Are “Swag Campaigns” a Marketing Gift or Curse?

Like most executives with an established online presence, I receive dozens of cold-emails and calls from various vendors every week. And, like just about everyone who receives these unsolicited contacts, I immediately ignore them if the message indicates that the sender has made no effort at all to understand me or my firm’s business model.

But over the past few months I’ve received several gifts of what I would charitably call “cold swag.” Two vendors sent me boxes of delicious cookies and one sent me a pound of gourmet coffee. Each gift included a preprinted note with the sender’s contact information.

Shortly afterward, these vendors barraged me with follow up emails asking me how I liked the swag and for a follow up phone call.
I’ve since discovered that executives in other companies I work with have also been on the receiving end of similar campaigns. Items have ranged from six packs of gourmet root beer to polished stones (to go with the message “We’re only a stone’s throw away.” Clever.)

As a marketing professional, I find these approaches quite intriguing. But I wonder whether the return on investment (ROI) of these cold-swag campaigns justifies their costs. And under what situations should they be used?

“I might consider conducting a cold-swag campaign, as I have seen them work. However, in today’s digital business environment there’s no reason it should be a completely cold campaign. When done in conjunction with an omni-channel, account-based marketing approach, it could be a great way to cut through the noise and stand out amongst competitors,” says Emilie Totten, Chief Marketing Officer at Synthesis Technology, a firm that helps asset managers automate the development and management of their factsheets and pitchbooks.

“The swag has to be clever, i.e., not just another coffee mug. But I do think it’s mostly about timing. I would be very deliberate about sending it to people who are in the evaluation stage of their buyer journey,” says Totten. “I’d also want to have a benchmark on the conversion rate and ROI to expect from the campaign.”

Another element of a wholesaler’s toolkit?

Boutique asset management firms reading this might be wondering, “Could this approach help our wholesalers open more doors with financial advisors?”
That’s a tricky question that I suspect depends on the target audience.

Without any factual data to back this up, I might think this approach would be more effective if your target audience was registered representatives working at independent brokers/dealers. After all, as investment salespeople, they would probably have greater appreciation for a well-executed marketing campaign and greater empathy for the wholesalers who executed it.

But would such cold-swag campaigns work with independent investment advisers and financial planners? I’m rather skeptical. These advisers are already bombarded with countless cold-emails and calls from asset managers they’ve never heard of and ignore most of them.
Most already have the resources they need to research the funds and ETFs they use in their clients’ accounts so they’re less amenable to contacts from firms they’ve never heard of. They tend to only talk to wholesalers at fund companies they consistently do business with. And these “captive” wholesalers usually send them plenty of gifts throughout the year, as well as other perks such as invitations to sporting events. It would be hard for any cold-swag campaign to make inroads in this environment.

Lead with value-add, follow up with edibles

Instead of sending cookies or tchotchkes in that first contact, your wholesalers might be better off making their initial contact a value-added offer that shows off your firm’s subject matter expertise on topics you believe advisors would be interested in.

A video commentary featuring your Chief Investment Officer. A downloadable white paper. Or an invitation to a webinar or one-on-one virtual session featuring the portfolio manager of your best fund.

Of course, these initial cold contacts will generate larger response rates if you’ve done your homework ahead of time to figure out your sales sweet spot to focus on the kinds of advisors and firms that are most likely to use your products.

Advisors who respond to these messages by consuming the content could be added to your pipeline, and further cultivated with additional digital messages using your firms’ sales cadence. Email marketing and marketing automation applications can help you track each advisor’s digital engagements over time.
At a certain point, when an advisor’s engagement level elevates them from a “warm” to “hot” prospect that might be the time to send the gift, which I’ll call “warm swag,” along with a handwritten note. The wholesaler might then follow up with an email or call to make sure the advisor received the gift and ask for an in-person or virtual meeting.

But as Totten mentions, it’s important to make sure you’re getting these gifts to the right people at the right time. For example, you probably don’t want to send warm swag during the holiday season, since it’s likely to get lost in the cornucopia of gifts advisory firms receive from their preferred vendors and centers-of-influence. And you certainly don’t want to send the gift to the office of an advisor who still may be working at home.

After all, the purpose of the gift is to make a positive impact. If the advisor never receives or doesn’t remember it, your wholesaler’s follow up contact will most likely cause embarrassment for both parties, moving a “hot prospect” into the “lost opportunity” file.

Dan Sondhelm is CEO of Sondhelm Partners, a firm that helps asset managers, mutual funds, ETFs, wealth managers and fintech companies grow through marketing, public relations and sales programs. Click to read Dan’s latest Insight articles and to schedule a complimentary consultation.