Stop Filling Landfills and Start Using Conference Swag the Right Way

SWAG. It stands for “Stuff We All Get.” And it can sometimes get a bad rap. Usually forgotten in the strategy conversation, a common misconception is that conference swag is just a giveaway. But in reality, it can say a lot about your brand and might actually be the thing that lasts the longest after your meeting ends. In an interview with the CEO of BizBash, Larry Cohen – the president of marketing agency Axis Promotions – suggests that if what you are giving away doesn’t fit in the bigger picture of what you are trying to achieve, don’t give it at all. You run the risk of people associating a piece of junk with your brand – plus, there’s enough stuff in our landfills, that we don’t need to add to them.

No matter what kind of meeting, event, or conference you are planning, there are plenty of opportunities to reinforce your message and make it memorable using swag. Even in the digital age, people crave meaningful, tangible items. This is proven in the growth of promotional products as reported by Promotional Products Association International. In a consumer study, they found that:

  • Nearly 90% remembered the branding of promo products they received, while 80% recalled messaging from at least one product.
  • Consumers typically keep a promo product from one to five years, but some may keep an item for up to 10 years.

Here are five ways to use products and merchandise to enhance conferences:

  1. Brand Awareness — This is probably what most people think of when they hear “swag.” Common giveaways include pens, USBs, earbuds, phone chargers, t-shirts, and more. Regardless of the product, it should tie back to whatever you are branding and be made with quality.
  2. Incite Action — This one is our favorite because you (the meeting owner) get the most direct impact of the conference participants. Meeting engagement and participation will skyrocket when prizes are involved. Consider offering raffle tickets for valuable prizes in exchange for desired behaviors. You can even segment prizes in tiers – a chance for a more valuable product based on the amount of effort or action taken.
  3. Education — Our favorite example from the interview mentioned above is to create Influencer Kits. The kits are given to those you want to educate about your brand or products and they help generate buzz before your conference starts. Think of it as an “experience in a box.” Especially when engaging with the media or bloggers – they will write about it, take photos, and share on social media.
  4. Communication — How you communicate about your conference is just as important as the conference itself. Your communication plan will brief people on what to expect and leave them with a lasting impression of the experience. Enhance your communications with:
    • A pre-trip mailer (think luggage tags for the trip, or a sample of the local coffee they’ll soon be tasting)
    • An on-site keepsake (tap into local artists’ work or frame a photo from the event)
    • A post-event “Thank You” (another touchpoint to express your gratitude for their participation)
  5. Personalized Experience — Personalization is everywhere, and live meetings and events are no exception. You can create a personalized experience by designing a website that allows participants to make their selection and have it shipped to their homes. Or, offer a pop-up shop with multiple products that fit your purpose. The popularity of “design your own” merchandise is only continuing to rise as evidenced by retailers offering the customization of bags, shoes, etc. Play this up and attendees will never forget your event.

However, you want to classify the tangible items you give away at conferences – swag, gifts, merchandise, prizes, products…just know they are so much more than that. And when used strategically, they will enhance the purpose of your meeting.