Startups like brand merchandise.
They really like it.
And so startups have a lot of merch.
Between merchandise for conferences, recruiting fairs, hack days, new offices, new people, meetups, and just plain old office stationery, startups (and other companies) make a lot of merch.
But how much value do you get of it?
There’s some marginal amount of advertising. Some marginal amount of brand recognition.
But the real value that you derive from the merch is utility. The functionality that it provides.
The people that you give the merch to will assess how valuable the product is, as any consumer would. Is this a useful thing to me? Is it well made?
Remember, most employees (particularly Generation Y and younger) don’t actually like wearing your brand unless they have to. You want to build pride into the gear so that your people are proud to use the gear.
And the best way to build pride into your merch is buy good gear.
Don’t buy the cheap backpack that’s going to fall apart after a few uses. Invest in real gear for your employees. Buy good gear that lasts, that embodies the spirit of quality that you want your employees to feel. Because they should feel that you think they are worth buying good gear for. So when you think the next round of merch is a bag for people:
- You could buy a Timbuk2 messenger bag for them.
- You could buy a GORUCK bag.
- You could research what the best bag is.
- You could ask your employees what their favourite bag is, and ask them why.
You might even learn what matters to them about their gear, their environment, and what pride they have in the gear .
People with good gear are proud of it. That’s why there are endless discussions amongst camping people about their gear, and why computer bags have thousand-page threads about them.
If you buy good merch for your employees, they’ll be proud of it. And they’ll use it. And they’ll talk about it. And they’ll talk about how their company took the time to think about them and what they needed, and you’ll get amazing branding from that. You might even recruit some other people who take pride in their stuff.
All because you bought a better bag.
 I can tell you that in general, most engineers are very opinionated about their gear. That’s because they take pride in what they use. And the ones who don’t, probably won’t take pride in their work.