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How to Use Promotional Tote Bags to Advertise Your Business

Heidi Thorne is the author of "SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business."

Promotional tote bags offer large imprint area for your marketing message and long-term advertising exposure.

Promotional tote bags offer large imprint area for your marketing message and long-term advertising exposure.

Why Promotional Tote Bags?

Promotional tote bags have been a popular promotional giveaway year after year because they are useful, offer a large logo printing area, and can last for years. And as concerns over the environment grow, the use of reusable tote bags has grown, too.

Here's how to use them to advertise your business and brand.

Is a Promotional Tote Bag Right for Your Business?

While imprinted tote bags can be used for almost any business, there are some businesses and purposes for which they are best suited, including:

  • Retail. This is the most natural fit! Customers can use the bags when shopping at the store being promoted (and elsewhere). In environmentally conscious communities that have single-use plastic bag bans in place, this is a welcome promotion. The retailer can either use them as a free giveaway or offer them for sale. Either scenario helps the retailer reduce the costs associated with providing paper or plastic bags for customer purchases. It also helps retailers comply with local bag bans. Some retailers also give customers who use promotional tote bags a bit of a discount as an incentive to use them.
  • Meetings, Events, Conferences, and Trade Shows. Getting a tote bag to collect stacks of handouts and goodies received at events is usually welcomed by attendees. But as we'll discuss later, this is changing.
  • Non Profits, Church, Civic, and Community Groups. Bags can help build awareness of these groups' causes and work as people carry them in public.
  • Healthcare. There always seems to be a lot of papers, prescriptions, and more to be carried around when going for hospital stays or treatments. Tote bags can help patients keep all of them together while there and afterward.

This is not to say that other businesses cannot benefit from using bags. It's just that there is less relevance. For example, an office equipment manufacturer was using grocery-style bags to promote their line. It's unlikely that large numbers of B2B (business to business) buyers of office equipment will be wandering around grocery stores daily. So here are the most important questions you need to answer when considering investing in and using promotional tote bags:

  • Will people using my bag be likely to use them in areas where large numbers of potential customers hang out?
  • Does my potential customer audience naturally use tote bags?
  • Does what I offer easily fit in a tote bag?
  • Does what I offer require the use of a bag?

To Bag or Not to Bag?

That really is the question!

As mentioned earlier, handing out promotional tote bags at events and trade shows used to almost be a requirement. Today, not so much. Why? These days, lots of people bring their own bags to accommodate whatever electronic gadgetry they have. So attendees may even decline them when offered. Refusing the use of bags is especially a possibility for groups where environmental concerns are paramount.

On a related issue, many conferences and trade shows are offering electronic versions of handouts and show guides instead of all that paper, again reducing or eliminating the need for a tote bag.

Another issue with events and trade shows is that several exhibitors and the show management firm offer bags to attendees. Promotional tote bag overload! If you are considering providing bags from your booth, it might be worth contacting the show or event management firm to see if they are planning to distribute them. If they are, spend your promotional dollars elsewhere.

And as the green movement started to take hold, so many companies were using reusable bags as promotions, that many people began to reach the point of a reusable bag glut. The following video explains.

Money Saving Tips for Promotional Tote Bags

In addition to determining whether you really need to use a bag, here are some tips to help you save money and hassle when investing in promotional tote bags:

  • Don't Give Them to Everyone. Since you may be investing hundreds or even thousands of dollars in bags, only give them to customers and prospects who deserve them or to those who have the highest potential to use your bag where it will get the best exposure. Offer as a freebie to loyal customers, maybe sell them to others. At trade shows, just give them to attendees who provide their contact information or participate in one of your booth activities.
  • Buy in Quantity. It may be tough to shell out funds for large quantity orders. But if you can project your use for a year and buy them all at the same time, you'll save by taking advantage of volume discounts and a single setup charge.
  • Plan for Storage. Bags take up space! So set aside an area prior to your order's arrival for storage. Ask your promotional distributor for the projected weight and box size.
  • Order Early. In addition to space, bags can be very heavy. So order at least a month or more in advance of your ideal in-hand date so that you can use ground shipping. This will avoid a huge bill for expedited freight.
  • Include Website. Unless you have a vanity phone or 800 number that's easy to remember, use your website address on the bag instead. Also, just using your logo doesn't provide an easy way for people to connect.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 27, 2018:

Robert, totally agree on not including a year. It "dates" the promo and can make it look old in a hurry. Thanks for chiming in!

Robert Kostuch on March 27, 2018:

One more thing to make promotional tote bag attractive, make it pretty, so logo project should be something eyecatching. From my sisters I have heard, that projects with year (for example: conferention 2018) is not attractive

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 08, 2013:

You're very welcome, Careermommy! I suggest including websites on most promos. It's our new "800 number." :) Good luck with your next promo project!

Tirralan Watkins from Los Angeles, CA on March 08, 2013:

I love your ideas Heidi. I think they are invaluable. I made my husband a polo shirt for his business, just to try it out, but I like the tote idea. It's more versatile, and I like the idea of including a website. Thank you for sharing.