Trends from the PPAI Expo 2017
As the PPAI Expo in Las Vegas came to a close, and we hopped on planes and returned to normalcy, it was easy to look back and feel overwhelmed by an event that offered so much. Along with dozens of meetings and seminars, we flocked to Vegas primarily to see the latest and greatest products—and with over a quarter of a million products on display, we were not disappointed.
We perused aisle to aisle and visited hundreds of vendors. We saw the good products, the great ones and, to be honest, some of the ugly too. (But isn’t that half the fun?) In a city filled with new people, bumping music and flashing lights, it can be easy to miss out on some of those truly innovative products and find the trends that will guide our industry for the rest of the year. That’s where we come in. So here is it, our guide on trends and some of our favorites from the PPAI Expo to keep in mind for 2017!
Trend No.1: It’s all about the ‘retail details’
In August I wrote on the impact of retail brands on our industry, and as I walked the floor I spotted what I like to call the “retail details” everywhere I looked. I’m talking about those small details, like hidden pockets or small embellishments, that elevate a product to the next level. Along with a huge increase of retail brands entering our space, even more notable was the influence retail designs are having on the products our suppliers are producing. Stiff cotton shirts are being replaced by soft, high-quality fabrics. Stock colors are being phased out, and marbled and trendy wood and burlap designs are becoming more and more prevalent. We are seeing a shift to quality over quantity in a big way, and our vendors have really stepped it up this year to meet demand for these trendy products.
A big standout for me this year was the Numo booth. Some of their new product lines looked straight out of a Target catalog, and their booth was arranged in a retail-like way that made me feel giddy and creatively inspired. Their products had all of the “retail details,” from bright, vibrant colors, to boutique looking bags that appeared hand-made and expensive. Their product lines were cohesive and begged to be branded as part of a collection, rather than as a single giveaway.
And although I called out the Numo booth specifically, I saw the retail details everywhere I looked. I saw bags with stitching sewn tightly and deliberately on the outside for a rugged look, water bottles with gems and sleek metallic caps, apparel that was draped in unique ways and had leather tabs covering the zippers. There will always be demand for the basic promotional products, but this year gave me a glimpse into next level products that truly blurred the lines between retail and promos.
Trend No. 2: Customers are looking for an experience, not a product
While at the Expo I had the great pleasure of attending Johnny Earle’s (aka Johnny Cupcake) seminar—“Recipe for Brand Loyalty.” His brand has a cult-like following due to his unique marketing that immerses the customer in an experience rather than just selling them a product. His creative, prankster mentality dreamt up what he calls “the world’s first T-shirt bakery,”a fake bakery that, in fact, creatively sells T-shirts. The brand he has built has fans chasing after him in his ice cream truck, lining up for days around the Boston storefront for special edition releases, and bidding thousands on eBay—all for a T-shirt in a unique package.
While walking the floor I saw that Johnny was onto something. This year, more than ever, there was an emphasis on customized packaging, which can turn any product into a present. Things of value should be preserved, so adding creatively designed packages greatly increases the perceived value of any product. Along with that, the very act of opening a package creates an experience for the recipient. Nothing is worse than pulling out a wrinkled shirt crammed in a box, or a beautiful bag getting creased from being carelessly shipped. Careful and creative packaging is the solution and after walking the floor I saw that many of the vendors had caught on.
One product that stood out as more an experience rather than a product was EcoEasy’s “Tailgate in a Box.” The kit features a portable grill and all the essentials one would need to have an awesome day tailgating with friends. The kit came in a box with a slice-of-life picture of young twenty-somethings having a blast. This promotional product isn’t just offering you tools, they are offering you a memorable day filled with laughter and the smell of fresh burgers on the grill. This is the future, guys. In his seminar, Johnny said, “If you don’t give people something to talk about, then no one is going to talk about you”.
People may forget about a product, but they will never forget the way that someone made them feel. Associating your brand with a fun memory is the quickest way to turn any customer into a fan and advocate for your brand. A brand that excelled at this at the expo was Moleskine. Their booth was simple in design, but gave visitors a memorable experience. They handed out free, travel-sized notebooks, and set up a station where you could customize the journal with stamps and decorations. Visitors lined up to receive the giveaway and chatted happily with the Moleskine reps as they turned their journals into their very own works of art. So instead of throwing in a promotional product as an afterthought, integrate it creatively at an event or as part of a larger campaign for a lasting impact.
Trend No. 3: Two is better than one—multi-feature products are here to stay.
But wait, there’s more!
There is a reason every infomercial proclaims this when trying to make that hard sell. People love when products serve multiple purposes or have bonus features. Just think about the evolution of the simple click-pen. What started out as a writing utensil has transformed into the new Swiss Army knife! Pens these days not only can write in five different colors, but are also erasable, have a stylus tip and a screen cleaner on the clip, are a flashlight and can park my car. (OK, maybe not the last feature, but you get the picture.) You see it in the retail world all the time, particularly in cars. From back-up cameras to built-in wi-fi, people are now expecting more from the products they purchase.
Some products that stood out to me that offered more than meets the eye were: a coffee mug that was also a French press, a hoodie that glows for night safety, a business card that can be planted, and a Bluetooth speaker that was also a digital clock. They say two heads are better than one, and I tend to think the same applies for promo products as well. If a product can perform more than one function then you have twice the opportunity to make a lasting impression with a client.
Along with products being multi-functional, I also saw that kitting products together is increasing in popularity. If a single product can’t do it all, it can still be kitted with other products for a cohesive branding opportunity (such as a car safety kit or the tailgate in a box). As more and more products hit the market, look for more of these multi-feature and kitted products to be very popular this year.
So there you have it. Expect high-quality, multi-purpose, retail-like products to be huge in 2017. Expect exceptional packaging and for promo products to be used in conjunction with creative campaigns, instead of thrown in as an afterthought. From what I can tell, 2017 is going to be an exciting year!
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Sarah Radin is a marketing associate at Boundless, where she focuses on email marketing and managing social channels. Before Boundless, Sarah studied public relations and business at the University of Texas and worked for Austin Pets Alive! promoting animal welfare efforts.
When she is not busy sparking brand-love moments, you can find her hiking the many trails in Austin, Texas, playing sand/indoor volleyball and trying out new eateries around town.