Specialty advertising is a popular form of sales promotion designed to increase public recognition of a business’ name.

Companies create various types of merchandise that display their names, logos and contact information — anything from T-shirts, hats and bags to drinkware, key chains, magnets and pens — to try and ensure that people think of them before any of their competitors.

Whether you call them tchotchkes, schwag (from the acronym s.w.a.g. – “stuff we all get”), adcentives or promotional products, they are everywhere, because they work. According to a 2008 study by the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), not only are people more likely to remember companies they get free schwag from, odds are they have a good feeling about the company and likely did business with them after receiving the items. People love free stuff, and with promo products, your company can aggressively market itself to potential customers without putting them off — unlike pushier marketing tools such as TV and radio spots or direct mail, these free goodies can elicit a smile and even gratitude from the recipient. And once people are sporting your custom shirt or drinking from your logoed mug, they’ll likely start to get questions from others about your business … All of a sudden, your customers are marketing your business for you.

|image2|But before you run out and have your company logo printed on everything you can think of, ask yourself: What are your customers most likely to use often? And for a company like yours that values sustainability, it’s important that merchandise representing your company be made sustainably, as well. Your like-minded customers will notice, and they will know the difference. You’ll need to do some careful research before deciding which company should create your tchotchkes. In addition to the usual criteria – price, quality, etc – it’s important to find out, for example, what kind of materials and processes they use to make their (your) products.

There are all kinds of eco-friendly materials and fabrics available — for T-shirts and bags, ask about organic cotton, hemp, jute or bamboo; for cups and mugs, look into stainless steel, recycled paper or corn plastic; for pens, there’s recycled paper, biodegradable plastic, wood, bio-resin … And there are a number of chemical-free, environmentally friendly dyes and pigments that don’t cause irritation or pollute the environment, so be sure to ask; promoting your green business with a bamboo T-shirt dyed with the standard, plastisol-based inks kind of defeats the purpose. Also, it’s worth possibly paying a little more to support companies that take care of their employees – a printer you found online may appear to have high-quality products and appealingly low rates, but make sure that they’re running a socially responsible operation and not a sweatshop.

Because there are so many products, companies and production methods (eco-friendly and less so) to choose from, thorough research may be necessary before you order your first tchotchke. But have fun with it! This is your chance to create a unique and memorable image for your company, then emblazon it across all kinds of products that will continue to spread the word about for your green business for a long time to come.

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About The Author

Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

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