I got to thinking......

Years ago, when you became Adobe Certified, Adobe mailed you a package. In that package was a nice foil embossed certificate, a small Adobe-branded notebook (great quality) and few other little items. It was a really nice way to say "Thank you" or "Congratulations" from Adobe.

Nowadays, you receive a PDF of the certificate and that's all. I don't know about you, but a 1-off foil embossed print run is not in my budget :)

Years ago, when you purchased software you would receive additional items such as a nice case (or metal tin) for the disc, a manual, a shortcuts cheat sheet, along with occasional other items such as t-shirts, mugs, pens, etc. Some smaller companies still practice this. Most larger companies do not. In fact, over recent years the major software companies have whittled these extras down to, well, nothing. Legal owners aren't really getting anything that illegal users aren't getting.

A decade or so ago, it was common practice to send clients or vendors small gifts usually around the holidays as more of a way to say "Thank you for your business/support." It was also a chance to remind clients/vendors that you are still around.

Nowadays, I see e-cards or holiday emails and that's about it.

When I started in design, it was common practice to create a self-promo mailer which included your resume, some work samples, along with other items. It has also been common practice to create such self-promotional packages from time to time and send those out to gain new business. Larger agencies still do this business to business. But often the smaller the agency/studio/designer the less likely they are to take this route. At least that is my perception, I may be incorrect.

Some examples:

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So... when a designer chooses to take on a self-promo campaign to either acquire new clients or retain existing clients.......

  • Is there still value in sending these analog packages? Or has everyone pretty much given up and taken the easy way out and only deals with these sort of things electronically?
  • Does it help in client acquisition/retention? Does research exist which would state whether or not the ROI is worth the effort?
  • 2
    I'd consider this the most fundamental of all design questions. How should a designer design for a designer, and what should a designer design for a designer?
    – Confused
    May 13, 2014 at 16:49
  • 1
    I certainly still get vendor doodads. One printer made a point of sending an entire Mr. Potatohead doll over the course of a year, with a new body part every month. [We were beside ourselves with excitement every time a package arrived. :)] Another sent a package of flower seeds. May 13, 2014 at 22:04
  • About the Adobe… I think the lack of strong competition that could really “hit the sales” did the part of the trick ;}
    – thebodzio
    May 14, 2014 at 1:19
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    Maybe the mere fact that it has become such a rare practice nowadays could serve to improve its effectiveness.
    – Dom
    May 14, 2014 at 2:49
  • @user It would depend on how unique and well-folded the origami piece was. Fortune-teller? Crane? BTDT. An origami chainsaw? Now you've got my attention. May 14, 2014 at 10:46

2 Answers 2


So... when a designer chooses to take on a self-promo campaign to either acquire new clients or retain existing clients.......

Is there still value in sending these analog packages? Or has everyone pretty much given up and taken the easy way out and only deals with these sort of things electronically?

Yes there is still value in sending packages. People still do these in addition to or instead of electronic correspondence.

It depends on what your product is. If you're a designer that deals in print it would make sense to send printed products. Unfortunately, it's also costly. Bringing printed materials to trade shows would be a more efficient means of delivery, allow you to show more products, and make sure to some extent that people look at it.

Does it help in client acquisition/retention? Does research exist which would state whether or not the ROI is worth the effort?

The challenge answering here is that ROI is directly correlated to your margins. Using the Customer Lifetime Valuation model

(Average Value of a Sale) X (Number of Repeat Transactions) X (Average Retention Time in Months or Years for a Typical Customer)

Now you can do a short call or a long call.

Allowable Acquisition: If cash is tight then this is a strategy of spending less on acquisition then the first sale you're going to make.

Investment Acquisition: If you've got the cash then you can take a longer term strategy. If you know that your customers generally earn you a profit of N over their lifetime with you, then you can take a loss on the initial purchase if you know the CLV will recoup it within an amount of time you can float for.

Now that our review of ROI is done let's get into specifics about printed promotional materials.

Perceived value of what you send matters. So for a designer, you better be damn sure your design is on point, materials on point, and anything you can do to give it the look of quality. Laser cut, foils, and folds all come to mind.

At a perceived value of $25+ respondents in a survey were broken down:

  • 27% no change
  • 44% somewhat more receptive
  • 27% significantly more receptive
  • 2% less receptive

Perceived value of $10-$24.99:

  • 45% no change
  • 38% somewhat more receptive
  • 16% significantly more receptive
  • 1% less receptive

Perceived value of $5-$9.99:

  • 50% no change
  • 33% somewhat more
  • 15% significantly more
  • 2% somewhat less
  • 1% significantly less (this was 0 in the above price ranges)

Source: High End, Low End: Which Promotional Products Work Best?

Given that in almost all instances there is greater chance for improved image then for negative image its clear that printed promotional items are a valuable tool for customer acquisition and retention.

I would note since we're talking specifically about a designer trying to increase their business that two things come to mind:

  1. After price the second most important thing in the survey to respondents was subtlety of brand. The less you push yourself and make it seem like an ad, the better it will be received.
  2. A solid strategy for this as a designer would be to send something out when you learn a new skill or gain access to a new print technique. Alternatively, if you do not have a new skill or technique use some of the fanciest ones and state it somewhere on the gift. A brilliantly designed origami Christmas tree decoration that includes a small card letting the person know all of the different processes and techniques that were involved could be an example. And of course still include Happy Holidays or what have you.

The biggest difference from 10 years ago is the social networking landscape. It's new, and means anyone can see and communicate with anyone else. So client relationships have forever changed due to the accessibility of other talent.

However, having said that, the pool of graphic design talent is significantly less than it was 10 years ago, and arguably much less than it was 20 years ago.

Most of this, I think, is a direct correlation to the ageing of the first generation of digital graphic designers as they climbed up the corporate world and become directors and producers AND the stagnation in design software.

As each subsequent generation has come to design software they've been ever more amazed (and disillusioned) by the nature of the software (the tools of design) and most of the talented illustrators and graphic artists have, when given any choice, preferred to stay analogue in their creativity.

Over the last 10 years this trend towards analogue creativity has dramatically increased due to the natural multiplication between generations, but also a huge movement and trend against digital creativity and in favour of analogue creativity.

// I'm using "analogue" in the sense that there's little to no digital creativity in the creation process of the art/designs.

So now we're left with the driest well of new talent in digital creativity in a long time, and most of the creme of that talent quickly heads to the more powerful and fluid tools... which are 3D and animation related.

After Effects is easily Adobe's best software, and it's at the very bottom end of 3D and animation design software in terms of usability, features, functionality and performance. It's showing its age and design ethos limits in everything it does. And, remember, this is the best of Adobe's software.

Which brings up the impact of Adobe's monopoly over design software and the perception of what design is, what a designer does and how they do it. That's a net negative for quality of inspiration and I will happily challenge anyone that sees this differently.

So, within this context, how and what is a designer to design for himself, and what is going to be most effective, enjoyable and worthy of our spare time?

Personally, I'd make something to please my wife. And if that leads to new clients that appreciate that same thing, they're going to be happy to hang out with us, and we with them.

That's a good thing because I like socialising with those that I assist through my designs.

I like real partnerships more than clients.

I think this question has to be answered by the designer: What kind of relationships do you want with those that you design for and who would you like to impress with your skills and visions?

The answer to that might remove consideration for ROI and marketability and allow an entirely new and profoundly more "self" expressive design to present yourself with and through.

So my answer to your question might be this...

It doesn't matter what the numbers say, ROI, value etc. The only measurement should be in what you create for yourself to show others, and who those others are and what they mean to you.

That, in turn, will likely lead you to working with more people that you enjoy being around, than not.

If you like, and enjoy the tactile experience of analogue products from digital design then, whatever the cost, finding those that appreciate the same will pay for itself in many ways.

  • I'd disagree about there being less designers than 10 years ago, the field is diluted due to the proliferation of art degrees today and those who practice without formal education. I wasn't referring to the actual process. I'm not about to break out the xactos, mechanical boards, amber lith, and start cutting rules. I was referring to physical pieces as opposed to digital pieces. Social networking falls into the "as little effort as possible" category for me, and is really at the very bottom of that category. - Viable, but not as well perceived.
    – Scott
    May 13, 2014 at 17:28
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    Embedded in there though is a real trend: movement. In my specialized field in the 90s we went from needing print to compete to needing hard-bound full color to compete. This was driven by the increased technological reach the lone designer was able to leverage. I think the next 10 years is going to be "video."
    – horatio
    May 13, 2014 at 18:06
  • Look at the word in ALLCAPS: "the pool of graphic design TALENT is significantly less than it was 10 years."
    – Confused
    May 13, 2014 at 19:06
  • Most with design talent have found something to do other than digital graphic design.
    – Confused
    May 13, 2014 at 19:07
  • Just as there's vastly more programmers than there were 10 or 20 years ago, the talent pool is shallower. Those with deep talent are few and far between. There's LOTS of reasons for this, in both fields.
    – Confused
    May 13, 2014 at 19:08

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