It's the thought that counts
Pop psychologists and their ilk would probably describe the subtext of promotional pens as being "positive reinforcement".
And they'd be right.
Promotional pens, if bought in sufficient quantity, may equate to only a few cents. Scarcely largesse on a measurable scale you would think. But - like any gift you receive - it's the thought that counts. In the case of the promotional pen, small though it may be, it's what the pen says about you rather than its monetary value that's important.
The motivation is to evoke a positive response, so presenting a customer with promotional pens at the end of a transaction helps to reinforce the positive impression you've hopefully already made.
Everyone likes a free gift, so they depart the transaction, having enjoyed their purchase. Or in the case of promotional pens mailed to a named customer, the recipient is much more likely to take in your marketing message and respond to it than might otherwise be the case.
No matter how you distribute your promotional pens, the net effect is that the recipient is left in a better frame of mind and more likely to view and remember your company in a constructive light. At a much deeper and more subtle level, the promotional pen will also help promote brand loyalty to your company. And, perhaps, even a vague notion that the customer in some way owes you something in return for their free pen.
To work successfully, though, bear in mind that the promotional pen you select says a lot more about your company that you may ever visualize. All the affirmative responses to your company can easily be undone if the pen leaks or refuses to write. The linkage in the customer's brain then is to automatically and negatively associate your company with a cheap, nasty pen that was swiftly thrown in the waste basket.
So, from that viewpoint, it is vital to ensure the promotional pen you choose is up to the job and says all the right things about your organization.
Ask around other business people, friends and family about their experiences with promotional pens. This will prove to be a useful and worthwhile exercise. The feedback will approach the question from two angles, the experience of the buyer and the user.
Other business people or organizations with first hand experience of promotional pen companies will be able to give you a good steer in terms of companies to consider and pricing etc. Friends and family will, conversely, be able to provide an insight into end-user preferences, whether, for example, to go for gel pens or ordinary ballpoints, blue ink or black, cap pen, button pen or twist.