Certifications as Marketing Tools
Use product certifications to add value to what you're selling. 3/3/2015 | Gregg Emmer, Marketing Matters

"Quality in a product or service is not what the supplier puts in. It is what the customer gets out and is willing to pay for. A product is not quality because it is hard to make and costs a lot of money, as manufacturers typically believe. This is incompetence. Customers pay only for what is of use to them and gives them value. Nothing else constitutes quality." Peter F. Drucker

Once you have your client's objective clearly in mind and it is time to chose the promotional item to carry their message, the pedigree of the item becomes an integral part of the buying decision. From wooden pencils to coffee mugs to night lights, there are rules, regulations and certifications that can distinguish the product you recommend from lower priced look-alike items in the marketplace. As professionals in the promotional marketing/specialty advertising industry, we need to borrow a concept from the medical profession – 'First do no harm' (loosely condensed from the Hippocratic Corpus).
That means that we have an obligation to advise clients about the quality of the products we are recommending and indicating that they do (or do not) meet the standards for proper use and safety. With few if any exceptions, the suppliers dedicated to the promotional marketing/specialty advertising industry in the U.S. do a scrupulous job making sure their products are safe and in compliance. Items directly imported by distributors require additional third party testing and certification in order to be assured of the necessary quality. Many times the products themselves carry certifications that are there to help people understand the quality and safeguards, but the actual meaning of these certification marks is not always understood.
By understanding the certifications you can add value to the items you are recommending, eliminate comparison to inferior lower priced items and demonstrate to your client that you are interested in the overall success of the program and to "do no harm".
One of the hottest areas of interest in promotional products today is electronic accessories. They also have been at the forefront of several media reports of property damage, fires and injuries. So it is critical for you and your client to be sure only properly certified items are used. The marks that you see on these products may not be what you think! Here is a brief description of the marks.
• UL is the mark of a private company called Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. This non-profit organization has developed more than 800 standards that it tests products against and certifies those that pass.
• CE is the mark of the European Commission which means that a manufacturer is self declaring that their product meets the established standards. There is no third party testing or certification required. This is the only major mark that does not indicate third party testing.
• CSA is the Canadian Standards Association mark. They are a nationally recognized testing laboratory and the CSA-US mark is essentially an alternative to the UL mark.

ETL is the mark of ETL Testing Laboratories and is an accepted alternative to the UL and/or CSA mark.

Keep in mind that these organizations are testing the electrical safety and not the compliance with other regulations like choke hazards. You may also see a mark for the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), which simply indicates that the electrical item does not cause radio interference. This is not related to safety in any way but may be there simply to confuse the buyer!

By discussing safety, certifications and compliance with your customer you will go a long way to building a professional relationship and to establishing a trust that you will always keep your customer out of trouble. I recently suggested to a salesperson who was looking for a specific charging unit for a customer, that they decline the sale rather than sell an inferior, untested and uncertified device. The item was half the price of similar products - but there was a serious reason for the lower price. The customer decided to refine their mailing list to the top prospects and send fewer of a fully tested and certified charging unit. The salesperson also received a sincere thank you for keeping the best interests of the customer as the first priority.
If customers ask for the documentation showing compliance, suppliers should always be able to produce it. Many have it online for you to download. If they do not, it may be an indication that the product they offer have not been inspected and may pose a potential hazard. Be especially careful if the items you are suggesting are to be part of a promotion involving children or if there is a likelihood that children may have contact with the item. It is up to you to add value to the work you do by establishing with your customer that you are recommending promotional marketing/advertising specialties that will meet their needs without exposing them to risk.
Peter Drucker’s quote that began this article states that quality is what a customer gets out of a product. But trouble is not something any customer wants to get out of a product or promotion and with your professional recommendations they never will.
Gregg Emmer is chief marketing officer and vice president at Kaeser & Blair, Inc. He has more than 40 years experience in marketing and the promotional specialty advertising industry. His outside consultancy, providing marketing, public relations and business planning consulting to a wide range of other businesses, has been a useful knowledge base for K&B Dealers. Contact Gregg at gemmer@kaeser-blair.com.

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