Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild Podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life, in-the-wild stories about business and marketing. 

Julia: Everybody, I’m excited to introduce you to Amanda. I shouldn’t speak for Amanda. I have been internet stalking Amanda for a while after she sent me a DM. And so I’m really excited for her to be here. We’ll talk about why I’m obsessed with her right now. Amanda, tell us a little bit about you and what you do.

Amanda: Thank you so much. That’s really kind. I am Amanda Hoffman. I live in New York City, and my business is called Go To Market, and we are a very different kind of branded merchandise company. We’re trying to change all the ways that branded merchandise is done in the world, make it more sustainable, more fun, and most importantly, more meaningful to the people who give it and the people who receive it, make it a better experience all around.I’ve been running this business for about four years with my business partner, and we really love what we do, and we really love helping businesses just think about merch in a totally new, fun, strategic way.

Julia: I love it! So everybody, I feel like I started this weird, but I am obsessed with Amanda because she went to Yellowstone, which is my literal favorite place on the planet. We met and then talked about all the merch at Yellowstone, which I’m also obsessed with. So Amanda, tell us about your trip to Yellowstone. How was it?

Amanda: Oh my God! I would love to. Thank you! So this summer, I did a crazy bike trip where my husband and I biked from Bozeman, Montana to Jackson, Wyoming through Yellowstone, which was really wild, and I could talk about that for an hour. But because I genuinely love merchandise, I was just fascinated by all the merch everywhere, in every restaurant. Even the farm stands had their own merchandise. And I’m like, this is amazing. It was mostly not the boring, ugly stuff that you find that corporations tend to do. A company, when they’re printing for their team, they usually just put their logo on their shirt and print everyone a unisex fit shirt and just hand it out, which is literally the worst. No, it’s not the worst. A stress ball would be the worst. Like a scratchy t-shirt, it’s just creating garbage. So when I see companies doing creative merchandise, I’m really excited to talk about it. And of course, I saw some hideous stuff too, which was also equally fun to talk about. Every place in Yellowstone just has all of this fun stuff. And they have the shirt that’s like, “Don’t pet the bison”, which really, is cute and cheeky until while I was on my trip, a woman got murdered by a bison. 

Julia: It’s crazy! 

Amanda: They’re serious. That’s a serious t-shirt, that’s not a jokey t-shirt.

Julia: It’s a jokey t-shirt until people are stupid. That’s really what it is. It’s a great joke until people are dumb. 

Amanda: I had a friend tell me about this Instagram account called Tourons of Yellowstone. 

Julia: I was about to mention that one.

Amanda: Did you send that to me?

Julia: Oh, I don’t know. Maybe. I have no idea. I love that account, but also it makes me so angry because I’m like, how are people so dumb?

Amanda: It’s really like a case in social psychology. Because what happens is there’s signs literally everywhere being like, “You will die if you get too close to the wildlife.” Yellowstone could not be more clear about the ways that you’re gonna die if you get too close to the wildlife, and then it just takes one family to pull over and be like, “You know what, we are gonna look at the bears.” And then another family’s like, “Well, that family’s doing it.” And then before you know it, literally, I’ve seen this happen so many times, like 100, 200 people are standing on the side of the road watching the bear despite the sign. This happened with some bison that we were looking at. Well, I wasn’t there. I wasn’t being a Touron, let me be clear. And the guide was like, “That bison looks peaceful, but it can throw you 35 feet in the air.” The guides are scared, don’t make your own decision here.

Julia: For sure! And also elk are also scary. They look like deer, but they’re massive actually.

Amanda: I will say just one little thing in defense of the Tourons, just one, the bison do look like they belong in a petting zoo. I will just leave that there. That they do look like big sheep and we’re used to petting sheep. And so in that sense, I 1% understand. But the 99% of me is like, just don’t die. 

Julia: I’ll agree with you. They look very fuzzy, and they’re touchable, but they’re not. 

Amanda: It looks like a zoo animal.

Julia: Yes, especially like the babies. They’re so cute! I promise everybody, we’ll talk about merch, but I have one more question about Yellowstone. Was it terrifying actually biking through Yellowstone? I feel like I would be terrified if I was biking through and then like, oh, there’s a giant bison on the road. What do you do? 

Amanda: Animal wise? You’re asking about animals or traffic?

Julia: Maybe both. Tell me both.

Amanda: I was not afraid of animals on the bike because we were on the main paths. And what I quickly realized is if you’re not being an idiot, you’re unlikely to be in trouble. So we stayed on the main roads, we didn’t take weird offshoots. And if we did, usually it was on foot and we had bear spray and we played loud music, and we did all the things that you’re supposed to do to protect yourself. Yellowstone is not the most bikeable place. It’s extremely hilly, which I mean, that kind of challenge, I enjoy. One day we did a nine mile uphill climb, which was very challenging, but also super rewarding and exciting. You smell all the smells and experience all the things in a much more vivid way than you do from a car. That being said, the traffic was a bit dangerous. 

Julia: I can only imagine, because you’ve got tourists flying in, renting cars, stopping randomly to just see things. 

Amanda: There are campers and RVs with just really wide vehicles on squeezed rows with kind of not much shoulder. So there was some danger there. So in that sense, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a very experienced rider and comfortable with that sort of thing. 

Julia: I’ll tell you, I’ll never do that! I will go to Yellowstone every day. 

Amanda: For anyone listening, if you’re like, I don’t wanna deal with the traffic in Yellowstone, stay on a bike. You don’t have to stop when the other cars stop. But take caution and be careful, I’ll say that. 

Julia: I love it! So back to our OG conversation, merchandise, entrepreneurship. How did you get into this? 

Amanda: How did I get into merchandise or entrepreneurship? Because those are different. 

Julia: Tell me both.

Amanda: So I’ll start with entrepreneurship, which is that I hated my jobs more than anything. I came home from work every day and was like, I hate it there. I found it stifling, and it made my whole body itchy to sit at a desk in a company. And my jobs weren’t bad, I just hated them. So I spent many years trying to figure out what I wanted to do. At the time, all my friends were going to grad school, I was like, I’m actually one of the only people in my extended friend group who didn’t go on to graduate school or go on to a specific career track. I was lost for a while, and it was really uncomfortable. I can say more about it, but I eventually found my way to my first business, which was an events company for women in New York City, which was really, really fun. I found myself there and I just flourished. I worked around the clock and loved every second of it, even when it was hard. It suited me, and I was so happy to be doing something that fulfilled me. I sold that company before my second child was born, and then I was home with my kids for a number of years, which I very much wanted and was excited to do.

And then I was looking for another business to start, and took one wrong road to design my own children’s toy that I quickly abandoned, and then was looking around for something else. And when I learned about print on demand, that is when I realized that I wanted to be in the business of teaching entrepreneurs and businesses about print on demand, and how to do swag so much better. Because print on demand is not new technology, but surprisingly, not enough people know about it and not enough people know how to leverage it. And it’s tremendously better than printing in bulk for most people in most cases. It just makes the whole thing accessible to businesses of all sizes. So that was really the catalyst, and I got really excited about it. I realized that when I go on vacation, my favorite thing to do is to shop for tchotchkes, the branded nonsense. I realized I’ve actually been living this life my whole life, I always want something. I never leave something without going to the gift shop, I’m that person. So I’ve always kind of had an interest and a passion in that stuff, and now I’m making it my interest.

Julia: For sure. That’s awesome! So I’m curious, you’ve already mentioned a few things like stress balls are a no-go, things like that. Tell me a little bit about how you help people figure out what merchant swag they should have.

Amanda: Stress balls are a no-go for most companies. But if you are a guitar company who’s working on hand strength, then yes, a stress ball makes sense for you. It should make sense for your business. So you ask, how do we help companies just figure out what works for them? The first thing that we do is tell companies to think about their message. Think about what it is that your clients and fans and partners are drawn to about your business. And it’s not your logo, it’s something much more than that. And try to harness that in the merchandise.

We have a yoga studio we’re working with now who has a shirt that says something like “plant lover” or “I love plants.” Plants are a big part of the studio and the brand, and something that they talk about in the yoga studio, so if you love them, then you’ll love that shirt. And it represents their brand in a sort of not obvious way, and it works as something that’s not just a straight advertisement for the studio. It’s not just the name of the studio, but it has the studio’s branding in it and it helps those people feel connected to the studio.

So that’s the first thing, and then the second thing in terms of what you actually print on, it really depends on who your audience is and how you’re going to use it. That being said, there are still so many different things that people like. Somebody who wears t-shirts only would never wear a tank top, somebody who wears tank tops only doesn’t want a t-shirt. I see it a lot with the fit of shirts. So some people wanna wear a crop top, others want a fitter shirt, others want a big boxy shirt, and if you give them one type and they’re not that type, they’re not gonna wear it. They just won’t put it on their bodies, and then you’ve just given them trash. So when you have a print on demand store, everyone can get exactly what they want in the style, shape, color and size that they want it. And they also don’t need to disclose their size to you. So if you’re thinking to yourself, well, I’ll order in bulk and I’ll just get everyone’s size. Let me tell you something, people don’t wanna tell you their size. And you make the situation so much better for your recipients if you let them choose and let them do it themselves and give them beautiful options.

Julia: I have been deeply opposed to swag. This is my confession. People on this podcast have heard this before, but you have not, Amanda. But I have never loved the idea of swag, partially because I feel like I am an aspiring minimalist, even though I’m not. I’m not a minimalist, but I aspire to be one. And so I feel like I’m always throwing away crap that companies give me.

Amanda: Yes, you aspire to not have garbage, and things you don’t like, and things you don’t need, and things that don’t spark joy.

Julia: Totally! Full Marie Kondo over here. So when my team and my husband were like, “Hey Julia, you guys should start a swag shop.” I’m like, “No, I don’t wanna give people trash.” But then we also found print on demand, and we started doing some creative stuff. And just when you were talking about the “plant lover” shirt, we have a shirt that is a design that said “could have been an email.” That is our biggest seller, where I’m just like, this is exactly what Amanda’s saying. Because I also don’t want people to feel like they’re a poster for Stratos. I want them to love what they’re wearing. And so that’s one of our best sellers.

Amanda: Also, they want that “could have been an email” shirt from you. It is more special because it’s from you, and I’m sure it says your logo somewhere on it. So it’s those things together. You’re not just Urban Outfitters making cute apparel for people. You’re making something that is for your clients and for your fans, designed special for them in a way that makes them feel a part of your brand. And that is the magic of doing it that way.

Julia: For sure! And that’s where I was like, okay, this makes more sense. We also did something. And for anybody who’s listening, if you are like, hey, maybe we should do this, obviously talk to Amanda because she’s got a great philosophy. But also, we sent out coupons to all of our clients for Christmas to shop at our shop for free in a sense where we were like, let’s not give people junk. They can pick their own sizes, and they can pick what they want. And it was a really fun Christmas present. 

Amanda: And most importantly, they can opt out if they want to opt out. So if they are doing a year where they’re like, I don’t want anything extra in my house, they can say, “Thank you so much for offering me this gift. I received your intention to give me a gift, and I also don’t want any of this in my house.” And then fantastic, you haven’t sent them a piece of garbage that they need to feel guilty about or donate or throw away. So it’s really still a winning strategy, and we love doing this for holiday and corporate gifting.

Julia: I love it too. I think it’s just a different philosophy than just handing out stuff for the sake of handing out stuff. Because that also wastes company money too. If all of your swag is getting donated, that’s not helpful. I can’t tell you how many Koozies people have given me, and theoretically, I only need two. One for me and one for my husband. So I don’t need 50. 

Amanda: 100%. Yeah.

Julia: What are some examples of some successful swag merch? I love hearing about the “plant lover shirt.” Tell me more stories.

Amanda: So we happen to be popular in the anti-diet movement, and that is because I love it, and I am obsessed with it, and I stalk people in that area because I think that it’s such amazing, important messaging. And there’s this doctor in the space, Dr. Alexis Conason, and she has the anti-diet plan, and she just puts out big bold messages. Can I cuss on this podcast? 

Julia: Yes, of course! 

Amanda: We made her a “fuck diet culture” shirt and “fuck diet culture” beach towel, and we made her a towel that says “everybody is a beach body” and a shirt that says, “I don’t care about your diet”, and people love it! They just go nuts for it! And even if they’re not buying it, they are sharing it and they’re excited about it. One thing that I think business owners tend to miss is that merchant swag is a really cool branding opportunity, especially for coaches and solopreneurs. Actually, I take that back – for all businesses really, because you understand your message really well, and you know what you’re about, and you know the things that are your rallying cry in your business, but your audience actually doesn’t necessarily. So if you are constantly showing up in your social feed wearing these messages, like if I saw a picture of you wearing “could have been an email”, I know a lot about you already. I know if we’re gonna get along and what kind of feeling I’m gonna get from talking to you, and it’s a really cool opportunity to showcase your brand and associate your face with your brand.

So for example, I’m wearing a shirt right now that says “Merch Mentor.” And in all of my feed, you’ll always see me wearing something that says merch, merch lover, merch boss, swag boss, all of that, peace, love merch. There’s no mistaking my face and merchandise together. And it’s written in a way that I hope conveys our brand, and I think that’s really important for people who are showing up.

Julia: Honestly, even the anti-diet movement, wearing a shirt that says like, “fuck diets”, that’s going to either attract or repel people automatically. And your client is gonna get the perfect community because it’s gonna attract the right people who speak the same language that she does.

Amanda: 100%, that’s the idea.

Julia: I love it! What are some merch campaigns that you’ve seen that are not as successful or don’t land as well?

Amanda: I see on LinkedIn a lot of onboarding boxes where people are like, yay, I just joined this company. And they show that now they have the logo on like a t-shirt, a hoodie, a notebook, a backpack, whatever. In general, I hate gift boxes; boxes full of stuff that people get. And it’s because when you give someone a box, inevitably, there’s filler in there. There’s stuff in there that is just like, okay, I have a budget and I used most of my budget on these items, and so now I have to fill it with some other stuff. And I hear this all the time from people where they’re like, I have a budget for X, what can I get? And I’m like, well, it depends. So are you trying to give everyone something small or a few people something great? And usually, they’re trying to give everyone something small. And to them I say, just don’t.

It’s better to not give somebody a small piece of junk. I would skip giving the small gift. So when you’re giving a gift box of stuff, there’s just pressure to fill it with nonsense, and that’s where you get all this wasteful stuff. So I really hate seeing just logos handed out on a lot of things. It’s the same design on everything. Even if somebody likes one or two of the things, they certainly don’t need five of them. I would say if you have all of that stuff, let them choose what they want. I’m so big on choice. Say to them, “Here’s what we have with this logo on it. You can pick as many as you want.” They might be like, “You know what, I’ll just take the hoodie. It’s nice that you gave me a lunchbox, but no thanks. I’m also not sending my kids to school with your logo on their lunchbox. They don’t want that, and I’m not gonna use that.” Or for example, I just went to my 20-year college reunion, and I can’t believe they did this, but they handed out, to hundreds of people, a tote bag, which is fine, but I don’t love it, but it’s fine. And inside the tote bag was a fanny pack. 

Julia: A bag inside of a bag.

Amanda: They printed hundreds of fanny packs, and I’m like, what are you doing? Why did you do this? Let’s say they gave it to 300 people. Let’s just say generously, 100 people want that fanny pack, which again, generous, I would put it more at like 50. But let’s say it’s 100, 100 of the people don’t immediately throw it out. 50 of them actually use it, and then after, let’s say, I don’t know, three months, then they stop using it. I think you’ve got 10 diehards, like, yes, this is my alma mater, fanny pack people.

Julia: Especially because a fanny pack is such a personal fashion choice because so many of us grew up in the era of fanny packs, and only some of us have re-embraced them. 

Amanda: Yes. And also, we’re all the exact same age. We all graduated college the exact same year. 

Julia: That’s excellent!

Amanda: That was a mess.

Julia: I feel like since doing our little dabble in swag and then also thinking about this more, I have also become more analytical of what people give out. I was at a conference the other day where they were honoring some 100 businesses championing women, and on the way out, you could grab an umbrella. So let’s just pause everybody. It was a very nice umbrella, but I live in Utah, which is a desert. It has the logo of Utah on it, because It was a state organization. I walked out and I was like, “What is happening? Why an umbrella?” It’s a nice umbrella, but to me, it made zero sense in the context of where we live. I did eat my words because then the next day, it rained all day.

Amanda: Did you take it?

Julia: No, I didn’t because I work from home so I don’t need it.

Amanada: And then you didn’t have a Utah umbrella. But in all of those cases, what I would say is for my alma mater and for Utah or whatever, if they had instead said, hey, go to the alma mater store, go to the alumni store, and let’s say they spent between the tote bag and the and the fanny pack, let’s say they spent like $20 per person, give them a $20 gift card to the store, and they’ll buy a magnet or a mug. And let me tell you something, they’re gonna spend more than $20 in the store if they end up there because then it’s like, oh, you know what? I’m just gonna get this teddy bear and you know what, I really want this t-shirt. That’s me! And while I’m here, I’ll just also get a hat. And the $20 gift card turns into a $100 purchase. But for Utah, if you are there, I’m sure that they have branded stuff that they sell somewhere, right? Give them a gift card instead. You’ll save money because not everyone’s gonna use it. 

Julia: And you might even make money too.

Amanda: Exactly! Especially for something like that.

Julia: And not like that’s necessarily the goal, but even to just be given the choice. Maybe someday I will use that umbrella, but it probably won’t be in Utah.

Amanda: I would take an umbrella for New York.

Julia: I’ll mail you my Utah umbrella then. 

Amanda: Yeah, that sounds awesome. 

Julia: So I’m curious, if people were wanting to start, where would you tell them to start when it comes to swag and merch?

Amanda: So I would think first about your message and what’s cool about your brand, because the instinct is to be like, I’m gonna put my logo on something. And it’s like, you know what, look at your Instagram feed and look at your text posts. What are the big bold messages that you’re putting out there? And could you put that on merchandise? Could that go on a mug? Could that go on the back of a hoodie, or a hat, or something like that? What are the words that you say over and over again when you talk about your business? What’s cool about what you do? Try to translate that to merchandise. And if you need help, you can DM me or reach out to me. I’m happy to talk about these.

Julia: That was the other thing I was gonna ask you, is how do you work with people? Are you doing the design, are you doing the sourcing? What part of the process are you helping people with?

Amanda: So we do start to finish. We do the whole thing, the whole shebang. So what we do is we meet with companies and we talk to them about what they want to see in their merchandise, and then we do all of the design. We help them with all of the sampling, all of the sourcing, and then we put together an online store that’s on their website so that clients and partners are not kicked to a third party site. So you can build something like this in Society6 or like RedBubble or whatever. But I think those look pretty unprofessional, especially if you’re giving client gifts, you don’t want them to be like, here’s a third party site, we dropped our logo onto some things. It’s nice if it lives on your own site. Here’s what I would say, if you are gonna do one thing, take one of your Instagram posts, something that’s short, quippy, and popular, go to printful.com, pick one thing, like a t-shirt, a hat or a mug, drop that design onto that item, print it and send it to yourself. It’s gonna cost you 20-ish dollars. Then use that thing in your social media feed and see how that goes.

Julia: I love it! That’s so practical. Maybe you’ll disagree with me, I agree swag should have a purpose, should be thoughtful, but if you have your own store on your own website, you look way more legitimate. Even if you never sell a single thing, you look like you have your shit together.

Amanda: You really do. There’s a certain ooh-ness about like, she’s got her own merch shop!

Julia: Totally! Amanda, this has been great. I really appreciate you. I appreciate being able to talk about my favorite place on earth, Yellowstone, and then also merch. If people want to find you and connect with you, where should they go?

Amanda: Here’s ho to find me and connect with me. On Instagram, I’m @gotomarketstudio (https://www.instagram.com/gotomarketstudio/?hl=en). Our website is gotomarket.studio (https://gotomarket.studio/). You can reach me at Amanda@gotomarket.studio. And if you reach out to me on Instagram and LinkedIn, I will respond. I love talking about merch, or Yellowstone, or biking. So you can talk to me about any of those things.

Julia: And that’s actually how Amanda and I met, is through Instagram, because we have a mutual friend who you’ve heard from before on this podcast, Paige Worthy. She and I connected on Instagram, chatted a bit, and then now we’re here.

Amanda: I’m so excited to be talking to you.

Julia: And also everybody, Amanda has really great Instagram reels, so you should watch them. I am always entertained by them.

Amana: I’m so, so happy to hear that. I try to be as silly as possible, and so it’s nice to know that it’s entertaining.

Julia: They’re excellent! Everybody, go check out Amanda. Whether or not you’re ready for swag, just go find her because I think that there’s also something about watching what other people do and finding inspiration from like, hey, somebody else made this kind of swagger merch. I could do something similar. I think that there’s something really, really powerful about seeing what other people are doing too. Anyway, Amanda, thank you! I appreciate you. 

Amanda: Thank you. 

Julia: Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have. If you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and wanna give us a rating or a review, I promise, we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us. 

Also, thanks to the Stratos team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys. 

Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too.