Branded merchandise is back and creating lasting memories of your brand is running top of mind for retail brand marketers this season.

From the extraordinary LEGO-inspired Macca’s Makers toy from McDonald’s to nostalgic items in recyclable materials, giveaways and collectibles are enjoying a resurgence with consumers wanting unique emotional connections with brands that evoke fond experiences and memories. This all builds extended trust.

In challenging economic times, consumers are looking for that little bit more value, empathy and understanding from the brands they engage with.

What is branded merchandise?

Branded merchandise is any form of promotional material that incorporates your company’s logo or design. More importantly, it’s any product or promotional tool that immediately informs your customer that this item is associated with your brand.

It is a powerful brand builder and has the opportunity to create a wider, deeper brand experience as well as create longevity around your customer experience.

Which is why it’s important to pick carefully when selecting items.

What’s important to you? Is it sustainability, the environment, functionality, longevity or fun that you want to reflect your brand value in the eyes of the consumer?

How does branded merchandise help brands forge a connection with customers?

Novelli’s “why” or reason for existence is to unleash energy through moments of positive connection. The look on someone’s face when they’re given something for free, a sparkle in the eye of a child proudly showing their creation, a cricket set in the back yard, a rugby ball on the beach, kids playing on the floor of their toy room – Novelli is about creating those moments and attaching brands to them.

Our favourite stories are where branded merchandise creates a physical interaction between the customer and your brand and business. Having something solid and tangible – often to collect – is a unique opportunity to remind consumers of your brand or find a different way to connect with brand association. It is a powerful tool.

One of our proudest products was created for McDonald’s – a limited-edition, collectible ‘Macca’s Makers’ toy. A 56-piece brick-building set allowing customers to create a replica of a McDonald’s restaurant using LEGO compatible building blocks, complete with the Golden Arches (which glow in the dark), staff figurines, McCafé, Playland, a front counter and drive-thru. Better still, 100% of the profits from sales of the toy were donated to Ronald McDonald House Charities to continue the foundation’s commitment to supporting the community.

The Macca’s Makers project was extraordinary for a number of reasons but one specifically being that a product which is compatible with other block brands but compliant with the global Happy Meal toy standard have never been produced in the world before. So, understanding the standards, designing innovatively around these, and the shear grit of Novelli team in the belief that it was possible is what brought it to life. Parents watch children drive demand and also gain trust and loyalty with the brand.

To stand out in this space, brands need to understand customer desires and be creative, innovative and relevant.

How can branded merchandise fit into a brand’s sustainability goals and charitable efforts?

Novelli’s clients are having tremendous success with their charitable efforts, including Bunnings through initiatives such as Movember and ASB St Johns Ambulance. We’ve created sought after merchandise which directly links their brands to the causes that they support.

The biggest trend we are seeing this season is the use of branded merchandise to associate with a CSR initiative. Match brand to cause, and consumers immediately get an extension of your brand narrative creating a positive association.

Another popular option is educational toys that create concentration and focus. Woolworths LEGO Bricks created a fun and interactive way to learn at home that sparked conversations within families about sustainability.

Many of our customers are demanding branded merchandise made from recycled materials, in line with their own environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) efforts.

Five tips for brands looking to get started with branded content

  1. Understand your “why”
  2. Ensure your brand objectives are clear
  3. Make it relevant and engaging to your customers
  4. Ideate, innovate… have some fun in a creative environment!
  5. Don’t copycat, be authentic, unique and first to market

The benefits of branded merchandise are many. From branded hats, visible on the street when worn to branded umbrellas, particularly the larger luxury versions which stay around for years and are pulled out just when you need them. Research reveals that 60% of people have an emotional attachment to their favourite mug and will go out of their way to find and use their favourite item in the office.

As marketers, branded merchandise is the fun part – and creating nostalgia, fun and making memories through brand extension creates unique, lasting emotional connections between you and your customers.

From keep cups and branded wear, to mouse mats and electronic devices, our favourites are those that sit out on display in homes or offices. This allows the purchasing experience to extend well beyond the point of sale and for brands to “sit” in the hands or view of consumers long after the sale is made. Why not take the opportunity to ensure your brand is visible and leaves a lasting impression for so much longer than those few moments at the purchase stage.

Craig Pinker is CEO at Novelli.