Philip Rooke (pictured) looks at how merchandising has evolved for marketing teams in the digital era.
As the CEO of an e-commerce platform, I spend most of my time trying to balance the things we could do with the diminishing ROI caused by too much complexity or doing too much.
Many CEOs and marketers faced with this issue have opted to drop old school basic marketing tools such as merchandising in favour of new trends without properly considering its ROI.
Building a good brand is hard. The internet came along with the promise to make it easier but also added complexity with the need of a digital identity, multi-channels, social media and instant CRM to name a few – all with the aim of reaching new and engaging existing customers. Ironically, the internet is now also the driver behind the re-emergence of traditional tools of customer engagement such as merchandising, turning the humble T-shirt into an effective brand building weapon.
Modern print-on-demand combined with ecommerce techniques now mean that your brand can offer an infinite number of design and clothing options that customers will actually want to wear. There are few forms of lasting advertising that are as effective as T-shirts in building brand awareness. With the right material combined with a quality printing your message can last longer than a magazine advert or how long someone may remember a 30-second TV or radio spot.
So how exactly does a T-shirt help promote your brand?
Encourages brand loyalty
There is a huge social media industry behind getting customers to Like or follow your brand. This is considered the pinnacle of marketing and relationship building. And yet the act of following a brand is so easy it is almost meaningless. That a friend has Liked X or Y brand on Facebook barely registers in the mind of a consumer and even the follower rapidly sees the updates as wallpaper.
Nothing says ‘I Like’ more than wearing merchandising. By giving them something they love, the customer is not just following you but making you part of their everyday existence. They are likely to immediately feel more a part of what you’re doing and that means they’re more likely to stay loyal to your brand, because you have genuinely rewarded them for being part of it.
Your loyal fans can even be invited to post ideas for slogans and designs, and become part of the building campaign. Modern print-on-demand techniques via the internet now allow an infinite number of variations or designs.
Creates walking billboards
As well as engaging your loyal customer, you have also created an advertising medium in its own right. Your customer is now a walking billboard. A T-shirt travels as far as the person wearing it and can be seen in places traditional marketing campaigns cannot reach; such as work and social situations. And what’s more, it’s a billboard that comes with a large degree of personal endorsement from the wearer.
Customers will gladly showcase your brand if you let them. And they do not just stop there – they engage others, as advocates they often share pictures of themselves on Twitter and Facebook. Social marketing doesn’t get better than this. However, it is not just about having your logo or company name on shirts – it is about a creative and engaging way of showing your brand – sometimes this might be as minimal as the brand colours used in a design or a retro-version of the logo. Creates team spirit
Don’t forget people who work for you can be your biggest fans. Merchandising not only helps signal the social tribe but also who belongs to the corporate family. Employees are valuable assets but they’re rarely used to physically promote a brand. Printed T-shirts are a great way to utilise this and make your team feel valued.
When employees are totally engaged with your brand and feel great pride to be a part of it, they become part of your marketing arsenal. They will happily wear customised T-shirts with special seasonal offers, product launches or #hashtag campaigns so can reap the extra mileage your brand gets out of this.
Makes you stand out from the competition
Thanks to new technology, you no longer have to have big budget. Print-on-demand means that there is no longer need to bulk-buy or worry about storage. Or wait for that big campaign. From small local or internal projects to full international campaigns it is possible to create as many options as you like with no commitment to print runs. The best brands use this to experiment and really find the exciting messages that customers will actively want to wear.
And it’s simple to do
The right platform can even provide the ecommerce website to put the campaign into. This reduces all the major costs and commitments that traditionally prevent marketers from trying new things. You don’t need to be a design techie, you simply upload the designs and the online platform takes care of the rest. You often don’t have to invest a single penny – it can be created on demand. If one person likes your shirt, the store ships one. If a hundred people want them, the store ships a hundred.
Merchandising 2.0 allows you to try something new with an old media, using new technology. It is about challenging old thinking about merchandising and how it can be used. Fans are not just people who press the Like button. They are active or want to be if you give them the chance. Yet, time after time, I see merchandising fail because the brand places just a logo or standardised marketing message on standard products. If you are going to try a new technology, then do something new. Really experiment to find out what the fans want and actively wear. This includes base product choices. Women do not wear men’s T-shirts!
But as with any kind of advertising, you should keep the medium in mind. There is only so much space available on a T-shirt and so much text that a person is willing to read. Personalised or attention-grabbing designs can help to ensure people are drawn to them, but make sure they are not so intricate that your brand’s message or logo gets lost, or the T-shirt won’t be best serving its purpose.
If you keep these things in mind, the value, durability and profile-raising potential could make the T-shirt a sound investment for any business.
Philip Rooke is CEO of Spreadshirt. Follow him on Twitter @PhilipRooke
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