Expo Swag: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Expo Swag: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Sep 19th 2018

table full of trade show giveaways

Swag is great for promoting your business both at your trade show exhibit booth and long after the show’s ended, but only if it’s the right kind.

I’ve got so much swag. Don’t worry, I’m talking about good old promotional materials not about how cool I am. Over the years, I’ve attended so many expos that I’ve developed a massive collection of free pens, bags, and more. So, it’s safe to say, I know swag.

Swag can generate booth visits, sales, and even clients if it’s the right kind. The wrong kind, though, will just end up in the trash. So, the question is how do you know what kind of swag is the right for your business?

Know Your Brand

Before you even start considering what cool stuff to give away, you’ve got a few questions you need to ask yourself:

What kind of brand am I promoting? What do my customers, prospects, and fans want?

Cooking companies often do great with giving away cooking related swag, but medical software companies don’t do as well when they give away spatulas and aprons. Picking the right kind of swag is all about knowing your consumers and brand. Above all, your swag needs to represent your brand and appeal to your customers.

Know Your Budget

One of the most important parts of swag is its durability. This is something people often forget about, but it’s so damn important. If you give out a product that breaks after one use, people are going to associate you with things that break. Know what people buy from companies whose stuff breaks? I’ll give you a hint: nothing. Budget so that you can make sure you’re giving away a dependable product rather than a big, flashy one that will break the second someone takes it away from your booth.

Know the Kinds of Swag

Let’s look at some examples of swag. I’ve tested each at some point or another and divided them up into the good, the bad, and the ugly. Stay far away from the ugly swag. Don’t touch it with a ten foot pole. If you occasionally give out bad swag it’s okay, but try to aim for the good.

Of course, always go back to your brand if you’re not sure what to give away. Something on “The Good” list may not work for your industry. It’s all about what your brand, and who is a better judge of that than you?

The Ugly:

Now there’s some really good swag out there, but there’s also some really, really bad swag. This is the kind of swag I like to call “The Ugly.” Purchasing any of these for your swag is the equivalent of throwing your money in the dumpster behind the expo because that’s where these things will end up. Don’t be dumb and throw your money away.

1. Temporary tattoos

This a cheap swag option, and attendees know it. Don’t do it.

People will rarely use these, as most people don’t want a company’s logo on their body. If they do use the temporary tattoo, it’ll only last for a couple of days. Do you really want to have only a temporary influence on people? I didn’t think so.

2. Keychains

Keychains used to be the best swag you could hope to get at a trade show. Then everyone started giving them away. When a market becomes oversaturated with a product, demand goes down. So when everyone started giving away keychains, people stopped wanting them.

3. Stuffed Animals

This one is still really popular, and I can’t figure out why. Most stuffed animals end up in the trash, as people typically just don’t have space for them in their luggage. When it comes to swag, you want small things. You want stuff people can easily fit in their bags because if it doesn’t fit, it’s not going with them.

The Bad:

This swag is not as bad as the ugly stuff, but it still isn’t great. This stuff may end up in the attendees’ bags or in the trash, but they won’t for sure end up in either place. It’s better to err on the side of caution with these and just avoid them as a rule of thumb.

1. Pens

many different colored trade show pens

For the love of all that is holy, please stop handing out pens. Nobody wants a pen. We all have them, and if we don’t, hotels often offer complementary ones. If you hand out a pen, it’s going to end up forgotten or in the garbage. End of story.

If you have a bunch of personalized pens left over from previous conferences or expos, don’t worry. You can make pens work if you pair them with something else. For instance, you can give away journals with your pens (real journals, not the flimsy things you see with ten sheets of paper at most expos). Even journals and pen duos, though, aren’t the greatest, particularly since we’re quickly moving into an all digital age.

2. Stickers

Unless you have an absolutely awe-inspiring design, don’t bother with stickers. The only people who like stickers are college kids who want to decorate their laptops. Even still, if you’re marketing to college kids, there’s better options.

3. T-shirts

Expo t-shirts are really cool. Everybody grabs one, takes them home, and then never, ever wears them. The next time your shirts will see the light of day is when spring cleaning comes around.

Shirts can quickly get expensive, so don’t waste your money. Instead spend your money on something that people will actually use rather than toss away in a closet.

The Good:

I’ve been keeping an eye out at recent expos for awesome swag. These three pieces of swag were fought over at the shows I attended. For swag to be successful it has to be something people want.

1. Portable Chargers

Slap your logo on a portable charger, and bam, you’re in business. People love their phones, which in turn, means they love their phone chargers. If you give them a portable charger, they’ll love you just as much.

Pair these chargers with a charging kiosk at your trade show exhibit booth and you’ll quickly become a hot spot.

2. Adult Coloring Books

This is a new kind of swag on the expo scene, so take advantage of it before it becomes the next keychain. Adult coloring books have quickly become insanely popular, even revitalizing the book industry.

If you personalize an adult coloring book for your company, you’ll not only get people to take your swag but also keep it and use it after the show ends. Plus you can match your ExpoPak display to further cement your brand in people’s minds.

3. Reusable Water Bottles

People are always on the lookout for quality water bottles. If you give them away, people will use them. In many cases, they’ll even use them both during and after the expo. This means your brand will stay in their face for a long time after they’ve visited your booth, and their friends and coworkers will also see your brand. It helps attendees stay healthy by encouraging them to drink water and you to stay visible. That’s a double bonus in my book.

Know Your Swag!

You know your audience better than I do, so brainstorm with your team about what kind of swag you should give out at your next trade show exhibit booth. Just please don’t give out pens, I’m begging you.

If you want help setting up your booth to make it look as cool as your swag, get in touch with me. Together we can make sure your booth has the both kinds of swag.