Pre-loaded custom imprinted USB flash drives are rapidly becoming one of the most popular promotional products within our industry. The reasons are numerous. They are a cost effective and environmentally-friendly method of getting your training materials, white papers, catalogs, corporate brochures, and image building videos into the hands of your customers. In the past these materials would require hardcopy reproduction, such as large binders filled with text and tabs, or portfolios carrying full color brochures and video cassettes, which would then have to be boxed and shipped to the end user. Whereas, today, USB’s capable of carrying a multitude of documents and files can fit inside your pocket reducing the need for paper and energy use during transportation. They have become popular staples for conference and tradeshow giveaways. But how many of us really understand what they are and where they came from?

USB’s (short for Universal Serial Bus), flash drives and thumb drives are all references to small storage devices that move data. USB flash drives were developed at IBM in 1998 to replace floppy drives, and are a NAND-type flash memory data storage devices integrated with a USB interface.

They provide general storage for anything and everything, from simple documents to entire digital movies. They’re handy for transporting photos to a photo printer with an integrated USB port, or transporting PowerPoint slide shows, and those with larger memory capacities can run full applications.

One key use of thumb drives today is for portable applications or software you can run from the drive without installing it to your computer’s hard drive. With portable applications, you can slip the equivalent of your entire PC into your pocket using any USB key, and then plug it in to another PC. The USB drive maintains privacy, since all the portable applications should read/write only to the thumb drive. So, it’s a safer way to use your portable applications on public-access PC’s, where, for instance, you may forget to log out of a Web-based application like Gmail. But, you do have to remember to take the drive home with you.

There are several advantages of the USB flash drives as compared to other portable storage devices. The USB flash drive is much faster, holds far more data, and is more reliable due to the lack of moving parts. They ignore the scratches and dust that plagues earlier forms of portable storage, such as compact discs or floppy disks. And, while we do not encourage you trying this at home, their design means they often survive impact when dropped or crushed, and can survive being washed with a load of clothing. The fear of the data getting destroyed or corrupted is almost negligible in USB devices.

Another huge advantage is its memory capacity, ranging from 8 megabytes to 64 gigabytes, limited only by the densities of its current flash memory. Unfortunately, as its capacity moves up, so does the price. Almost all types of drives use the USB mass storage standard, supported by modern operating systems, and most flash drives are active only when powdered by a USB computer connection. They require no other external power source or battery source.

Data pre-loading is the simple process of copying files onto a USB flash drive. You can pre-load any file type and as many different files as you want until the memory capacity is met. The most common pre-loads are PDF brochures or catalogs, movie clips (commercials or training videos), PowerPoint presentations, and Word documents. But, there is no limit to what kinds of files you can load onto a USB drive.

There is a huge variety of USB cases offered within the industry. These range from recycled plastic and rapidly renewable bamboo wood, to traditional plastic with metal trim and elegant brushed stainless steel. Shapes can vary from pills and guitars to flip flops and custom molded logos. And, there are combination units that double as ink pens and laser pointers.

The one drawback with USB flash drives is the volatility of their pricing. The past several years have seen price swings and most manufacturers will only guarantee pricing for 5 days. There also tends to be some seasonal fluctuations as manufacturers gear up toward the holiday gift market or for new technology offers being released at the new year.

For me though, the best use of these drives is not as an empty gift but as a tool which can be re-used over and over by its recipient and that transmits the information from the meeting, conference or tradeshow. The data loaded onto the USB eliminates the need for a lot of extra and costly printed materials, the materials on the USB are more useful and accessible as it can be searched, stored and retrieved more easily than the notebooks under your desk!

If you would like to explore how USB’s can be used for your next promotion and how they could reduce the resources spent on printing and shipping, please contact us at or call 1-800-905-0073.

Author: Janet Glazier & Connie King
Publication Date: October 2008

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