Pouring It On
The basic amenities aren't enough anymore. Regular coffee? Heck no, we want a soy caramel macchiato with a flavor shot of vanilla. Movies on DVD? Only if they're Blu-ray and include eight hours of outtakes, vignettes and making-of documentaries with director commentary. And umbrellas? We don't even want to hear about them unless they can fly us around, Mary Poppins-style.
Okay, we're still probably three or four years away from the invention of the flying umbrella (fingers crossed), but we've come a long way from the Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain days of basic black, wood-handle designs. In fact, according to The New Yorker, as of 2008 the United States Patent and Trademark Office had "more than three thousand active patents on umbrella-related inventions," effectively making umbrellas the soy caramel macchiatos of the promotional products industry.
Consumers want options, they want additional features that increase the bang to buck ratio—and that's where umbrellas shine. With that in mind, here are eight ways to add that proverbial flavor shot to your umbrella promotion.
1) VENT A LITTLE
Umbrellas are a bit like parachutes: you expect them to work every time, and if they fail at a critical moment, your day is pretty much ruined. Fortunately, improvements in wind-proofing technology have resulted in more reliable umbrellas, making it possible for anyone to navigate a driving rainstorm without incident.
"Wind-venting is a popular design that adds to the durability of the product and allows [it] to withstand heavy gusts without failing," said Todd Blackmar, vice president of Haas-Jordan by Westcott, Toledo, Ohio. He explained that, unlike conventional wind-proofing, which utilizes a spring to return to the umbrella to its original shape after inverting, venting allows wind to actually pass through the canopy, eliminating altogether the possibility of inversion. "An umbrella that fails the customer at his most vulnerable time, in the rain, may be memorable in a negative way," he added.
2) CONSIDER BOTH SIDES
"The panels [of an umbrella] can be decorated with complete coverage imprints—including the underside," explained Jennifer Grigorian, vice president of marketing for Hit Promotional Products, Largo, Fla. "The decoration possibilities are almost limitless."
Blackmar outlined a memorable example, in which a Washington, D.C. Hampton Inn printed a map of the surrounding city on the underside of an umbrella. He noted that while not to scale, the maps were still useful for reference. "[Users] could give directions in the rain," he added.
3) CLEAR YOUR HEAD
Incorporating eye-catching structural features into a canopy design is another way to guarantee looks and enhance the promotional qualities of an umbrella. "We've done umbrellas for Gulfstream Aviation's distributor, where we made clear PVC windows in the shape of the trademark windows on a Gulfstream jet," Blackmar said. "Not only were they very stylish, but there were also safety features that allowed users to carry the umbrellas and see where they were going at the same time."
4) GET INKED
If modeling your umbrella after a jet aircraft isn't enough to turn heads, perhaps a touch of magic will do the trick. "Our watermark imprint is an exciting way to decorate an umbrella," said Grethe Castberg Adams, president of Southern Plus, Hartwell, Ga. "This special ink only appears when wet and makes for a real 'a-ha!' experience when you first see it."
5) HANDLE WITH CARE
Canopies aside, umbrellas offer plenty of other options for customization that can enhance the user's experience and make a particular product even more memorable.
"Handles can be customized, can be made of rubber, sponge, light and dark hardwoods, even recycled materials," said Blackmar. "All these elements add to the quality, fit, function and message [of the umbrella]."
6) BELIEVE IN THE SLEEVE
Customization options don't stop at the handle. Many suppliers offer personalized tie straps or imprintable sleeves as well. "Shoulder strap sleeves enhance the umbrella and give it a retail look," explained Richard Meth, vice president of sales for Edison, New Jersey-based Rainkist Umbrella Co. He noted that small features like these can pay off in a promotional campaign, citing an example from a trade show. "[A supplier] sent out sleeves imprinted with a booth number and a letter [directing attendees] to visit the booth to receive a free umbrella," he explained. "Booth attendance for the supplier increased dramatically for the show."
7) CASH IN WITH FASHION
Remember, fashion doesn't have to take a back seat to function. "We designed our LF [series of] umbrellas with a deep, rich color palette, and detailed every piece with the London Fog brand," said Scott Pearson, vice president of merchandise and design for Sweda Company LLC, City of Industry, Calif. "Back [your umbrella] with fashionable colors and a classic brand and you'll have a winner."
8) DON'T SKIMP ON QUALITY
"In our category, you generally get what you pay for," stated Blackmar. "If one brand seems much less expensive than the others, it may just be cheap." In other words, an umbrella could be decked out with all three thousand features the United States Patent Office has to offer, but if it breaks down in a week, it's just three thousand more reasons to be disappointed.
Adams advocated paying extra attention, so to speak, to ensure that the end-user receives the best possible experience with a given product. "If an umbrella only lasts one season, you will not have saved any money over spending a little more up front and having an umbrella that will last for years," she said.