Among 25,000 Branded Merchandise Distributors (ASI, 2019), IMS has consistently held a top spot in the rankings year over year, recently being announce #12 on the ASI Top 40 Distributors of 2020, and #9 on the Promo Marketing Top 50 Distributors of 2020.

Mark Lenox, VP, Creative, Brand and Merchandising, explains why he believes IMS has been a top performer for several years and how the new challenges of branded merchandise are something the team is well prepared to meet head-on.

What Is Branded Merchandise?

Before explaining our  team’s mission, it is helpful to know how IMS defines this business category. Branded merchandise has a long history, one that has shifted over the decades from being a promotional product niche to something more holistic.

Our audience has primarily been B2B clients who want to reinforce their corporate brand equity, yet branded products were not always seen as a core approach within integrated marketing plans. IMS has been working to elevate the role of branded merchandise as an integral strategy of an overall marketing plan.

So, what does this look like for today’s marketers? IMS urges client that branded merchandise should be brought in early in the marketing development process. Whether its purpose is to educate, shift shares, reinforce loyalty or drive consumers or even associates through the sales funnel, branded merchandise can play a role in every step of the journey.

What the Top 40 List Says About IMS

Being consistently in the top ranks of lists like the Promo Marketing’s Top 50 Distributors List, as well as ASI’s Top 40, may prompt questions like, “How did IMS get there?” There are many talented teams at work ensuring client satisfaction for all of the elements that go into a successful campaign or execution of a program, with branded merchandise just being one of the offerings. Lenox admits that there’s a secret sauce to how IMS has been able to earn that ranking over the years.

“IMS is a fully integrated Marketing Execution agency. We are composed of expert merchants, strategists, technologists and operations leaders who understand how to work together to provide the optimal solutions for our clients” he says. “Whether it’s our warehousing capabilities, ownership of warehouses, sustainability practices or how we source custom goods, our credentials and our long-term partnerships with clients are what sets us apart in the industry.”

He explains it this way:

“It’s really more than just product. It’s also understanding the client’s corporate image, and what the individual brand image is — if it’s a client with multiple brands. Then, we must grasp who their various customer groups are and the use cases and opportunities to market to those customer groups. This almost always includes a fit for branded merchandise to better support the client’s brand.”

What’s Next for Branded Merchandise?

2019 was a year where pre-COVID strategies ruled, but what’s in store for IMS in 2020? Lenox admits that the current challenges thrown at clients and teams were real and required a kind of pivot not seen before in the industry. He mentions the switch to branded Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that IMS turned into opportunity and shares how it signifies a shift in the focus of the industry.

Not only have the new business demands of COVID presented a chance to stretch and grow as a company, but it has been rewarding to IMS and the branded merchandise business unit to help clients adjust to this new creative focus during such a sensitive time.

Mark explains that IMS truly is a family, one that helps each other but that also does what’s needed in changing turbulent times. He also hints at new opportunities to prove the ROI of branded merchandise spend.

“The future is really about focusing on enhancements to the client’s brand through branded merchandise and the ability to justify the spend with new technologies that will allow us to measure audience engagement” he says.

When the world returns to more direct contact with customers, these new data tools can help branded merchandise be the part of a cohesive brand campaign in a way that will be easier to prove to stakeholders.

Article Author: Mark Lenox

Mark currently directs the Creative division of IMS, developing solutions for many Fortune 50 clients. He has over twenty years of brand strategy, design, and product development expertise in start-up through global Fortune 500 companies. Mark is skilled in marketing, merchandising, business planning, commercialization and, sales through e-commerce, specialty, mass, and home-shopping channels.