Once upon a time, in a far away land called “the twentieth century” businesses used to give away stuff for free in an effort to woo clients and customers to their businesses. A lot of the time these things were sent through the mail, often toward the end of the year, as a sort of “happy holidays” present from companies that were either thanking you for your patronage or hoping to solicit that patronage for the first time. Often these free items were really handy: notepads, pens, refrigerator magnets, sometimes even wall calendars.

That’s right kids, once upon a time, people used to hang calendars on their walls instead of keeping them in their phones.

Today, as most of our daily needs are taken care of in virtual space, a lot of those promotional products have fallen out of fashion. Sure you might be able to grab a branded pen at the bank or maybe a magnet shows up in the mail. More often than not, though, businesses have opted to show their appreciation and offer their bribes digitally and, more often than not they come in the form of coupon codes or hastily built apps laden with advertising.

Don’t be that business. Don’t be the business who promotes itself via overly branded apps and coupon codes. Sure these things have their place but so do those now often considered “old fashioned” promotional products.

See, the problem with offering tangible promotional products to people in an effort to solicit business and build a brand wasn’t those products tangibility. It was that many of those products have become outdated. There are still plenty of things that you can give away that will be appreciated and even used regularly.

The best way to figure this out is to look at the things people are using now. For example, maybe people aren’t using wall calendars so much anymore. They do, however, need mouse pads, right? A branded mouse pad is easy and affordable to produce in bulk and is something that almost everybody uses. And even if that person is more a track pad person, they probably know someone who could use a mouse pad.

Another good example of this is to trade out the refrigerator magnet for a usb drive. Everybody could use another USB drive. The key to making the USB drive work for you isn’t just putting your logo on it. You have to make it easy for the user to keep track of. Credit card sized flash drives are a good way to do this. The USB wristband at memorysuppliers.com even doubles as jewelry so there is little risk of it getting lost in the bottom of a bag or in a glove compartment of a car.

One of the most popular upgrades in promotional materials has been the tote bag. Businesses used to give away t-shirts and hats but it’s rare to find someone who will happily wear a branded promotional t-shirt anymore (well, really, it depends on the brand. Your super fans will still wear it). People have no qualms, though, about carrying around a branded tote bag or reusable shopping bag. Reusable shopping bags, in particular, are well received because more and more cities and states are making the move away from plastic bags so people need a new handled bag in which to carry their groceries.

Obviously there are some classics that will always be helpful: pens, pencils, and notepads are never going to go out of style, no matter how digitally dependent we get. Having a healthy supply of these is always a good idea.

Remember: it wasn’t that the item was tangible that caused most promotional products to get phased out. It was that the products people were creating have become (or are close to becoming) obsolete. If you stamp your brand on something people can actually use, you should do it!