Put It On Plastic
IN AN ERA where “charge it” has become not just a saying but a way of life, it’s not surprising that plastic cards of all kinds have found themselves at the top of the totem pole as profitable and enduring consumer products. To that end, some promotional products suppliers have adopted their own, increasingly popular version of the coveted plastic card—promotional gift cards. Promotional Marketing sat down with Watson Nichols, senior communications manager at Atlanta-based InComm and Steve Pruitt, vice president of marketing and business development at Midland, Texas-based Teraco for an in-depth look at this new wave in gift-giving.
PM: How are plastic cards being used as promotional products?
WN: Over the past few years, gift cards have become perhaps the most sought-after promotional or incentive item, largely because of their popularity among recipients. Two of InComm’s most exciting promotional programs feature gift cards.
InComm’s patent-pending Win It Now! product takes gift cards to the next level. WIN! cards are similar to traditional gift cards, but a scratch-off area on the back offers recipients the thrill of a chance to win large prize values.
In addition to WIN!, InComm’s alliance with Serious USA allows us to add content value to our card-based offerings. Serious’ CD-Cardz and DVD-Cardz have the same shape and size as traditional gift cards, and can be redeemed as such, but the underside of the card is actually an interactive CD or DVD allowing clients to provide customized digital content including video, music and other interactive experiences.
SP: As plastic cards have become a ubiquitous part of our society, promotional plastic cards have followed. Anytime you have a heavy usage of a product (in this instance credit, debit and gift cards), there is a natural tendency for promotional uses of those products to follow. Currently, you can find a good mix of legacy and newer emerging products in the plastic promotional card space. More mature products would include calendar cards, prepaid phone cards and promotional hotel key cards. Newer products would include music download cards, ringtone cards and promotional gift cards.
PM: What are some advantages plastic cards have over other promotional items? What makes them good promotional products?
WN: The primary advantage is that recipients want cards perhaps more than any other promotional item of comparable value. When a promotional or incentive program offers recipients something they want, it’s great for both the client and recipient.
In addition to popularity, card-based programs are also more customizable than many traditional items. There are only so many ways to print a logo on a pen or a notepad. Cards and card packaging can be customized to suit the client. Through our partnership with Serious, we can encode customized, interactive content onto the card itself. ››
SP: Because of the incredible proliferation of plastic cards, there is a perceived value with any type of plastic card. Regardless of the ultimate utility of the card, connecting with a widely used product medium that has intrinsic value lends to an instant credibility. Additionally, printed plastics are very versatile as a print medium. Not being limited to simple logo imprints and having room for branding or messaging can be a tremendous advantage.
PM: How are plastic cards different today than they were 10 years ago?
WN: Ten years ago, long-distance was the most popular card-based product and gift cards were just beginning to emerge. Downloadable music, games, ringtones and other products were either new or non-existent. Today, there are vastly more product types available, allowing companies to use card-based programs to provide better value to clients at lower costs.
SP: The quality of printed plastic cards is much better than it was 10 years ago. The last decade has brought production efficiencies and technology advancements, and has allowed suppliers to offer a superior product at more competitive prices. The same efficiencies, combined with additional capacity, have also allowed more forward-thinking card manufactures to continually improve turn times.
PM: Is the sale of promotional gift cards increasing or decreasing?
WN: They are increasing, for all the reasons already mentioned. For the most part, card-based programs allow clients to get more value for their promotional expense because of the popularity of card products among their customers, employees or other recipients.
SP: Promotional plastic cards are definitely a growth segment. Card growth in general is tracking at more than 11 percent to 13 percent annually (according ICMA Market Surveys for the past five years). Promotional card sales have ridden the wave of that growth. Additional help comes from efforts to continually introduce new ideas for card uses and to adapt to new trends or cultural shifts, i.e., music download cards.
PM: What are some markets that are most interested in promotional gift cards?
WN: Any company that has employees, customers, brokers or other relationships they value is a potential client for a card-based incentive or rewards program. InComm has solutions for any size company. A Fortune 500 company might want to launch a robust WIN! program to reward its sales team or call center employees, while a mom-and-pop shop might want to purchase 10 Vanilla Visa cards to give to their employees for a year-end bonus. Just about any business can benefit from a well-designed incentive program.
SP: The nature of the card usage can drive you to several markets and many of the products can cross industries with ease. One example of a market-oriented product would be the travel/tourism industry. Hotels and motels need a constant supply of key cards, and restaurants and other tourist-based businesses in the area are very well served by providing custom key cards with discounts or special offers for their services. Furthermore, any type of business can advertise on a key card that might be used for a conference or convention.
PM: What are some creative ways distributors can sell plastic cards?
WN: InComm’s WIN! and Serious products add a tremendous amount of creativity to any promotional or incentive campaigns. These technologies can be used along with customized packaging and promotions programs to deliver added value to any program. InComm has relationships with hundreds of product providers and thousands of retailers, and we have exclusive technology offerings that allow us to create unique programs that no other company can.
SP: Finding innovative uses for existing products can help distributors find niche sales. An example of this came from one of our successful distributors who took a standard luggage tag product and sold it to a music store chain as a band-rental instrument identification tag. The main thing is to not pigeon-hole yourself into thinking a product only works in certain markets. Music download cards are not just for the music industry, they are a great way to give a popular gift to a younger demographic. Think of cards as a delivery mechanism for anything, from product messages or promotions to an actual gift or a functional tool, such as a calendar card or a branded ice scraper card that can fit in your wallet.
PM: What is your outlook for plastic cards in the promotional products industry?
WN: Our outlook is extremely positive. We believe that card-based programs will become the primary tool for promotional and incentive programs. Because of our product and retail relationships and our technology expertise, InComm can create programs that deliver better results for the same or even lower investments for our clients. And as more and more companies launch successful programs, the demand for creative, cost-effective promotions and incentive programs will continue to increase.
SP: While the promotional product space is very competitive and there are many low-cost products competing for the same promotional dollar, the feverish growth of the gift and loyalty card market will add additional fuel to the plastic card fire. Innovative suppliers will find new uses and tap emerging trends and deliver them on portable, printed plastic documents—the plastic card.