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Thoughts from the Industry: 2021 Trends

There is no doubt that the changing landscape of the world and its' consumers largely brought on my the COVID-19 pandemic is shaping the way we think about the promotional marketing industry. As you know our mission is to inspire the world's brands to discover the possibilities that promotional marketing creates - and this is no different in 2021. Our goal is to change the way people think about swag and help marketing professionals realize that when used correctly swag can be used to optimize engagement and leverage in-person experiences to create connection with your brand.

We asked some of the promotional marketing industry's most innovative professionals the following questions to gain insight into how they believe the industry or world at large has changed over the past year. Check out what they have to say!

What lifestyle changes have we as a society adopted due to COVID-19 that you think will continue into our everyday routines after the pandemic ends?

“I think as a society that we have shifted from a materialistic lifestyle to valuing candid and more authentic relationships with the people in our lives. We have moved away from feeling the need to buy extravagant gifts to being present and having more wholesome and genuine conversations and understanding ourselves, coworkers, friends, family, etc. We have put ourselves at the forefront of our minds and understood what it means to be alone with ourselves but also who we are. Selfcare isn’t just a bubble bath (as bomb as they are) it's our physical health and our mental health. Journaling, being alone with our thoughts and moving our bodies; whatever that means for you. Doing something for you just because and not needing to meet anyone’s expectations.” (Laura Sharpe, Score Promotions).

“Home is no longer just where we live. It is where we work and work out, study and hobby, “eat out” by ordering in, and do most of our shopping. New products designed to help us adapt will continue to emerge in 2021. Higher-value product features will include multifunctional and easy storage items. Desk tech, kitchen gadgets, and exercise equipment will be in high demand as working from home continues. The trend of increased connectivity has only intensified with the increase in working from home. Second savers can become hour savers over the course of a day. New tech accessories to enhance productivity are on the rise. Mental wellbeing is a rapidly growing trend as consumers search for indoor escapes and virtual connections. We crave experiences that lower stress and offer comfort. Home baking and BBQing, DIY projects and gardening, camping and road trips have all grown in popularity. Products that encourage or enhance these meaningful experiences will continue to be more appreciated in 2021. ” (Sergio Munoz, Debco)

“The pandemic forced us all to slow down – and I think we will take things a little bit slower than we used to before. Before the pandemic, so many of us spread ourselves very thin. It was normal work 40+ hour weeks, while commuting to/from the office. This was on top of going to the gym, socializing, having kids involved in countless extracurriculars…and the list goes on. Post-pandemic, we will no doubt pick up the pace of life…but I don’t think we will take on quite as much as we did before. In the last year, there has also been a big trend towards prioritizing mental health. The pandemic has normalized an openness towards sharing and seeking help for mental health struggles. I also think our society is going to stick with a more flexible approach to remote work. I expect to see a “best of both world” situation: Some days working from home, other days going into the office. Lastly – STAYING HOME WHEN SICK!! Keep your germs to yourself, thank you very much!” (Jackie Goldhar, Spector & Co.)

What new materials or processes are being introduced into the promotional marketing industry to increase sustainability or social impact?

“Sustainability has mainstreamed. Whether it’s buying eco-material versions of bestsellers, or just buying something designed to be reused instead of replaced. Consumer awareness and expectation continues to grow greener.” (Sergio Munoz, Debco)

“Efforts towards sustainability and waste reduction have been on-going for the last several years. From a products standpoint, our line of eco-friendly products continues to grow. These products are made with eco-friendly materials, like bamboo, wheat husk, and recycled materials, like old plastic water bottles. There is also a greater push towards locally made products. In the last several months, we’ve introduced our line of custom journals, which are made locally in Montreal. The raw materials are sourced responsibly – including FSC certified paper. Since we’re the manufacturer, the ecological footprint is significantly reduced, since so many promotional products are imported from overseas. In addition, we’ve recently started to carry personal care products, which are also sourced responsibly from Canadian brands. These products have EWG Verification, Ecologo, Cosmetic Bio, and ECO Certified, so buyers have peace of mind. Finally – we are participating in a meaningful giveback program. A portion from sales will be donated towards organizations that actively help clean our oceans.” (Jackie Goldhar, Spector & Co.).

“At this point, there has been a decisive shift from the concepts of Eco and Sustainability as a “trend” to them reflecting a new commitment to protecting our environment and limiting our waste. As an organization, the product we bring to market is the most prominent visible change to our customers, but internally there have been changes being made as well (i.e. removing single use plastics from the building). What is interesting is that as a supplier, we have seen customers take some liberty with the Eco and Sustainability terms. Products designed to replace single use items certainly help reduce the future waste that we as a society contribute, but good made from recycled materials take it a step further to eliminate our current levels of surplus garbage. The pandemic has accelerated the demand for new materials as well as new types of product coatings designed to reduce bacterial and viral build up on day to day products. We have launched items across multiple categories where antimicrobial coatings and finishes have been incorporated as well as are coming to market with clothing that features an antiviral coating that is first in our industry. Eco products are no longer significantly more expensive to produce and what minimal increased cost is experienced is not a point of concern given the desire by people and organizations to be better environmental citizens” (Julie Cates, PCNA)

Branding is about building relationships and increasing engagement – what new technologies or strategies are being brought into the promotional marketing world to increase engagement with consumers?

“The introduction of NFC (Near-Field Communication) technology has been a game changer. For those not aware, NFC is a form of wireless data transfer that allows a user to access information by touching their smart device to an NFC-enabled product. You get an instant connection to websites, apps, social media, surveys, or videos. We love NFC because it’s a unique way to connect physical products to a digital campaign, giving users a call-to-action. This makes for a more purposeful, effective and creative campaign and overall, you will see more ROI with your promotional marketing spend.” (Jackie Goldhar, Spector & Co.)

“The obvious answer here is the virtual conferencing using zoom or teams or any of the other platforms out there. It’s been a massive help in maintaining relationships and sharing new products and programs with our distributors as we all do our best to help contain covid and work from home as much as possible. Some newer trends include video emailing tools and using companies like vidyard or bombbomb to send short 2-3 mins videos to our customer base. You can get a lot of information out there in a 2-3 mins video and I will certainly be using it more often to highlight new products, new initiatives or just to say hi. They are also a great way to say thank you for a nice order. I think we’ll see more people engaged and have a better impact with our marketing and e-blasts by using a short video in place of flyers and web links etc. to get our message out there. Hopefully the pandemic will be over soon and we can get back out there and engage face to face with our customers but until then we will continue to rely on the video sharing and virtual conferencing technologies to stay in touch and stay engaged with our customers. “ (Bryan Gendron, Stormtech).

So what's next?

As marketing professionals it is our mission to discover, innovate, create & inspire through our campaigns. In today's world it connection is key. In order to drive connection and create intimate relationships between consumer and brand inspiration and engagement is pivotal. Let's create something amazing for your next swag project that leaves your recipients feeling seen, appreciated and connected.


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