Swag 101: Trade Show Giveaways and Promotional Products

Here are key factors to consider when choosing and designing branded giveaways and other promotional products.

Printing services, promotional products, small business, trade shows

You work hard to design an attention-getting booth to stand out in crowded exhibit halls. Savvy marketers put as much effort into designing useful trade show giveaways as they do eye-catching trade show banners, signage and expo floor displays.

Here are a few key factors to consider when choosing and designing branded giveaways and other promotional products:

1. Brand Alignment

Key consideration: Does the item support your brand and corporate image?

Expert insight: "It's got to be something that communicates the company's brand strategy, otherwise it's just another gimmick," explains Los Angeles?based branding expert Rob Frankel. "The most important aspect of giveaways is the ability to tie the promotional item to the solution the brand provides the prospect." For instance, branded aprons are a natural choice for food-related businesses.

Action item: Brainstorm trade show giveaways within the context of your brand or product/service promise.

2. Audience Value

Key consideration: What's going to resonate with your customers, prospects and fans?

Expert insight: There are two schools of thought on promotional items: Make them practical or make them unique. There's a reason tote bags are the number-one branded giveaway —because people use them. Promotional pens and branded hand sanitizer, stress balls and water bottles are always in demand, which means they get frequent use and spread your logo around for all to see. More substantial and creative logoed items also get traction, such as LED keychain flashlights, chargers, and even games and toys like a mini basketball or paddleball.

Action item: Consider what problems or frustrations your customers have and choose a trade show promotional item that solves or eases it. Or think of something fun that makes them smile.

3. Durability

Key consideration: Is the item built to last?

Expert insight: Low-quality or malfunctioning branded giveaways don't reflect well on your business. "Swag pieces are infamous for being cheap and short-lived — exactly the opposite of how you want a relationship with your brand to be," Frankel declares.

Action item: Check online reviews for the products you consider, and ask your vendor for items with high-quality construction and materials, and good durability ratings.

4. Price

Key consideration: What's the highest-quality trade show giveaway you can get with the marketing budget available, and what's it going to cost to get the item to the show?

Expert insight: "Whatever swag you decide on usually has to be shipped to the trade show, event or promotional location," cautions Chicago-area marketer Jhan Robert Dolphin. "Think ahead about the size and weight of the items you want to hand out. Shipping can be a killer, and what if they take up too much storage space in a trade show display? If the items are too big to easily carry around, the idea fails."

Action item: Investigate free shipping options with your vendor, or select a provider who has a location in the show city so you can easily pick up the goods and avoid costly freight charges.

Other important tips:

  • Don't be too clever. In a previous business life, Greg Chambers executed a high-concept trade show giveaway idea that fell completely flat because no one got the joke. The Omaha-based business development consultant now cautions clients to weigh their ideas against the risk of failure and vet them with trusted customers. "In my case, failure was not only the cost of the booth, travel and swag, but also the cost of a bad first impression. We went legit the next season, but I never quite got past the embarrassment of a concept that fell flat."
  • Start earlier than you think you need to. It's crucial to plan ahead, especially when choosing something like a 3D printed version of your logo or miniature product, which presents a unique promotional opportunity. "There are so many logistical components to planning a show, it's easy to put design at the end, thinking 'we'll work on that when we know everything else is in place'," laments Carrboro, N.C.-based designer Tremayne Cryer. Then you rush and make costly mistakes like typos or leaving off important information.
  • Make it sell. Trade show giveaway ideas are essentially ads for your business. Improve promotional products' inbound marketing oomph by including a URL or social media handle with your logo and phone number.
  • Train booth staff. "Many vendors put more emphasis on the swag than on the pitch," chides David Brimm, a public relations and marketing consultant in Deerfield, IL. "Just giving away premium items doesn't score sales if the people manning the booth don't know to engage visitors and close the sale. The purpose of being at a show is to generate leads, not to brag that all the swag items were picked up."

Armed with this expert advice, you can ensure your trade show swag ideas reflect well on your business and resonate with recipients. That's the key to getting better results from your branded giveaways marketing activities.