All About Brand Protection: AMA Summer Conference Takeaways

By Tim Brown, MAS, QCA Executive Director, Operations   Last week, I traveled to San Francisco to participate in the American Marketing Association’s Summer Academic Conference. It was an intimate gathering of 300 or so attendees, most of whom were marketing professors and marketing researchers.   Many of these professors and researchers represented some of the top business and marketing schools in the country. Which is why I was so surprised to learn that most of the professors at these institutions didn’t teach their students about brand protection.   However, nearly every professor I spoke with immediately took to the message and wanted to learn more. One professor mentioned that he would be interested in doing his next research project on the subject. Several wanted more information and content that they could share with their students. A handful were so engaged with the topic that they asked if I could be a guest speaker for their classes, which I am happy to do.   Buyers of Tomorrow Ironically, the value of brand protection is something most of these young students already “get.” They see the damage that can be done by social media campaigns like #DeleteUber, which can go viral and crush a brand’s reputational value very quickly. They know that a brand’s identity and reputation have never been more in flux — or at risk. These students will be the end buyers of tomorrow.   Once they graduate with marketing degrees and get entry-level jobs, they’ll likely be the ones ordering promotional products. I’ve talked to a lot of end buyers who’ve told me their primary objective is to build and protect their brands. So, they expect you to take care with the products they’re buying and on which they’re putting their logo. They want to make sure their brand has reputational value and they want to prevent a loss of brand integrity.   Getting in Touch My conversations with marketing professors at the AMA conference reminded me that, until now, marketing academia had not given much thought to promotional products. However, with PPAI’s “Get In Touch” campaign and their efforts to work with the AMA and others, I see the beginnings of awareness and interest in our medium from marketing professionals, professors and students.   The marketing professors I spoke to were able to quickly make a correlation between QCA Accreditation and ISO Certification, or FLA Certification and other...

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Waste Not, Want Not: Why Product Quality Matters

Last week, Quality Certification Alliance exhibited at the 2017 U.S. Product Stewardship Forum, hosted by the Product Stewardship Institute. The event focused primarily on extended producer responsibility, a strategy that promotes integrating environmental costs associated with products throughout their life cycle into the market price of the products.   Attendees included sustainability and waste management professionals, state and local government representatives, environmental sustainability associations and organizations, and major energy brands.   QCA’s Tim Brown, Executive Director of Operations, represented QCA at the forum. “The attendees were determined to protect the environment and reduce waste,” Brown says. “Since promotional products – especially the cheap stuff – contribute to the waste stream, I was concerned about whether we would be accepted.”   Brown’s fears were somewhat mollified after listening to several session presenters, who made it clear that businesses must make a profit in order to keep the economy going. What they wanted was for companies to learn how to make a profit responsibly through the reclamation of products.   On Point for Product Quality Attendees’ biggest concern regarding promotional products was the “throwaway” nature of promotional products, Brown says. “If a cheap pen quits working within a week, then it gets tossed,” Brown adds. “This defeats the purpose of the promotional product. Unfortunately, too many end buyers and end users see promotional products as cheap throwaways.”   One way to dispel that image is to educate on the value of quality products rather than take orders for the cheap stuff. “Attendees understood that better quality means less items going into the waste stream as quickly,” Brown says.   Since the forum focused on the importance of recycling batteries, electronics, and other products containing rare earth metals – and how this creates a circular economy that reduces the costs and impact of future mining – the issue was brought up by attendees when in discussion with Brown.   “The proper disposal of batteries was a big concern, based on the amount of tech items sold in the promotional products industry,” Brown says. “Attendees would like to see an effort on behalf of the promotional products industry to collect or direct people to proper disposal resources for unwanted products.”   Takeaways & Opportunities What were Brown’s takeaways from the Product Stewardship Forum? Was there anything he learned that could impact the future of the promotional products industry?   “I see an opportunity...

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Fair Labor Nightmare: Why Social Compliance Is Always in Fashion

Over the past year, Ivanka Trump’s fashion label has contended with multiple threats to its brand, from politically motivated boycotts to department stores dropping its products lines. Most recently, the label has been accused of practicing unethical labor standards.   In October 2016, one of the fashion label’s Chinese manufacturers, Xuankai Shoes Co., allegedly mistreated workers by paying low wages and requiring excessive hours of labor. Then in June, a news story investigated working conditions at its factory in Subang, Indonesia. Workers there complained of verbal abuse, “impossibly high production targets,” and “poverty pay” wages so low that workers are forced to live away from their children.   Compliance Concern The long-term impact of this negative publicity – both on the fashion label itself and the fashion industry as a whole – remains to be seen. But clearly, the company’s immediate priority should be to conduct a “deep dive” analysis of its supply chain.   The fashion label’s foibles serve as a compelling call to action for suppliers today. If your company is truly committed to corporate social responsibility, you will simply not tolerate unfair labor practices, no matter where they exist in the supply chain.   Publicity challenges like these are a sobering reminder of the importance of maintaining social compliance. It’s critical to a supplier’s success, not only to meet regulatory requirements but to protect the integrity of their brand and reputation.   Eliminating Exposure Today’s consumers will avoid purchasing items that are linked to human rights abuses and unfair working conditions. For this reason, many companies are now incorporating social compliance messaging into their sales campaigns; spotlighting the company’s commitment to fair labor standards may now be a key component of their marketing strategy.   Companies that don’t adequately invest in third-party compliance programs expose themselves to potential brand and reputational damage down the line. Noncompliance bites back, sooner or later. Risk mitigation is one reason Quality Certification Alliance exists.   QCA Accredited companies have policies, procedures and protocols that effectively address local and national laws for labor compliance in their facilities. For more information on social compliance and how it relates to QCA Accreditation, including best practices, human rights, and QCA monitoring standards, contact us...

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Fidget Spinners Are the New Product Safety Concern

Fidget Spinners Are the New Product Safety Concern

Fidget spinners – today’s trending toy – are the latest craze taking over classrooms and cubicles. Perhaps because fidget spinners are so popular and ubiquitous, they are now the target of an investigation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.   On May 13, 2017, a 10-year-old girl in the Woodlands, Texas, swallowed a piece of a fidget spinner and it became lodged in her throat. The girl had to have surgery to remove the toy from her body and is recovering. The Consumer Product Safety Commission told Channel 2 News in Houston that it’s investigating fidget spinners because of the Woodlands incident and another one in Oregon.   “We advise parents to keep these away from young children because they can choke on small parts,” CPSC wrote in a statement to ABC News. “Warn older children not to put fidget spinners in their mouths.”   Somewhere on the planet, there is a manufacturer who’s sweating bullets because of this development with fidget spinners. They are likely worried about a PR/legal nightmare, and they have good reason to be concerned. Today’s companies and consumers demand product safety and compliance—in fact, it’s become the “new normal.”   The news incident is a sobering reminder that we as promotional products professionals should do the right thing for the end-user clients and consumers. It’s our duty to admit that a product has failed and/or poses an inherent danger in some way.   No one wants to buy unsafe products, which is why QCA measures and evaluates management practices, including a company’s policies, procedures and protocols that result in the predictable output of safe product manufactured and shipped under that company’s name.   Making an investment in product safety demonstrates that a company is committed to addressing client product safety concerns, which is why QCA Accreditation is becoming an increasingly sought-after part of that investment process.   Whether it’s fidget spinners, tumblers, bags, t-shirts or any other products that you choose to place your company’s logo on, it’s critical that you know where your products come from and how they’ve been manufactured. Promotional products are the most welcome and appreciated form of advertising. Indeed, no other form of advertising results in a thank you from the recipient.   As with all marketing efforts, the intent is to promote a message that solicits a positive impression and hopefully an actionable response. When done right, the intended result becomes...

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How I Learned What Buyers Want: ISM 2017 Conference Takeaways

How I Learned What Buyers Want: ISM 2017 Conference Takeaways

Last week, I winged my way to Orlando for the premiere procurement event of the year – the Institute for Supply Management Conference. With keynote speakers such as General Colin Powell and former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the ISM 2017 conference attracted more than 2,500 global supply chain professionals. After talking about promotional products with buyers, executives and other decision makers from Fortune 100/500/1,000 companies, I would like to share my takeaways from the event.   For starters, among the people I spoke to, social responsibility was a major concern. Understandably, they wanted to avoid procurement nightmares such as inadvertently associating their brand with products from a vendor that uses slave or child labor to cut costs (there was even a session about supply chain anti-slavery initiatives). Many buyers – especially those for security, health care and insurance organizations – were very aware of the hypocritical nature of offering products to their customers and prospects that do not represent their reason for existence.   When I explained QCA’s role in the promotional products industry, many people were very interested in what I had to say and thanked me for creating this awareness. Others cut me off with comments such as “We limit our use of branded merchandise for just these reasons” and “I have always viewed the tchotchke industry as a dangerous proposition.”   During these conversations with people who had negative preconceptions of the promotional products industry, I persuaded them to see things differently. I explained that QCA’s compliance accreditation program was a simple solution that could help alleviate their concerns. A major selling point was that QCA certification does not require any additional work on their part to vet their promotional partners. In one chat, an SVP from a major health care organization commented, “I guess it’s time to review and update some of our contracts.”   Contrary to popular industry belief, supply chain specialists do want to have this conversation. They aren’t scared off by it because all procurement professionals want to add value to their organizations. The more value procurement can add to an organization’s mission and goals, the more that organization will succeed and procurement will...

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The Hottest Gift, Literally

In a previous article, we talked about Apple and their efforts to eliminate the sale of third party power cords and chargers designed to be used with Apple products. The company then reached out directly to major distributors asking that they pull their inventory and even dangled the threat of a lawsuit for patent infringement. As we have discussed in the past, this whole thing was much more about preventing damage to the Apple brand due to faulty knock-offs and less about potential lost sales. Because margins are so tight, understandably you may have been tempted to source a knock-off of a hot item at some point. The recent Hoverboard craze tempted many this past holiday season, and not long after that we began hearing about Hoverboards catching fire almost every day. As is typical, the real problem was the effort to save a few bucks over making safety the priority. If there is one word to take to heart about sourcing knockoffs because the original is more expensive, that word is “don’t.” Staying with the safety theme, let’s revisit the AnchorIt! Campaign initiated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission that QCA is helping to publicize. The objective of the AnchorIt! Campaign is to inform parents about the importance of anchoring furniture to avoid the risk of injury to children. As part of the campaign, the CPSC asked three moms who lost children in tip-over tragedies to discuss their experience in a video to help increase awareness of the issue. You can see that video here: http://bit.ly/1QkXgYw. The sad fact of the matter is that every two weeks a child is killed because of furniture tipping over or TVs falling. Please take a few minutes to watch the video linked above and then be sure to conduct a safety survey in your own home to ensure everything is anchored down properly. Also, please help us spread the word to your customers, family, and friends. If you’d like to read more on this and related topics, please check out my column on Promo Corner Blog.   photo credit: Self-balanching board via photopin...

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