Everyone who owns or works for a business uses business cards, and they're an important part of your marketing and advertising campaigns. However, I have had much more luck using promotional products for advertising and contact information, because they are so much more effective.
A promotional product provides value. Let's face it, nobody is going to pick up a business card lying on the ground unless they just want to clean up litter. But, almost everyone will pick up a pen or pencil lying on the ground and take it home with them to use. Already you are creating goodwill for your business by providing value to someone. Then, if that person you gave the product to loses it, it will continue to provide value for the next person, and the next. So although that pen may cost you fifteen cents, as opposed to two cents for a business card, as long as that pen has ink in it, it will continue to advertise for you, even if lost. And business cards tend to get filed away, whereas a promotional product is not filed away, but used, or given away to someone who will use it. Therefore, your message, instead of being put in a box, is visible every day.
More permanent promotional products have even more value. An item such as a T-shirt will not only provide value to the wearer, but everyone who sees the shirt will be influenced by your message. A really clever design or slogan will add even more value for prospective customers and they will remember your message and your company name--often long enough to look your business up on the internet.
And then there are the really clever products that last a long time, that get lost, picked up, used over and over again, and are highly visible. Items such as USB flash drives, metal bookmarks, refillable notebooks (with the advertising on the inside), and other high-value items will be treasured by whoever receives them, and if lost, will provide value to whoever finds them. These items spread your company goodwill and provide years of advertising value (I am using map weights from companies that went out of business decades ago).
A promotional product that represents your company should in itself remind people of your business. So, for example, a bookmark can sell your book; a USB flash drive can be used to promote almost any computer company; a T-shirt can market clothing lines (think of the T-shirts that have only the designer's name and logo--something people will pay $15 for, and that do nothing except advertise the designer), and so on.
To make really effective use of promotional products, it's best to find a promotional products company representative that will work with you to find the right product to promote your company. Good ones will alert you to sales that may be going on so that you can send your order in when you will save money; great representatives will stay on top of the order, and send you reminders of due dates for artwork and inform you of their technical requirements for submission.
I started using pencils at business networking events two years ago, and I have had calls for my services from people I've never met, who just picked up a lost pencil over a year earlier, and after looking at it every day decided one day to call and hire me. So that fifteen cents I invested in that pencil, after a year, made me over $500--not a bad return for an advertising investment!
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(price as of Jul 24, 2015)