The Promise and Risk of IoT Products for the Promotional Industry

The consumer product world is experiencing a broad emergence of Internet-connected tech products with embedded sensors and microchips that allow them to perform tasks never before imagined. They are part of the Internet of Things (IoT) and they will eventually redefine what we consider normal.  And like many tech items that evolve from pricey retail versions to low cost promotional versions, the day when IoT products arrive in the promotional industry is likely to come soon.  Imagine a T-shirt that monitors your heart rate and then automatically adjusts the program of your treadmill, a pill box that emails you if your elderly mother forgets to take her medicine, or GPS–enabled stickers that can track anything with a Find-my-iPhonetype app.  These products and hundreds more are all possible in what our industry could call the Internet of PromotionalThings (IoPT).  In time, there are bound be IoPT features added to a wide range of industry categories – from pens to drinkware to bags to apparel – as developers find meaningful ways to reimagine the customer experience and broaden marketing opportunities. But the benefits of IoT and IoPT may come at a price.  These connected consumer products are raising serious concerns for regulators around the globe as issues of cybersecurity and privacy abound.3  Consumers have already been subjected to hacking incidents with IoT control devices in automobiles, heart regulators, baby monitors, cameras, oil pipelines and credit card scanners, to name a few.  Promotional professionals should take the time to educate themselves about IoT now, before the products become plentiful in the industry, so that when they begin to appear you will be better able to make informed decisions and protect your clients’ brands. Only 4% of the world was online in 1999 when Kevin Ashton, a British scientist working at Proctor and Gamble (P&G), coined the term “Internet of Things.”[1]It was the title of a presentation he gave on the use of radio frequency identification tags (RFID) for P&G’s supply chain. Ashton was convinced that life would be greatly improved if computers weren’t dependent on humans for data entry – that electronic sensors, like RFID, were much more efficient.  He wrote, “If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or...

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Category Managers Get Brand Safety: Responsible sourcing best practices add value.

As the holiday season began, QCA was still out on the road sharing the message of BRAND SAFETY through the responsible sourcing of promotional products. While everyone was still eating Thanksgiving leftovers, the Institute for Supply Management Indirect Conference kicked off in Las Vegas. Moreover, once again, we were joined by a representative from the QCA Distributor Advocacy Council. The lineup of quality speakers represented several supply chain categories from large and mid-sized organizations. Some of the more well-known included presenters hailed from Baxter International, FedEx, Intel, Microsoft, the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, and Zappos.   The Next Generation of Procurement The event also featured a group of college students that had to compete for a chance to attend and receive scholarships to boot. This group of young minds was energetic and focused on the future with a keen understanding of sustainability. Thus, the responsible sourcing conversation just made sense to them. The next generation of procurement leaders has been raised in a culture that values corporate responsibility and distrusts brands for the most part. So, transparency – while somewhat of a buzzword currently – is going to be the way of the future.   Communicating with Buyers In Their Language It is essential to speak the buyer’s language if you want them to understand your value. While the industry tends to focus on product safety and rightly so, that topic appears to take a secondary position to social responsibility where procurement professionals are concerned. Understandably, they want to avoid safety incidents, injuries, recalls, and other issues. However, they are much more familiar with social responsibility and the potential damage that can result from associating their brand with products from a vendor that uses forced labor and/or commits other human rights violations.   The session titled “Unlocking Savings and Other Benefits with a Strategic Sourcing Program” went over extremely well and prompted a great deal of conversation. The speakers shared experiences with the vendor vetting process, RFIs, and vendor onboarding where the differentiator, as cited by the speakers, can often be a certification from a third-party.   Sustainability and responsible sourcing has become a higher priority for more F1000 companies and is now seeping into America’s mid-sized companies as well. With this has come the need for more information, more in-depth vetting practices, and a higher desire for validation, to ease the resource burden for indirect procurement professionals. Third-party...

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BRAND SAFETY Resonates with Marketing Professionals at AMA Higher Education Symposium

by Tim Brown, MAS For an audience that already understands social responsibility and environmental stewardship, introducing three more essential BRAND SAFETY categories to round out the five pillars of compliance seemed to be a natural fit. The American Marketing Association (AMA) recently held its 2017 Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in Atlanta, Georgia. The event attracted over 1200 attendees fixated on discovering fresh ways to engage audiences.   Keynote speakers included Stefanie Miller, Coca-Cola Company Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnership Marketing and Jaime Casap, Google Education Evangelist.   Value of BRAND SAFETY Universities and colleges of all sizes are significant users of promotional products and tend to already understand the importance of promotional products as a viable marketing medium. However, BRAND SAFETY has not necessarily been top-of-mind for many of these professionals when sourcing their promotional merchandise.   Our message of BRAND SAFETY resonated with attendees who were already enamored by the volume of promotional products filling the exhibit hall. Within seconds of inquiring who QCA is, they understood the importance of an independent accreditation body in the promotional products space. Many had just assumed compliance was a given and therefore, did not give it a second thought. This provided the opportunity to share more about the dynamics of the industry and why some of the assumptions that apply to retail consumer products cannot be applied to promotional consumer products. As an industry, we change things, via decoration, and change the intended audience for which a product was manufactured. Because of this, the parameters and rules that apply to each given situation change as well.   As with previous end-buyer conferences we have attended, there always seems to be a sense of appreciation for what QCA and our industry trade association are doing. While responsible sourcing is not a topic that has typically been at the forefront for marketers, those that engage with us quickly catch on to the value. Often, the attendees would share stories of promotions gone bad, experiences with inferior quality products, and even safety issues they encountered. Common sentiments included, “thank you for bringing this to my attention – we had not really thought about it,” and “I just assumed this kind of stuff was already being done.”       Keep It Simple Once people wrapped their heads around the topic, they wanted to know the simplest way to ensure compliance....

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Study Shows Consumers Will Pay a Price Premium for Brands that Take a Stand

Although recent studies show that trust in the government and public institutions is declining, the same is not true for brands. In fact, new research from global marketing and communications firm Edelman suggests consumers may trust brands more than the government.   The 2017 Edelman Earned Brand study, released last month, reports that 51 percent of those surveyed said that brands could do more to solve social ills than the government. Consumers want more from brands today; they want to know if brands will step up to the plate environmentally and socially in ways the government has failed.   Around half of consumers say they would be more likely to buy a brand that speaks out on social and environmental issues versus one that doesn’t and stay loyal to it. Further, they say they would defend these brands on social media sites. This is a particularly valuable benefit to companies today, since attacking brands on social spaces like Facebook and Twitter is on the rise (think #DeleteUber).   Paying a Price Premium The study hints at the possibility of consumer commitment well beyond the traditional purchase funnel. When consumers agree with a stance taken by a brand, they will “reward it greatly,” Edelman says. According to the study, nearly a quarter of consumers will pay a price premium of 25 percent to buy on shared beliefs.   In short: What your brand believes in and the causes it commits to may well be a predictor of your business growth.   Providing environmentally safe promotional products is an essential component of doing business in today’s hyper-competitive environment. Fortune 1000 clients expect safe and environmentally compliant products and even smaller businesses are beginning to require the same assurances.   Industry Game Changer Until Quality Certification Alliance came into existence, the promotional products industry didn’t have an industry-wide sustainability standard, as architecture has with its LEED certification. But QCA has taken on the painstaking process of standardizing sustainability standards for the promotional products industry.   QCA Accreditation increases buying confidence because it protects brand equity throughout the entire supply chain: from the promotional products supplier, through the distributor, to the end buyer and ultimately to the end user.   Companies with QCA Accreditation can be confident they have a proactive and comprehensive compliance program in place. These standards not only address environmental impact and product safety issues but also supply chain security, social compliance and...

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Top 5 Reasons to Apply for C-TPAT Certification

As the incidence of terrorist acts has increased around the globe, more manufacturers are recognizing the importance of supply chain security and thus applying for the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program. Founded in 2001, participation in the C-TPAT program continues to climb. Today, more than 11,400 certified partners have been accepted into the program.   Led by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), C-TPAT works with the trade community to strengthen international supply chains and improve U.S. border security. The partners include U.S. importers and exporters, manufacturers, customs brokers, carriers and others – all of whom account for more than 52 percent (by value) of cargo imported into the U.S., according to CBP.   Although QCA does not require applicants to achieve C-TPAT certification to become accredited, we do advocate C-TPAT certification as a best practice. QCA accreditation applicants that have a Tier 1 or higher C-TPAT certification may be able to use that documentation for QCA supply chain security testing. Further, this certification offers many benefits that will help you grow your business. Here are the top five reasons to apply for C-TPAT certification.   New Business Opportunities A C-TPAT certification opens doors to new opportunities for business growth. Once certified, you will be able to compete for contracts that require C-TPAT membership – thus expanding your potential customer base. You will also be eligible for other U.S. government pilot programs.   Fewer Customs Inspections When a C-TPAT certified company imports goods, the cargo is considered preferred, and points are deducted from the risk value. This translates into reduced inspection and customs fees. And even if your shipment is selected for inspection, the process will take less time, resulting in increased speed to market.   Front of the Line Privileges As a C-TPAT supplier, you receive front-of-the-line inspections, which results in a reduction in the time and cost of getting cargo released by U.S. Customs. Also, any containers or trailers will be moved ahead of non-certified ones, further reducing wait times.   Shorter Wait Times at the Border C-TPAT members gain expedited clearance across the land borders between the U.S. and Canada, and between the U.S. and Mexico via dedicated Free and Secure Trade (FAST) lanes. This results in a decreased wait time at land border ports of entry and increased predictability in moving goods.   Priority Access in Emergencies In the event of a national emergency or terrorist act...

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Product Quality

One Year Later, IKEA’s Tip-over Troubles Continue   A little over a year ago, the furniture retailer IKEA recalled 29 million dressers and chests from its MALM line following the deaths of seven children. According to the Consumer Product Safety Co, the IKEA products did not comply with the U.S. voluntary industry standard and thus posed a serious tip-over hazard.   IKEA offered consumers a full refund on the unsafe chests and dressers sold from 2002 through June 2016 as well as free wall anchoring kits. Three of the families whose children were killed took IKEA to court. IKEA agreed to settle all three wrongful death claims for the sum of $50 million plus donations to children’s charities.   But the ordeal isn’t over for IKEA, even one year later. On June 28, 2017, a group of safety advocates sent a dire warning letter to CPSC claiming that IKEA hasn’t done enough to address the tip-over prone furniture.   Spotlight on Safety IKEA’s woes should serve as a warning to promotional products suppliers. Product safety is clearly under the scrutiny of regulatory agencies such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission along with advocacy groups like the Consumer Federation of America. In a nutshell: This could happen to you. Don’t let it happen.   When it comes to product safety and product quality, the best offense is a good defense. Mitigating risk by manufacturing or sourcing safe products is a far better alternative than incurring the costs and the damage of a recall, lawsuit, and public relations nightmare – not to mention the loss of consumer goodwill from a failed product.   Quality Assurance Companies who undergo the QCA Accreditation process are asked to document a protocol for ensuring their products adhere to quality and performance standards as determined by regulatory agencies such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission. These businesses mitigate risk by validating product quality before sourcing or manufacturing.   QCA-accredited companies perform product quality audits and testing to their manufacturing operations. These types of inspections go deeper than random inspections. Product quality audits help ensure that the right processes are in place. They also pinpoint potential problems early in the process.   By making a commitment to developing and selling high-quality products, promotional product companies are also making an investment in product safety, resulting in a better product experience for all involved parties. Contact us today to...

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