Is Trade Show Swag Worth It?

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Trade show giveaways can be useful, but more often than not, they end up in hotel room garbage cans.

Event planners get all sorts of advice on what to give away at the next trade show. Free pens, stress balls, memory sticks and water bottles are just a few of the items that adorn booths around the expo hall.  It is fair to say that almost everyone seems to think that you must have a great giveaway to get attendees into your booth. Everyone, that is, except those that have to justify the expense.

Like everything you do associated with your event, giveaways must have a purpose – one that justifies the significant expense that they represent.  A typical giveaway costs around $2 and if you need 5,000, that’s a cool $10,000. A high-end piece of swag, for example a t-shirt with your logo and tagline embroidered on it, can cost around $8. That’s $40,000.  How do you justify that type of expense? Everything at your event should have a purpose, and the giveaways are no different.

The most typical justification used is that giveaways increase the number of leads captured at the booth. Nothing could be further from the truth. What you get is the opportunity to scan an attendee’s badge in exchange for your swag. This is not a lead, it is simply the name of a person that wanted your free stuff – frequently to take home for the kiddies. Salespeople who follow-up on these names tell you that a very high percentage of these names (sometimes over 90%) have no interest what-so-ever in your product.

In other posts, we’ve mentioned that most attendees stop by your booth because they are already familiar with you and want to stay up-to-date with your company or they have received some of your pre-show materials and have put you on their “learn more about them” list. Giveaways will have no impact on these people, which are valuable leads. And while giveaways may attract the general passer-by, it is very rare that a random attendee has a need or any interest in what you do.

So, how do you justify your giveaway expense? Most experts say that the only true justification is supporting your brand and corporate image. A close 2nd is supporting a major announcement by creating some buzz around your new product with a clever bit of swag. Unfortunately, increasing your brand awareness or generating some buzz are almost impossible to measure or put a value on – so coming up with some measure of ROI is very difficult. Brand improvement measures are usually obtained with pre-and-post show surveys to detect any change in your company’s awareness level or recognition of a product.  And these surveys also cost money!

If you work for a company that understands these brand-related investments, then you must make sure that your giveaway doesn’t get left in the hotel room. The keys to a successful giveaway include:

  1. Brand Alignment – Gimmicks or something cute are just a waste of money. Make sure that your giveaway supports your brand values.
  2. Customer Interest – make sure the item resonates with your customers. Two ways to do this is to either make your giveaway practical or make it unique.
  3. Quality – or perhaps durability is a better word for this idea. It’s poor form to provide a practical giveaway that breaks soon after the show. While higher-quality promotions will increase your cost, your goal is to create a great impression of your brand.
  4. Environmentally Friendly – while not an absolute must, you should avoid useless stuff that simply ends up in a landfill and you should give some thought into not using plastic and other unfriendly materials.  (I personally like useful pieces of clothing – like a T-Shirt!)

The bottom line, giveaways can improve your brand image and support a new announcement very nicely. Rigorous justifications are more difficult, but not impossible. No matter what, select giveaways that produce business results, not just an email address.

Rick Gimbel
VP of Marketing | TechMarketeers

Well, after a B.S. in mathematics I went on to gain my M.S. in Computer Science from Purdue and began my 30-year career as a software engineer. I transitioned into marketing fairly early in my career and have held numerous VP of Marketing positions. Along the way I have worked in hardware, software and even supercomputing organizations (Adtron, JD Edwards, Sequent), from startups (Flashline & Apollo) to Fortune 500 companies such as Motorola, Digital Equipment, and Control Data.

I have also spent time with other specialist marketing firms such as Neodata, a database marketing and fulfillment company where I fine-tuned my understanding in 1-1 marketing and the use of analytics in all campaigns.

I currently serve as the VP of Marketing for TechMarketeers, specialists in hi-tech marketing.

Rick Gimbel

About Rick Gimbel

VP of Marketing | TechMarketeers Well, after a B.S. in mathematics I went on to gain my M.S. in Computer Science from Purdue and began my 30-year career as a software engineer. I transitioned into marketing fairly early in my career and have held numerous VP of Marketing positions. Along the way I have worked in hardware, software and even supercomputing organizations (Adtron, JD Edwards, Sequent), from startups (Flashline & Apollo) to Fortune 500 companies such as Motorola, Digital Equipment, and Control Data. I have also spent time with other specialist marketing firms such as Neodata, a database marketing and fulfillment company where I fine-tuned my understanding in 1-1 marketing and the use of analytics in all campaigns. I currently serve as the VP of Marketing for TechMarketeers, specialists in hi-tech marketing.

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