If you haven't heard about Google Glass, it's kind of a big deal. Slated for a Q4 2013 consumer release, the eye-mounted mobile-computing platform is causing quite a stir, and not just for the ethical questions it's raising about privacy or its promise to make it even easier for us to take and share pictures of our cats. If Glass catches on (and judging by the success of Android, Google's last big mobile venture, there's a good chance it will) it could reshape the way we use computers, just as smartphones and tablets did before it.
What does this have to do with the promotional products industry? A lot, actually. We just now figured out how to use the Netflix app on our iPads, and already the next camp-outside-the-Best-Buy device is on its way—if you don't keep up with the trends, your tech promotions could fall flatter than a Windows Vista joke at a Bill Gates meet-and-greet.
Want to take advantage of the huge demand for computer accessories but not sure where to start? Get plugged into the tech market with the four sales tips below.
1. Go Mobile
The Pew Internet & American Life Project's 2012 data shows that 58 percent of American adults still own desktop computers, making traditional computer accessories like mouse pads, wrist rests and keyboard brushes still viable as promotional items. But to focus on those products at the expense of the growing mobile market would be to limit your potential sales. "The market is strongly trending toward mobile connectivity. Recent research has shown that a quarter of U.S. laptop owners now own tablets, and half own smartphones," said Sandeep Mehta, president of 365 Wholesale, Deer Park, N.Y. "According to Pew Research, the rate of ownership of e-readers and tablets actually doubled just over the 2012 holiday season. 29 percent of adults now own one of these devices."
Mike Ablauf, category manager for New Kensington, Pennsylvania-based Leed's, recommended a broader approach to tech promotions, one that accounts for the steady uptick in mobile device ownership. "I would change what you think of as 'computer accessories' to include anything compatible with tablets or smartphones," he advised. "I would think of bags that fit these products, as well as pens with stylus tips, as solutions for these types of promotions and probably more relevant in today's tech environment."
Next: Play to Price Range
2. Play to Price Range
In the electronics market, the only thing more important than the hardware inside a device is the logo on the outside—just ask all the broke college kids somehow wearing $199 Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, or the mob of disheveled early-adopters lined up outside the Apple Store. So why not add some name-brand gear to your product offering? "Overall, we see a lot of high-level brands wanting to put their logo on branded goods manufactured by other top names," Mehta explained. "Skullcandy and iLuv are two brands that are known to have great quality and are already popular outside the promotional industry. Because we can imprint on them in-house, the client gets the best of both worlds: promotional exposure and the high perceived value of a brand name item."
If brand-name electronics accessories are too pricey for your clients, you've still got options. Jamie King, marketing manager for Sweda Company LLC, City of Industry, Calif., described a promotion where a distributor was looking for a tech-themed gift set for a budget-conscious client. Sweda Company combined an iPad sleeve, a stylus pen and a cleaning cloth to form a tech kit with a price point under $10. "Tech accessories are such a big part of our lives, it's easy to forget they make such great promotional items," King noted. "And because of the range of products, [they] will fit any budget, high or low."
Next: Know Your Devices
3. Know Your Devices
What's the difference between Apple's iPhone 5 and Samsung's Galaxy S II? Microsoft's Surface and Google's Nexus 7? Amazon's Kindle Fire HD and a paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice? If you don't know the answers (especially on that last one), you might want to brush up on your tech-market knowledge—not all devices are created equal, and you've got to keep compatibility in mind. "It's not all about PC vs. Mac anymore," explained Mehta. "Most of what's hot are items that are mobile and cross-compatible."
Ablauf agreed, citing the iOS vs. Android battle in particular as a major driver of consumer demand. "This battle really influences which products should be used as promotional products, because we all want to ensure compatibility for the end-user," he said. "My one suggestion—and one that drives our development as well—is to find products or solutions that can be used with both operating systems."
Still, that's not always easy. Device specifications vary from brand to brand and style to style (even Apple recently switched up its input jacks for the iPhone 5, to the dismay of iPhone-peripheral owners everywhere) making it tough to decide what accessories to pitch. When in doubt, go universal.
"Stick to items that are compatible with most devices," Mehta said. "This means items that use USB or the earphone jack and not a proprietary connector. Also, avoid items that relate to the device's size, like phone cases and certain kinds of docks," he continued. "Users are not only spreading across multiple brands now, they are upgrading frequently, and you want your promotional item to survive each generation change."
Next: Don't Get Gimmicky
4. Don't Get Gimmicky
Sure, an iPod-dock/panini-press seems like a great idea, but unless your client is a tech-savvy sandwich shop, it's not going to be used much. Resist the urge to pitch gimmicky items, and instead stick to stuff people use often. King pointed to cleaning cloths for touchscreen-devices, while Ablauf recommended charging accessories. "Items in the power category are popular, and we believe they will continue to be," he said. "Tablets and smartphones are constantly using power and need to be recharged every day at least once, so power will remain a strong product category."
Meanwhile, Mehta suggested headphones, earbuds, mini-speakers or other sound-related items, as these are often compatible with smartphones and tablets as well as laptop and desktop computers. "If your target user doesn't have a [mobile] device, a pair of earbuds will still work with a computer or an older music player like a disc-man," he said. He also recommended protective gear like bags and cases. "Cases and totes for devices are still great, as long as they aren't too specific to a certain device," he explained. "Neoprene laptop and tablet sleeves are inexpensive, easy to brand and offer great value to the end user, because they will continue to be useful for years."