How to Pick Marketing Swag

This is article #40 out of 50 in The Startup Marketing Playbook.

Ah, swag. It’s the seemingly limitless supply of plastic junk that we pile into tote bags at events. Companies spend thousands of dollars on branded swag as giveaways for prospects and customers. The goals are noble: attract people to your booth at events and get your branding front and center as their desk decoration. Swag can certainly be beneficial, but alone will not make an event booth a winner. I’ve always been wary of investing heavily in swag, so let’s outline how to get ROI from swag and the best approach to selecting items for your business. Consider the following:

1. Candy can’t lose

I admit it, I have a sweet tooth. But hey, so do a lot of us, so keep candy in mind as a simple, inexpensive and effective giveaway. Stick with the big bag of assorted name brand chocolates. I’ve tried printing branded candy… the chocolate is usually low quality. The wrapper ends up in the trash, so just stick to better candy that people actually enjoy.

2. Skip the standard

I’m just going to say it: nobody needs more pens. Standard giveaways such as notepads, pens and mints don’t move the needle for your booth or prospects. When in doubt, skip the generic items.

3. Identify one or two unique items

If you are going to invest in swag, go with something interesting and unique. For example, for a series of trade shows my team ran at Netpulse, we gave away interesting inflatable water bottles that could be clipped to a backpack. They were a unique item that people were actually intrigued by.

4. Explore bulk purchasing, but be careful

It’s easy to assume that swag goes fast, but believe it or not, 1000 stress balls actually takes quite a while to liquidate. While there are certainly cost benefits to buying swag in bulk, be wary of items that are hard to store and transport, or that may easily get lost. I’ve found that we always end up with more swag than we need. And my office now has 500 stress balls in storage…

5. Consider potential branding changes

Speaking of purchasing in bulk, if swag has printed logos, graphics or copy, consider any future branding changes. In early 2016, my team did a logo redesign. Guess what happened to all of those branded stress balls we had left over from the previous year? This is a good example of why it may be more cost effective to not order high volumes of swag.

6. Avoid the 3 B’s: big, bulky and breakable

Items that are big, bulky and breakable have no place in the swag inventory of modern marketing teams. While it may be enticing to get something so unique that it’ll surely make your table pop, few things are more annoying than opening a shipping container at the event to find a pile of broken swag.

7. Don’t worry about keeping up with the Jones’

There is always a large company at events who seemingly has more money than Bill Gates and the most ridiculous inventory of swag at their booth. At the end of the day, I’ve found that our actual product, quality of the booth itself, visible marketing material and performance of our staff are far more impactful on event results (i.e. new leads) than swag.

Bottom line: some swag can be a great way to enhance events. Try to get something unique, don’t order too much inventory, and when in doubt, just pass out a Snickers bar.


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