Promotional products are an afterthought to some companies, even for startups in great need of marketing.

Logoed shirts, pens, cups, whatever – these are things produced, cheaply, for special events or maybe in very limited selection for customers to purchase.

As a member of the promo industry, I could be a little biased. However, I believe branded merchandise and swag should never be an afterthought. From day one, promotional products have been essential tools in my startup business arsenal, helping me create awareness, excitement and lasting connections with customers.

In 2013, I launched a startup company called Beer Paws.

Three years later, my brand is best known for making beer-inspired dog treats, including non-alcoholic “beer” for dogs. But the brand story begins with merchandise.

My original idea was to make enjoying a cold brew in the company of your dog a little easier. Just put one of my special bottle openers on your pup’s collar. Voila, you’ve turned your best friend into a sort of four-legged cicerone!

People enjoyed my dogs + drinking concept so much that my single-product startup business soon morphed into a lifestyle brand for canine and human “drinking buddies.”

Working closely with my colleagues at Staples Promotional Products, I strategically increased my inventory. Koozie® can coolers, knit bottle sweaters and wine stoppers could all be easily customized with my logo. These items were also useful, desirable products for my target customers – beer connoisseurs with a passion for pets.

As I tapped deeper into craft beer culture, I traded my business cards for logoed coasters and matchbooks. Both are low-cost, fun giveaways ideal for the festivals and other beer-centric events where I often represent my brand. I’ve also found that handing someone my contact information on something other than a business card makes a stronger impression.

Branded merchandise of all kinds has been such a powerful force in growing my business that I’m constantly thinking about new ways to use it. In recent months, we’ve added Beer Paws branded apparel that both people and pets are wearing with pride.