January is a traditionally intensive month of learning, networking, and inspiration in the promo world. This year is no different except for the virtual setting.

As usual, the first event of the year is skucon, an industry conference hosted by Commosnku. I was intrigued by the speakers and content of skucon with a variety of angles into the art and science of marketing with promotional products. Furthermore, as a marketing agency for distributors, I welcome the opportunity to keep up with the evolving demands in their market.

I made the time to be present at all the sessions and loved the interview format to guide each of the presentations. While all the sessions delivered great value, I’ll only share my takeaways of those about marketing.

Content and Storytelling, with none other than Ann Handley.

This was the opening interview and one of the major reasons I attended. I’m a HUGE fan of Ann.  She is a pioneer in digital content, a top marketing influencer, and best selling author. She is one of the first people I started following back in the day when I became interested in digital marketing.  I love her no-nonsense approach to content creation.

Highlights from her presentation:

• When creating content make sure it’s useful, it’s backed by data or creative, and it has honest empathy.

If it’s not useful, it’s noise. There is too much of that going around.

• People know what you do, you need to sell them who you are.

This is a key point in differentiation for a distributor.  You sell the same products that thousands of others sell, but you are unique. The way to show your unique perspectives, values, and expertise, is through the content you create.

• Have a real person be the face of your company

For many distributors, the owner is the face of the company, yet their face or persona is nowhere to be found on their websites. Ann’s point was more about how big organizations were doing this, though, but it still applies.  She cited an example of a local government organization that had a person named Bob (I think). He was available on their website, ready to engage with visitors and guide them to finding what they were looking for. 

I thought this was genius.

One more thing about her presentation, I LOVED how she used handwritten looking signs instead of PowerPoint slides. Very cool.

Advocacy, Activism, and Transparency, with Chris Miller, Head of Global Activism with Ben & Jerry’s.

This is a highly relevant topic in today’s business world. Brands are being vocal about the causes they support and what they stand against. So much so that t’s becoming part of their identity, and this trend has a trickling down effect influencing smaller companies as well.  

This session provided valuable insights into what top leading brands are engaging in and how they are building culture.

Knowing your clients is the key to success for effective marketing. Understanding their goals and objectives will help you find where you, as a distributor, fit in.  This is how you can deliver value, and not be just as a product provider but also as a valuable partner.

Sustainability with Fast Company’s Elizabeth Segran

You might remember an article published in Fast Company a couple of years ago, about the uselessness of promotional products. It’s time to stop spending billions on cheap conference swag,

Elizabeth was the author, and I believe that the article might have gotten her a raise because it was probably her most read article ever. It caused a commotion in our industry, it was shared and commented on by many, I included. From Tim Andrews to  Bobby Lehew, she got “counter” articles defending the medium – with links to hers, a writer’s dream.

She was invited to a podcast where Bobby Lehew and Mark Graham tried – unsuccessfully, to convince her that the medium could be used effectively. The interesting part, to me, is that she started her infamous article by stating how she subscribed to a certain magazine just to get the free bag…

Being real, that’s how promotional products are generally perceived. That’s why having her at the conference to talk about sustainability could not be more fitting: she represents the end-user audience at large. In addition, as a journalist focusing on sustainable merchandise, she is well versed in the subject matter.

The takeaway:

Very valuable insights into what you need to communicate to your buyers so they feel – “they get me”.

The Future of the Industry with Paul Bellantone and Tim Andrews

The promotional products industry has many finding themselves at a turning point. Having both industry association CEOs together in a discussion about the industry, was another reason I attended this conference.

As expected, it was a very interesting session. Great overview of the state of the industry from within and a positive outlook of where it’s going. 

The takeaway: the world has changed, the supply chain has been disrupted, and the role of the distributor has changed.

Influencer Marketing with Quianne Savoy, Co-Owner of Moore and Moore Merch.

This was one of the breakout sessions. The reason why I chose this particular one, is because this distributor is the antithesis of the traditional (mee too) distributor. That, and I’m obsessed with their Instagram page.

Quianne talked about how she started in the business with her 2 cousins. She shared how she grew her business by specializing in influencers in the music and arts industry in DC. But every distributor, in any industry, can learn from her approach.

Highlights of her creative prospecting method:

• Collect email addresses everywhere you go

• Reach out to your target prospects and help them grow, so you grow.

• Having a focus is what makes you successful

• Promote your business shamelessly

• Create a grand stage

Conversation with Seth Godin

Seth Godin needs no introduction. He has been a speaker at many industry events and he always inspires his audiences to do better and more fulfilling work.

He discussed differentiation in the context of the promotional products business. He addressed the challenge of competing in our commodity industry, and how to be more purpose-driven and less order-taker.

My favorite quote – Do work that matters for people that matters.

Last Thoughts

This was an outstanding conference worth attending. It provides a much-needed space for distributors who want to evolve in their business to the way business is done today.

I find that to a great extent there is an echo chamber within the industry, where the same old advice gets recycled, providing a safe place to validate old ways and stay within comfort zones. 

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