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Working in the promotional products industry as a salesperson I get asked all the time “What is the coolest, newest, craziest, wackiest, best idea you have”. In my experience these cool ideas are rarely purchased, because for every amazing new item I sell, I likely sell about 100 ‘normal’ items. However, when you do convince a client to go wild and get a new/crazy/cool item, sometimes you can knock it out of the park and have a profound impact on their business.

One of my strategies for overcoming the question of finding a cool new item is to talk about custom products. When you can make a product for a client that is completely their own, then unless they hate their brand, they are going to think it’s cool. The old stand-by product for me is the 3-D molded rubber flash drive. I’ve made transit busses, garbage trucks and more, each time recreating a key part of my clients business to truly personalize it. In every instance the project has been a huge hit.

Recently I was tasked to help out a client to find a full custom product that works in the food industry. They have tried turning their product into a 3-D flash drive before and it just didn’t look right… so put to task I came up with the idea of putting the flavour of their food into a custom flavoured lip balm. With minimums for custom flavours in the 2500 range, we came up with the idea for 2 different blends of lip balm that would emulate their products in delicious lip balm format. We wanted something that would be fun and create chatter at a consumer trade show floor.

After consulting with a custom lip balm maker we moved forward with spec samples of 2 different formulations at a cost of $50 each. When they arrived at my offices, I excitedly delivered them to the client and we walked around the office letting people try them out. We got responses of “why on earth would anyone use this” to “Gross!” and “this is disgusting”. I think the best response we got was “this is interesting”. We went back to the purchaser’s office, pulled the plug on the project and began brainstorming a more ‘normal’ tradeshow giveaway.

I love working on fun and innovative projects, there is nothing more satisfying to me than blowing away a customer with the coolest idea for their industry. However it is also important to realize when you are off the mark; make sure to run your ideas by people not affiliated with the project so that you’re not stuck with 2500 lip balms that are not good. Even though this project was eventually cancelled, I can’t say it was a total failure, because I had the chance to work on a fun project with the client and demonstrate that I am willing to cut the chord on a bad idea.