of promo products more useful for more customers. As folks fight cabin fever by braving the outdoors, they’ll get a lot of mileage out of the branded gear that helps them do it. Items like camping chairs, coolers, and thermoses will have a lot of staying power. And the versatility of athleisure apparel like performance shirts and hoodies will garner a lot of impressions on the ritual walk around the neighborhood.  

3. Fully customized is the way to customer’s hearts

For many businesses, marketing budgets are still tight. So it makes sense that marketing teams are doubling-down on profitable trends like personalization, a move that increases marketing spend efficiency by up to 30%. The promo industry is already well-positioned to capitalize on the personalized customer experience craze, but it can do one better by going all-in on fully customized products. When end-buyers can deliver custom-designed promo items that delight their customers, they’ll win a whole fleet of brand ambassadors, even (or especially) in lean times. 

Custom apparel by Candor Threads

4. Kitted out virtual events

This year, more companies are hopping on the necessary trend of virtual events, conferences, and expos. Even big players like CES are going virtual. So kitted promo solutions, where the ol’ conference tote bag full of swag is shipped to each participant, are essential. But for many brands, whether they are curating a kit of promo products for their own event or commissioning their one freebie for the virtual tradeshow, they’ll be looking for promo items that make them stand out. Think personalized products and premium apparel. 

5. Value-based purchasing

Every year, more consumers and marketing decision-makers are Millennials and Gen Zers. And these upstart generations are known for (besides ruining everything) prioritizing purchasing from businesses that align with their values. More and more, end-buyers will be looking for promo products that showcase their brand’s commitment to sustainability, diversity, and community in order to win this growing market share. For promo pros, this means partnering with values-centric businesses throughout the supply chain. It’s a benefit you can sell to your clients, who can then tout it to their customers. It’s a win-win-win.

6. A need for new ways to engage employees

Now that many offices are working remotely – and many are considering making that move permanent – businesses are challenged to find new ways to keep their employees engaged. The usual routes to unifying company culture and fostering connection are off the table. So those tasked with boosting engagement are getting creative. Work-from-home care packages will be standard, with custom apparel as the centerpiece. Apparel has a unique team-building quality, providing such a strong feeling of connection to a larger group that we pull on our favorite football team’s jersey on game days, even when we’re watching from home. So though employees can’t connect by sharing in-person experiences, they can share the experience of custom Hawaiian shirt Friday.

7. Market watch: Tech

This year, many stalwart promo markets (like manufacturing and education) are slowly but surely bouncing back. While eagerly awaiting their recovery, consider leaning into the tech market. By and large, tech industries (particularly software-as-a-service solutions) did more than okay in 2020. And, innovators that they are, they are always looking for trendsetting, highly-customized ways to connect with their customers. So while we wait for our go-to clients to regain their footing, look to the tech industry for more robust marketing budgets and an imminent need to retain all those customers they gained in 2020. 

8. Strong relationships

2020 was a rough one, and fortunately, it’s in the rearview mirror. But this year the promo industry will still likely grapple with supply chain disruption, inventory issues, and volatile trade relations. As the industry regrows, the key to weathering the ongoing storm is building and tending strong relationships among manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, and our customers. Luckily that’s something we here at Candor Threads (and our industry as a whole) take pride in. So that’s at least one part of this business that doesn’t change. 

 

Candor Threads is a custom apparel company that has been connecting groups through wearable comradery for over 38 years. If you would like to learn more about our custom apparel options, contact us today!