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Rob Boguski

Finding our next customer, one trinket at a time.

Green is sexy. One ignores the wave – in politics, marketing, journalism, social media, commerce – at one’s peril. In 2019, The Economist published an entire edition raising the alarm about climate change and its implications. Three years ago, Pope Francis wrote an encyclical letter (Laudato Si) about the environment, emphasizing care for our neglected “common home.” Self-righteous millennials and impressionable younger people march, advocating immediate, drastic control of greenhouse gases and other toxic emissions. A Swedish teenager cuts school and uses her sudden free time to excoriate industrialized nations and big corporations at the UN General Assembly for favoring economic growth over ecological sustainability and contaminating the world, shaming magistrates and captains of industry alike for their perceived callous indifference to the effects of rising temperatures. It is a good time to be a scold.

To be green is to hate waste. Waste is anathema. Angels recycle. Daily. So say those who are woke.

But we are anachronistic, and this is business. We play for keeps.

How do I know? We have swag.

Stuff We All Get. The lovely parting gifts of life. Marketing detritus.

Decades of sales pitches and long-forgotten trade shows have spawned landfills full of useless, incidental stuff, whose avowed aim is to engrave corporate logos and catchphrases into the memory of fleeting visitors, so they’ll remember. And buy more stuff, preferably in prodigious amounts. From such numbers are record years made.

That’s how it works: GDP fueled by all that stuff-buying. This has been your one-minute economics lesson for today.

Speaking of which, what would the impact be if swag ceased to exist? Where would the resulting impoverishment hit hardest? Would the Third World slide to the Fourth World, or maybe the Fifth? Would some future anthropologist one day stumble upon a great burial mound of unused corporate paraphernalia hidden deep within a primeval forest, a monument to our industry’s wasteful self-promotion? Voilà: Swaghenge.

Who started this? Why do we do it?

Long before Bernie Sanders championed free stuff in exchange for votes, there was swag.

Were souvenir party favor pitchforks given out at the Salem witch trials? Did the Dreyfus Affair sport plaintiff and defense team tables hawking pocket watches or pince-nez, festooned with the respective barristers’ coats of arms? What did a Spanish Inquisition tote bag tote?

Like a birthright, full of contradictions. Like pens, candies, and Post-it notes telling us to recycle, sponsored by ExxonMobil. Or commemorations of the Doolittle Raid on graph paper, courtesy of Sony.

Flash drives. Keychains. Pens (always pens). Memo pads. Tote bags (plastic, paper and cloth). Hand sanitizer. Squeeze toys. Coffee mugs (for driving and for home). Eyeglass cleaner. Letter openers. Mousepads. Lanyards. Penlights. Notebooks. Water bottles. Tool sets. Lab books. Magnetic paper clips. Logo golf balls. Beer koozies. Candy. Endless candy. Even drones with sensors and cameras attached, to give an Industry 4.0 spin. Swag adapts with the times. Swag is forever.

Because when you chomp down on that chocolate, you as chompee will remember indelibly by your indigestion – how’s that for big data – where it came from and align your purchasing decisions accordingly.

Repetition is marketing. Marketing, with its generally dim view of human nature, presumes short attention spans. Put the message out there incessantly, and customers will remember your company when the time comes for real requirements.

Put the message out there relentlessly because it’s in the ad agencies’ best interest you do so. (Translation: It’s about money.)

Repeat the message three times, and you seal the deal. So much the better if it’s embossed on a beer koozie, and the message brings warm greetings during Happy Hour. You remember.

But will those involuntary recipients remember the right things and think favorable thoughts, induced by our pitch? Remember Peloton? Does ad repetition, in print or on trinkets, really matter in sales, or just inflame prejudices?

Are we stupid or just stupefied?

This puts the “gross” in “gross national product.”

Do customers really remember you for that ICBM-shaped athletic water bottle?

I can take a swag at it. As in, “Stupid Wild-Ass Guess.”

No.

Personal misgivings aside, our company is far from innocent. At the risk of being annoying, we too fear missing out. We have tote bags and pens. Ours are cool, however; they are worth remembering.

This much remains true: We have yet to secure a new customer who was first attracted to us by our innovative pen design. (Maybe someday.)

How do we know? Our company reviews its list of new customers at the end of each year. One big reason is to find out how they found us. Overwhelmingly, new customers seek us out through three media:

  1. Sales representative activity
  2. Internet searches
  3. Personal referrals.

The first source is self-evident. Reps know their territory. It’s their job to know who needs what service. They make the initial contact, or get the first call, and relay the request. We take it from there, handling all the technical and administrative details. The rep gets the credit when commissions are released.

Often a rep-referred opportunity comes to us first in the form of a “can you do this” inquiry. Yes or no is the expected answer. Recently, a customer making security systems faced a recall due to a malfunctioning sensor. Our local rep got the first panic call; we got the second from him. Two weeks – and hundreds of x-rays – later, it was my unfortunate duty to report the basis for a recall was justified. Another rep referral went from phone call to NDA to x-raying boards within 36 hours. I came to work on a Monday in total ignorance of this company, their business, their associated products, or their attendant problems. By Wednesday we were x-raying their boards. By Thursday we were sending them results and a bill for services rendered.

Internet searches come via the well-known search engines and optimization algorithms. Specialized online directories such as ThomasNet and others are productive sources as well. A prospective client types in the right keywords, and our name rises to the top of the list. In comes the RFQ.

We get two or three Internet-based inquiries a week, either through our website or direct via phone and email. Last week a customer Googled “flying probe test services” and got us. We are quoting their business now. Another Googled “CT scanning” and up we came. Parts are on the way for inspection as I write this.

Personal referrals happen when Engineer A at Company X changes jobs and goes to Company Y, bringing us with them. Or Engineer B has friend Engineer C working at Company Z; the latter has a problem and asks her friend for help with a referral. We get the call.

We have some specific and unique flying probe test capabilities, a combination of technical wherewithal and long experience. Hard to explain; those in the know simply know we have the requisite skills. So, we get unusual requests. Last month it was a request for programming using an older, nearly obsolete operating system. We have those skills, and the customer had the need. The project and the moment met. Likewise, a colleague was asked recently if they knew of someone who could provide CT scanning services for large objects (not PCBAs). The colleague immediately remembered us and made the referral. We had a new customer within one day of the first contact. A third client wanted high-density wafers to be probed to a very small (sub-70µm) placement size. A friend of a friend referred the customer to us.

Sometimes it boils down to this: Either you can do the job, or provide the service, or you can’t. End of discussion. This can be especially true when time is of the essence and alternative solutions are limited or nonexistent. At those moments, tag lines, banners, and slick sales pitches are irrelevant. Can you solve the customer’s problem, or can’t you? No swag required.

Networks beat trinkets every time. So why do we still hand out logo-ized tchotchkes?

Blame the PR people. Being experts, they assume the least common denominator in humanity and expect a natural propensity among humans to forget those they talked with, whether on the phone, by email, or in person at meetings or trade shows. Hard swag prevents us from declining into obscurity. He or she who shouts the loudest and longest with the mostest, most often, gets the reward. Give ’em something to trip over.

Last week I spoke with a new customer interested in flying probe test engineering. As is my habit, I asked him how he found us. He volunteered that our company first came to his attention through reading these columns. He found resonance in the content and wanted to explore doing business with the author.

Well now.

Media swag. What a brilliant idea! We need more sources like this. Glad I thought of it!

Robert Boguski is president of Datest Corp. (datest.com); rboguski@datest.com. His column runs bimonthly.

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