In the landscape of branding and marketing, standing out is a necessity. Brands represent more than just logos or names. They should convey stories, visions, promises, and show us why we should care and identify with them. When it comes to merchandise, the choices made can either elevate a brand or send it adrift into a sea of mediocrity.  How do you want people to see your company? Do you want to be seen as the place that hands out another cheap pen, or do you want to be seen as a company that defines their story through their marketing? If you have ever gotten piles of promotional items at an event and immediately discarded them that night at the hotel, then you have a good initial sense of what to avoid spending your money on.    

It’s crucial to understand the distinction between promotional products and merchandise or fully customizable products. Promotional products are meant as giveaways, whereas merchandise is intended to either be sold to or to faithfully represent your brand. When choosing to create unique merchandise, it is important to pick higher quality items that can be fully customized and offer a reason for someone to want it and use it.  Promotional products take an existing item, such as a water bottle that has a logo put onto it within restrictive, set sizes. Fully custom merchandise allows the control to design it and print it exactly how it’s been envisioned and offers a level of customization that makes it unique to your brand. Well designed products can serve as a tactile manifestation that represents your identity.

Let’s take a well-known item, such as a tote bag to provide some clarity. A promotional tote is probably canvas colored of black and has a logo printed on one side, or simple graphics. A fully custom tote can be all over printed with a pattern, bright colors or full color. The handles can be a pattern, your logo or a solid color from within the design. You can often add a woven tag with your company name as well.  Which option sounds more interesting to you? Which will stand out better? The pricing is comparable, but one of them will make your company look more unique.  

Creating merchandise goes beyond slapping logos onto generic items. It’s about curating pieces that resonate with the audience, evoking a sense of pride and attachment. Investing in higher quality items that offer customization opens a realm of possibilities, allowing brands to faithfully represent themselves. If we are being honest, most people do not want to walk around with an item that is just a corporate logo on it. This can work for a company with a strong local community, such as a brewery, but the general public doesn’t have much interest in items like that.  

Attempting to cut costs by opting for low-quality merchandise can tarnish a brand’s reputation. No one desires a rough-feeling shirt destined for the waste bin or a generic tote bag.  Every dollar saved upfront translates to a loss in long-term brand value, perception and customer engagement. A good quality tote can average over 3000 impressions. A cheap tote will make an impression on the garbage can at the hotel adjacent to the conference. An unused item doesn’t serve its purpose.  

Creating real merchandise is a way to step up the branding faithfully and a way to stand out. If you can make merchandise that people want to wear, or carry, the amount of impressions and long term value is tenfold what a poorly thought out or cheap product will deliver.  It’s worth spending more time and thought to create products people will proudly represent.

Breaking away from the norms requires thinking outside the box. Instead of relying solely on logos, delve into the” why” of the brand’s vision and values. Brainstorm innovative ways to incorporate these into interesting graphics and designs that transcend bland advertisement, becoming statements of and true representations of the brand.  Think about who your customers are and what will be useful to them beyond the conference.  If you can create something useful, you will get more value over time.

While hats and shirts remain staples in merchandise, the true magic lies in venturing beyond the conventional. Enamel pins, keychains, and even custom-designed shoe charms offer unique mediums to showcase a brand’s personality. Embrace the freedom of customization, turning every product into a canvas for creativity.  Is there an item that works into the region that the conference is at?  While attending a conference in Denver in the middle of winter, a lot of companies had good quality beanies.  Do you know what everyone had on when they walked out of the building and into the freezing cold?  There were long sleeve shirts and other items that worked for people attending.  

Merchandise is not merely a revenue stream but can be a powerful tool for brand representation. When it’s focused and creative, it transforms customers into brand ambassadors, spreading the message wherever they go. Investing time and resources into creating unique merchandise yields returns well beyond just sales figures.

In a world saturated with generic merchandise, standing out is a necessity. By prioritizing quality, creativity, and customization, brands can transform their merchandise into a powerful tool for representation and customer engagement.  

Greg Kerr is the Owner of Alchemy Merch, which creates custom merchandise for creatives and companies. Alchemy has made over 4 million custom products for artists, brands, and creatives in all fields. Greg guides artists and corporate clients through the process of creating quality custom merchandise that helps them achieve their goals of increased brand awareness, customer loyalty, and more. For more information, visit:

Marketing & Promotions, Outside Insights, Story