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Four Steps To Creating Great Merch For Your Small Business (That People Will Actually Wear)


t-shirt printing

by Shayne Tilley, Head of Marketing at 99designs by Vistaprint

Branded merch has never been so popular. From restaurants, bars, hair salons, bookstores and more, businesses have been cottoning on to this useful tool that allows them to foster a sense of community with their customers.

Each year, 99designs by Vistaprint publishes a forecast of the industries set to dominate in the year ahead, based on trends in design requests and creative work on the platform. Reflecting this data, branded merch was identified as one of the fastest growing categories, having experienced a 134% increase in the last three years.

However, during the pandemic, merch took on a whole new significance for SMBs. Not only did it provide another revenue stream, but it also proved to be a great way for businesses to stay connected to their customers during lockdowns and enforced closures. As such, merch design requests on 99designs jumped 32% in the past 12 months.

And customers have been quick to show their support. In a study of over 4,000 consumers around the world, commissioned by 99designs and market research firm Corus, 52% of people said they had purchased branded merch in the past year with 81% of these purchases made specifically to support a local business in the wake of the pandemic.

This trend is showing no signs of slowing down. So, if you’re a small business looking to jump in on the action, it’s important to note that making truly great merch isn’t just about slapping your logo on a t-shirt!

If you want to make things your customers actually want to wear, there’s a few key things to consider.

 1. First things first – who are you?

There’s a reason that your customers love interacting with you. Every brand has its personality and there’s many facets that make you unique. So, before getting started on designing your merch, you need to define your brand identity. And to do that, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

Are you high end or do you offer great value? Are you playful or sophisticated? How do you differ from other businesses in the local area? What do you do better than anyone else or what are you known for?

The answers to these questions will help you clearly outline what you want to communicate about your brand through the designs you use and the type of merch you create.

2. Who is your customer?

Now you’ve nailed who you are, if you want your customers to rep your merch, you have to consider them too. Just as before, ask yourself a few questions about your ideal customer. What do they value and care about? Why do they visit your venue or use your service? What would they find useful or enjoy more?

It’s likely that certain branding designs or items of merch are not going resonate with everyone. So, for example, by identifying who is most likely to visit your bar or what they value most when they get there, you can zero in on what’s going to make the biggest impact and help create a genuine emotional connection with them.

3. Choosing the right merch.

While t-shirts, hats and sweaters are popular options, it doesn’t always have to be clothing. Also consider items that people can get use out of like coffee cups, totes and drinks coasters. By thinking of items that not too many other people have, you can also help differentiate your merchandise and stand out among the crowd.

The item might also look different depending on the type of business you are and your brand personality. Are you fun or serious? Are you mature or quirky? If you think a gimmick could work with your audience and brand then why not have a bit of fun with it!

4. Think outside the box.

When it comes to design, creating eye-catching merch for your business is a great opportunity to think outside the box. While your customers will no doubt spot your logo a mile off, your merch is also a chance to get creative and explore things that let you showcase your brand personality in different ways.

Once again – it’s helpful to ask yourself a few questions in order to figure out what direction to go in and whether there are any elements surrounding your brand that you can draw inspiration from.

Is there a particular feature in your shop that people recognise as uniquely you? Do you have a catchphrase or unique slogan? Does your brand have a character or mascot associated with it? Whatever it is, doing something a little different is a sure fire way to bring the best assets of your brand to life in an iconic and recognisable design.

Producing branded merch allows businesses to create a community of like minded individuals around your business, building brand loyalty and turning your customers into brand advocates. But it’s important to get great merch right if you want people to show it off.

Take some time to really put yourself in your customers’ shoes to figure out what they’d like best, then give them exactly what they want — or maybe something so amazing they didn’t realise they wanted until you created it!


Shayne Tilley is Head of Marketing at 99designs by Vistaprint, the global creative platform that makes it easy for designers and clients to work together to create designs they love. He is a wrangler of collaboration, diversity, and creativity, helping bring more opportunities to people all around the world.