'Change Is the New Norm': Image Source President Tom Goos on the State of the Promo Industry
“Times are changing and you better be open-minded to the transformation in all aspects of the business—otherwise, clients will move on past you. Change is the new norm, and we all need to be comfortable in that space.”
So says Tom Goos, president of Image Source, Kirkland, Wash. In an interview with Print+Promo, Promo Marketing's sister publication, for its annual state of the industry issue, Goos provided his assessment on the promo industry for 2018. And his outlook was optimistic, even before PPAI reported 2017 totals that saw the industry reach its highest sales volume in 18 years.
“I believe the promotional products industry is strong,” he said. “It is a mature industry that continues to grow. We are seeing growth numbers around 3.5 percent for 2017, which itself doesn’t sound big, but when you are talking about a $22 billion industry, that is $770 million.”
Goos’ positivity, grounded in the indisputable proof of profits, also stems from what he sees as a strengthening of the industry due to consolidation, as well as a fertile landscape for growth brought on by tax restructuring and a lift in legislative pressures on the industry at large.
“Overall, the current administration is positive for small business, and business in general,” he explained. “Many of the major issues that we [had been] dealing with are off the table now. We still have many challenges ahead from a legislative perspective, and we need to be proactive with our legislators so they know the size of our industry and that we employ over 430,000 people.”
While things are looking to be on the up and up, there’s always room for improvement. As far as change is concerned, there are a few things for the industry to keep in mind as 2018 proceeds—namely, how it engages with millennial buyers, and how it ensures it is offering the right products.
“I think there are change drivers that will continue to affect our industry and most others,” he said. “Those are technology, evolving demographic shifts and globalization. Forrester Research expects the millennial to be the largest demographic in the workplace by 2020. These folks are digital natives who are resourceful and used to buying online for their personal purchases, and this oftentimes transfers into their buying habits at work. It is not a seismic shift, but rather an evolution of thinking.”
While reaching millennials can be a challenge, there are certain tactics companies can use to break through the generational barrier. For example, millennials appreciate quirky or unexpected promotions, such as this clever collaboration between Saucony and Dunkin Donuts. By coming up with a promotional running shoe, these companies appeal to the millennial sense of style while also checking the box on quirkiness. This strategy is similar to that employed by fast food chains such as Arby’s and Wendy’s of late, whereby popular brands create clothing lines that embrace style and humor alike.
Technology also provides a means of both reaching millennials and succeeding in a changing marketplace. Take, for example, augmented reality. This technology is expected to grow tremendously over the next year, allowing promotions to reach a previously unseen level of digital engagement with end-users. Consumer tech, such as this DIY drone rolled out by KFC in India, also provides a pathway toward innovation and a means with which to meet change in stride. By embracing this so-called “evolution of thinking,” the promotional industry can only continue to succeed and grow.
But thinking, according to Goos, isn’t the only thing to undergo an evolution in recent years for the promo industry. As the industry faces unprecedented growth, it has been forced to roll with the changes, if you will, inherent in a technology-dependent market. More and more, end buyers are looking for sophisticated, even high-tech products to promote their brands. As the marketplace changes, so too must the industry.
“We continue to see key categories evolve and online sales continue to grow,” Goos said. “For example, three years ago, calendars were a top 5 product category, and now they are a rare sale. We are seeing categories like technology products (e.g., mini-drones, travel chargers, speakers, multi-function cords, water bottles with a built-in speaker, etc.) rise and, oftentimes, are the first product we show.”