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Branding with Pens

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Let’s talk for a minute about branded pens. You know the pens I’m talking about…your favorite pen from a local business. The one that writes just right. The one that everyone you know either covets or has one of. Probably, it even makes an appearance at every single charitable event that you’ve ever attended. And, is the one on almost every single counter for customers to use when signing their credit card slips. The pens are literally everywhere – they are ubiquitous. And they subtly, steadily, and signature by signature, are growing your appreciation for the business that provided them.

First a Branding Pen Story

U Lane O Credit Union PensWhen I had oversight of the marketing department at U Lane O Credit Union in Eugene, Oregon, we were the company that had the corner on the pen market. Our members (and the community at large) were fanatical about our pens. They L O V E D them! We constantly had stories about all the places our pens had been seen, while our members traveled the world. If social media had been as a big a player then as it is now, we would have run an ongoing contest for the most exotic place one of our pens had been spotted (with photographic evidence required to win).

This was a hazard of going away to a planning session when working in the Executive Wing…

Yes, we spent a LOT of money on pens annually. We’d buy them by the tens of thousands. And we would happily hand them out at every single opportunity. As a line item in the marketing budget, it was a significant expenditure. And believe me when I tell you that those pens (and the budget line item associated with them) was hotly contested. For what we spent annually on pens, we could have bought a LOT of advertising, or a LOT of almost anything else.

But, as is so often the case, those pens grew our brand faster, farther, and more completely than any other advertising we could have engaged in. They literally built the credit union’s brand.

When and Why Branding With Pens Works

Let’s look at why the act of giving away those pens worked for the Credit Union (as opposed to all other pens that businesses hand out each and every day that quickly go unnoticed).

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Beware the executive leaving for a strategic retreat…
  1. These pens were unique — they stood out. There were no other pens being given away by anyone else that were remotely similar. When you saw one — you knew what you were looking at and which business provided it.
  2. They were comfortable to use. The pens were so big that small fingers and arthritic hands could easily hold them and write with them.
  3. They wrote well — a nice medium blue ball point pen that was smooth to write with and flowed nicely across the page.
  4. We handed out enough pens for 1 out of every 7 people in our community to get a new one each year. And we’d been doing it for as long as anyone could remember.

The pens were a big branding win because they were functional, comfortable, identifiable, and plentiful. Over the years, they became a quiet but consistent element in the fabric of the community–just like the Credit Union did.

Branding with PensThe trick to advertising with pens is to do it in a BIG BIG way. Find a distinctive pen style and stick with it. Make sure they write well (not much is worse than a scratchy pen) and are both a fair representation of your brand while not being too expensive or cheap.

And then buy a lot of them for a lot of years in a row. Give them out frequent and often — by the handful. As your pens become known throughout  your community — so will your business’s brand.

And one day, everyone will accept your pens (and your business) as a critical element in the fabric of your community. Not bad for a pen right?


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Tisha Oehmen

Tisha Oehmen is a professional brand strategist and a leader in the branding field. She was recently named a member of the Global Guru’s Top 30 Brand Gurus. She is also the co-founder of Oregon-based Paradux Media Group and the best-selling author of the book, Finding Brand: The Brand Book Tutorial.

Possessing expertise in both front- and back-office operations, Tisha conceptualizes, develops, and implements initiatives to foster brand effectiveness like no other. With over 15 years of experience in branding and marketing, Tisha has successfully led large financial institutions and health care companies down the path of renaming their business.

Where Tisha really shines is in the work that isn’t done. Sometimes a name change for a business isn’t in their best interest and after meeting with Tisha, they are able to find the true value and equity that has always been in their brand. Tisha has a special knack of being able to communicate the value so that the CEO/Business owner can see its luster and then with a little polishing, make it shine company wide.

Tisha is best known for developing long lasting branding campaigns that speak to the heart of the business, the brand, and the community. True brand, no matter how big or small, has longevity. Creating branding campaigns that have longevity, that have a laser-like focus, is where Tisha thrives.

Tisha received her M.B.A. from the University of Oregon, from where she also earned a B.A. in Political Science. She enjoyed a distinguished academic career punctuated by enthusiastic and successful participation in competitive speaking events, and holds numerous awards for her skill in public speaking. Tisha is widely recognized for her ability to capture an audience’s attention with her straightforward and engaging speaking style.

When not working, she enjoys golfing, baking, reading, and hiking with her partner, Mike, and their two dogs, Chloe and Jackson. She’s also an active member of Rotary International, the Chamber of Commerce, and is a very proud supporter of the Oregon Ducks. Tisha lives in Eagle Point, Oregon.

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