American businesses spend an estimated $20 billion per year on branded promotional items, and odds are, your business is right in the mix of that. The idea of reciprocity is deeply engrained in our culture and many others, so it’s no wonder that promotional products are so popular — as humans, we’re wired to respond if we are given something.

There’s an art, though, to taking promo items from “tchotchkie” to strategic marketing asset. For example, are you considering who your audience is, how the item fits your message, and how to measure your return?

Here are our top tips for strategically choosing the best promotional product for your business:

Think of your audience first

Always, always, always, think of the audience first. Who is your target audience, and what is their environment like? What kinds of items do they surround themselves with as they think through business decisions? What would be interesting or useful to them?

What is your objective?

Are the items you’re ordering for a specific campaign or event? Or are they going to be used more for general branding? Your objective should consider your audience too — for example, if you’re targeting existing clients, your goal might be to renew their interest and trigger them to make a new purchase.

How will the item underscore your message?

Consider not only how to best reach your audience, but also, how will your items reinforce your marketing message and brand, and differentiate you from your competition?

What’s the budget?

Promotional products can bring incredible ROI’s — a study by ASI found that promo items cost a remarkable .6 cents per impression, compared to 1.8 cents per impression for television and magazine ads. And bags get a whopping 1000 impressions per $1 spent; writing utensils, 500 impressions per $1.

That being said, if your goal is to bring in $25,000 in sales, you don’t want to spend more than that on promotional items for your campaign. Consider how much you have to spend and how much of a return you’re aiming to see in return.

Make an investment

All that being said about your budget, it is important to draw the line between items that are cheap and easily disposable versus items that will have a longer shelf life. Part of this goes back to consideration of your audience and the items they’ll hang on to, but it also goes towards considering quality as an important part of choosing how to spend your marketing dollars.

Thumb drives, for example, are a great example of an item that a lot of office workers use frequently, that aren’t the cheapest item you can buy, but also won’t break your bank either.

Start small and run tests

Another way to strategically spend is by starting small with new items, and testing to see what works and what doesn’t. Work with your business development and sales team to get feedback on how items are received and when you find something that works, go ahead and buy a larger amount.

Measure results

If you don’t measure, how will you know which items helped you meet your objective, and what your ROI was? So when you’re at events or tradeshows, require an exchange of info — emails, names, business cards — for higher value items. If you’re buying promotional products for use in a specific campaign, print a special tracking email or phone number so you know when you hear back from someone who received an item. It’s also a good idea to include a “How did you hear about us?” field on your website’s lead forms, and include “promotional item” as an option.

Personalize items

People love to see their own name, so consider personalizing products for them! For example, nice stationary with their name on it is likely to make a client or prospect feel special and be an item an office worker or executive keeps on his/her desk — and uses — which will help ensure you come to mind frequently as they work.