19 Ways Your Competitors Are Differentiating Themselves

There’s plenty of wisdom in this saying about competition: “First it makes you sick, then it makes you better.” When you have to compete for your clients’ business, you can’t sit on your laurels. You must continually hone your strengths and spotlight what makes your company the best.

Clients have a lot of choices—including whether to buy from you or someone else. In the crowded promotional products marketplace with more than 21,000 distributors and more than 3,500 supplier companies, it’s easy to be a “me-too” and get lost in the shuffle. The trick is to take on the competition by differentiating your company to make it memorable and notable. Here’s how 19 industry companies are accomplishing just that.

CP3714_Chilli Tree

For more than seven years now, we’ve been sending a live chili pepper plant in a self-watering pot to a targeted database of marketing contacts. They’re all hand delivered and have an addressed tag with a code. We’ve set up a website where the receiver goes to log on (we get a notification by email). It has created so much viral marketing within the office, and the stories we have heard from recipients are very impressive.

In 2010, we won a PPAI Silver Pyramid Award for this self-promotion and gained $40,000 in new business within the first year.

Every year we send these in batches out to our prospects, and to date have distributed nearly 1,000. It fits our brand perfectly.

Andy Galbally


Chilli Promotions

Port Melbourne, Australia


When I decided to pursue my degrees in communication studies, I initially thought it was all about learning to speak more effectively. It was not until I was in that space that I learned that communication is actually primarily about listening. Fine-tuning those skills has been our company’s differentiating factor. I don’t just take orders but instead ask the deeper questions to really discover why my clients are making a purchase. This process leads to result-driven promotional products, additional sales and has been magical for the growth of my business.

Diane Sakowicz, MAS


Service With A Smile

Naperville, Illinois

Our company differentiates itself by focusing on brand, message, market and value. We believe that promotional items need to help tell a story and engage the audience. To us, it is all about developing creative campaigns that allow clients to be noticed and tie back to their brand.

Promotional marketing pieces that do not reflect a brand and do not have a message that can be relatable and seen as valuable by the specific audience being sought out are useless. They should be a conversation starter and remind people of the client and their story long after they have left the room. The marketing pieces should push people towards the clients’ other marketing channels and allow for the conversation to happen. That is what makes us different.

Ben Baker


Your Brand Marketing

Richmond, British Columbia

One of the main ways we do this is by what we offer. We started out as a print shop, later bought out a local office supply store, and have since bought an outdoor/gun shop. With the combination of an outside sales force and professional graphic artists on staff we specialize in complete branding rather than just selling out of a catalog. Now, with the addition of the outdoor shop, we are branching out into even more in the outdoor products/clothing lines. We just turned 25 years old so the mix must be working.

Terry Lee Cook

Chief Operating Officer

Eagle Business Products

Louisiana, Missouri


We recognize that to keep customers engaged and our brand top of mind, we have to be a bit different. For Goldstar that means fun, partnership and appreciation. If you are familiar with our VP of Sales Kenny Ved, you know he and his team are all about fun. From the custom tailored pink suits to the huge sombrero on Cinco De Mayo, their sales meetings are never a bore. You may have attended an event where you got a bag of candy and a pack of samples that match the brand of candy you are eating. Or, maybe he’s treated you to an elementary school throwback luncheon where the menu consists of Lunchables, Capri Sun and cupcakes. We appreciate the partnership we have with our clients and hope they remember us as fun, friendly and easy to do business with.

RJ Hagel

Marketing Manager


San Diego, California

Kirby Hasseman

Most people will tell you that they stand out with creativity and service. But if most people tell you that, how is it different? At Hasseman Marketing, we have a full-service marketing company that includes in-house video production and graphic design. That allows us to take a thought leadership position on content creation. We create relevant content for our customers and prospects every week (and nearly every day). We create videos, blogs, podcasts and more. This includes the award-winning, weekly Delivering Marketing Joy web show that is nearing 100 episodes. By creating content at this rate, we naturally stand out in a marketplace talking about the next special.

Kirby Hasseman


Hasseman Marketing & Communication

Coshocton, Ohio



Prime Line’s Jetline facility in Gaffney, South Carolina, uses its hometown advantage by shipping locally grown peaches to top clients around the country. Gaffney is known for its peaches, from its peach-themed water tower to its annual peach festival. It's a great way to celebrate our hometown and provide a unique gift to our customers.

Eric Levin

Senior VP

Prime Line®

Gaffney, South Carolina

We are fairly active with social media, thank-you notes, email blasts, mailers, reorder reminders and follow up communications. While we do lots of little touches throughout the year, our favorite is keeping clients informed about top trends through a branded, digital catalog-type publication that we develop especially for our clients.

Sonya Beam, MAS+


The POP SHOP—A Geiger Company

John’s Creek, Georgia


InkHead is a 21st-century hybrid. We give every client the option of doing their order seamlessly online, via live chat or live consultation, depending on their needs. On thousands of our orders the art has been approved and the order has shipped before our competition has responded.

Jim Franklyn

VP of Sales & Marketing/Partner

InkHead Promotional Products

Winder, Georgia

As we grow increasingly dependent on web resources, it’s clear that the internet is no longer just an option, but a necessary tool in business and everyday life. For this reason, we have taken a special interest in establishing a unique, relatable social media presence specifically on Twitter (@americanbus) and our blog (www.americanbusblog.com).

Our goal is to represent our company culture through these popular platforms by planning strategic posts about our founder and CEO, favorite promotional items, industry-related articles, fun facts, American’s own blog posts, press releases and more. Although American has been on Twitter since 2011, this past year has been pivotal for our social presence. We’ve organized a group of five people across different departments to help create a positive user experience that communicates our company’s personality. Part of our success comes from building a creative team with players who offer different perspectives and interests, resulting in quality posts, organic growth and influential followers online. We’re excited to continue incorporating our company’s rich history with our technology-driven future to tell the story of American Solutions for Business.

Amy Spychalla

Director of Strategic Operations Support

American Solutions for Business

Glenwood, Minnesota

This year is my 40th year of manufacturing stuffed animals. There is a sign on my computer that has been there for 25 years. It says: “I retire when I expire!” I am 73 years old and insist that I will work for (at least) another 15 to 20 years. I love my work. As such, I have come to love my customers too. Whenever I receive a call from a new person, I always ask them: Do you know what your name means?” My hobby is studying the derivation of people’s first names. Statistically nine out of 10 people do not know what their name means. I enjoy offering this edification and so do they.

Steven Smith


Steven Smith Stuffed Animals, Inc.

Brooklyn, New York



One way that Walker-Clay, Inc. differentiates itself from competitors is through the use of our Large Order Recognition program. For every large order that comes in, we send out a nice self-promo gift with a hand-written note from the rep. We change up the item every quarter and many clients look forward to seeing “what’s next.”  We’ve used towels (like the one pictured), bags, umbrellas, drinkware—all from our preferred vendors so that we can continue to promote sales with those valued partners.

Michelle Peebles, MAS

Vice President, Sales & Marketing

Walker-Clay, Inc.

Hanson, Massachusetts

As far as we know, no one else produces soft vinyl spot-color products as we do. We imprint our soft vinyl spot-color products with the same material as the product itself and bake the imprint right into the piece, so the logo or advertisement lasts as long as the product. We have had people bring us products that we made for them 35 years ago and the imprint is still on there.

Mike Burns


Quikey Manufacturing, Inc.

Akron, Ohio



One of the ways that Riteline leaves a lasting impression is through the use of thank-you notes—but not the bland, four-by-six-inch, thank-you card and white envelope. Our customized notes are full-color, showing scenes from the factory and we have four different inserts to use depending on what type of interaction we’ve had with the customer. A short, hand-written personal note is added and we also include a laser-etched personalized pen as a token of appreciation. All this goes into a bright red foil padded envelope and is sent to the customer.

Steven Meyer, MAS

Riteline USA

VP Sales and Marketing

Dallas, Texas


At The Book Company, our positivity is our differentiator. We love our company, the unique product solutions we provide and the work we do every day. From the happy, jumping images on our website and catalogs, to the smile-inducing designs and bright colors of our journal line, to the enthusiastic helpfulness of our team members, we stand out.  We do whatever it takes to ensure that our distributor partners enjoy their experience with us and feel confident that we will support their opportunities and orders with gusto.

Doug Greenhut


The Book Company

Delray Beach, Florida

We answer all of our calls in three rings or less. We also never have to transfer a call on product information or customer care because all of our inside sales team and customer care team members—Clickers—have the ability to make on-the-spot decisions for our customers with no delay. It’s empowerment to the nth degree.

Reggie Gonzalez

Vice President of Sales & Marketing


Seattle, Washington

I don’t know what my competitors do, but we’ve always sent an overrun sample to our distributors at no charge. We feel this is a nice “thank you” and keeps our products in their minds and helps in getting other orders. Distributors are so busy, it’s “out of sight, out of mind” and we want them to remember us. We recently had a distributor call to say how surprised and happy he was that we sent him a sample, and that in his 15 years in the industry, no supplier had ever sent him an overrun.

John Amsterdam


Neat Feet, Inc.

Oceanside, California

We differentiate ourselves first and foremost from most traditional distributors by having an absolutely amazing, manicured website with a selection of 13,000 products we can take our customers to, each with accurate descriptions and great images. We have a team of people who work full time accurately writing descriptions and preparing images so that we are explaining and showing the customer the product in its best light. Customers are often at their desks and they want immediate gratification, and the ability to take immediate action. The ePromos site, in its 18th year of development, along with one of our expert brand consultants, is the one-two punch that helps us differentiate ourselves.

Jason Robbins


ePromos Promotional Products, Inc.

New York, New York

Beacon has a program on certain items that rewards distributors for their loyalty. In this program a distributor can order multiple products for the same customer and only pay a set-up charge on the first order. Any orders placed within two years after the initial order with a set-up charge will not incur another set-up charge. The distributor must use the same imprint, but minor art changes are allowed.

Gwen Brey

Marketing Coordinator

Beacon Promotions, Inc.

New Ulm, Minnesota

Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.

Singular Sensation

What is your company’s key differentiator? Service, accuracy, creativity, community service, the way your company says ‘thank you’? Tell us at PPB@ppai.org and we’ll include more ideas in an upcoming issue.