Back in 2020, I was head of marketing for a data science school. We gave every student a 'welcome pack' when they enrolled in a course.

The pack would contain the company's branded merchandise – like a notebook, pen, shirt, tote bag. We even had a plastic bottle. (Which I thought was weird.)

All these are common. You see them everywhere.

Many companies make cheap branded merchandise that they give away during conferences and events.

"It's good branding", they're told.

The problem is nobody stopped to think – "Hey, do our customers really need and want this?"

Most companies make useless merchandise and fill the world with more clutter.

Useful for you, or your customers?

It was year 2020. The whole world was in lockdown. Everyone was on Zoom.

Our merchandise ran out, so I decided to make webcam covers – for the reason that it might be useful for our students. Everyone was on Zoom! They had to protect their privacy! The last thing they want is to get caught taking a meeting in their underwear.

So we ordered a thousand webcam covers, printed some cards to stick them to, and boom, we had a product. I decided to price them at RM14.90 a piece.

What do you know? People started buying them.

We originally made them as something we give away for free – but decided to also sell them on the website.

Over the next year or so until I left the company, I would casually give away the webcam covers to friends, business associates, and generally, people I had a meeting with.

One of them was Geoffrey, a founder of an inspiring snack company, called myFITBOX.

3 years later, today, I had one of the biggest smiles on my face. I was scrolling on Instagram when I saw it.

Spot the webcam cover on his laptop. I've drawn a big fat arrow to show you where it is.

There it was. Someone using something we made. Sees it every day, probably. Carries the brand everywhere he goes.

So many lessons from this experience. I'll list the best ones:

  1. Make useful stuff. Don't make products or merchandise for the sake of making them. Nobody needs more clutter. Ask yourself, "Are they useful for my audience? Do they want it?"
  2. Branded merchandise can be a great marketing tool. Imagine if we kept selling and giving away these webcam covers.
  3. Don't make it about you. I don't want to wear a T-shirt with your company's brand name on it. I want to wear a T-shirt that expresses who I am. I don't care about your brand. I care about me.
  4. Nobody appreciates free. Just like how we take breathing air for granted, people rarely value something they got for free. I put a RM14.90 price tag and made the webcam cover purchasable on our website for the sole purpose of attaching a perceived value to it. This is known as anchoring.
  5. Receiving money is a sign that you've created value. RM14.90 for a webcam cover that cost us $0.20. Sounds ludicrous. But when people started paying for it, I knew we'd created value.
We ordered the webcam covers on Alibaba.

On the topic of making useful stuff, we created Underdog Founders' Con to bring opportunities for marketers and business owners – to learn practical lessons and connect with the best people in the industry. This is the 4th Underdog Con event and I know we've created value because tickets are selling.

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