Should My Company Order Swag?

End of year planning is upon you. You’re deciding on your company’s initiatives, fleshing out Q1 plans, and finalizing goals for the year. During this process, you are likely weighing the pros and cons of engaging in conferences and events, deciding if they are a good way to support your overall year goals. If you make the decision to do the conference circuit, there’s one big question you have to answer early-on, “Should my company order swag?”. As someone who attends over 15 conferences a year on behalf of clients, swag is, put plainly, junk. No one needs another ill-fitting t-shirt, and they absolutely don’t need a one cent pen with your logo on it. Most swag is garbage; It’s cheaply made, and rarely has anything at all to do with actually representing the business peddling it. Even if it does make an impact, it’s unlikely you’ll ever find out. After all, how do you measure the ROI on a keychain?

Don’t jump to conclusions that my disillusioned tone means I don’t believe in swag. I love free stuff as much as the next guy, but not free stuff I know I’m going to throw away. Don’t order junk that’s going to end up in a landfill faster than it took to make it. If you are attending conferences and events, I believe you should order swag. However, before you do, consider these company swag best practices.

Swag Should Be Relevant

Unless you are the manufacturer of peppermint extract, mints are likely not relevant to your business. When considering swag, think about how the item relates to your business. For a client of ours in the photography industry, Mastin Labs, they have custom made ‘Cards Against Humanity’ packs that draw on the humor of the photography industry. Photographers love them. They are snarky. They are unique. Plus, they are the swag that keeps on giving. We can see how much conference attendees love them because they post photos of themselves using them year-round on social media. When photographers play this game with other photographers they have an opportunity to spread the Mastin Labs brand through their network. Photography is a creative, visual industry, with unexpected twists and turns; Cards Against Humanity is a creative card game, with unexpected twists and turns. And through customization, they are visual as well.

What can your company create that has the same viral effect? Think about what your potential customer will feel when they use whatever freebie you give them. Consider the potential ripple-effect of the item within their network, and what the item says about your brand.


Swag Should Be Well Made

Do you know how long a free external charger works? About an hour. After that, it’s a paperweight. Maybe you see that as win-win, but conference attendees see it as junk. So, don’t give away junk. All you’re doing is telling your potential customers that you are cheap. Whatever your investment decision, always choose quality over quantity. While this may mean that you’re not able to give your swag to as many people, every person that does receive a freebie from you will gain a valuable item and see the quality in what you’ve given them.

Swag Should Not Be Given Away In Bulk

No one bought a product because they got a free stress ball at a conference. No one sent a referral your way because they swept past your booth in a ‘free things fury’ and grabbed pencil that tells you your mood when you touch it. Seriously, no one. Be strategic about who you give swag to. Keep a few items on the table to attract folks, but don’t offer people anything until you’ve had a chance to chat with them. Keep it light, don’t go for the hard sell. Open the conversation up to questions about your products. Even a 3-minute friendly small talk conversation is enough to influence a potential lead to think of you next time they are in need of your product or service. ‘Ask’ for a conversation or an email address in exchange for your swag. This will ultimately provide a much more quality interaction, help you build a relatively meaningful connection with passers-by, and increase your chances of turning an attendee into a lead.

image-1-jpg-2Swag Should be Thoughtfully Designed

Throwing your logo on a water bottle takes zero effort. Everything you do, down to how you design your swag, leaves clues about your brand. Go the extra mile and have your swag designed by a professional if you don’t already have a designer on staff. A thoughtfully designed notebook will have a much greater impact than a plain one with a logo slapped onto it.

Portland-based service, Call Ruby, lends a perfect example of thoughtfully-designed swag. They created a to-do list notebook that perfectly represents their company, a high-end virtual assistant service. Following in their very creative footsteps, I am designing custom journals for our Life Coach client, Lindsey Wilson Coaching, that contain positive affirmations that encourage the use of positive self-talk, a key element of her training methods.

Swag Should Enhance The Goal of Your Booth

Creating a ‘unique’ booth at a conference can be tough. What can you really do with a 10 x 10 cube with no walls? Coming up with a unique way to represent your company in such a tight, less-than-ideal space can feel like an impossible task. but if you think outside the box (literally in this case!) you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish. The booth I designed for our client, ChickTech, was crafted to accommodate the purpose of having thoughtful discussions about the current state of women in technology, while also presenting our swag, and featuring our fundraising opportunities. So, I designed the booth to look like a picnic. I used a checkered table cloth. I bought fresh flowers. I opted out of the typical ‘big banner’ signage and chose a handwritten chalkboard sign. I had ChickTech chocolates made, gave away flower-shaped stickers, and had coffee, water and tea available to encourage folks to stop, sit, and talk with me. After about 5-minutes of chatting it was easy for me to get them to sign up for a small monthly donation, or volunteer for the nonprofit organization. Yes, I interacted with a lot less people than other nonprofits at the conference, but I focused on creating a memorable experience through quality interactions that left people excited about ChickTech. By thinking holistically about what you want your booth to represent, and designing swag to enhance that goal, you can use swag to support your brand in a more impactful way.

To answer the original question, yes, you should order swag (but only if it’s the right swag).

Be creative, think outside the box, and focus on tying your swag to your product or service. Following these guidelines will give you a more effective conference and event season. If you need help with your company’s conference and event strategy and implementation reach out to us for a free consultation.