To Swag or Not to Swag


To Swag or Not to Swag 

Recently someone asked me for my input and opinion on trade show giveaways. This person knows that I’m a trade show professional with over 30 years of experience from both sides of the aisle. They know that not only have I attended trade shows for at least that long but, as President of Mark Bric Display, have also played an integral role in designing exhibits and advising hundreds of clients on overall strategy for their trade shows too.

When I conduct seminars that cover the do’s and don’ts of exhibiting in general, I admit that if I am forced to make a blanket statement recommendation on giveaways, I would say “Don’t do it”. Not because I want to rival the Grinch in the curmudgeon department, but because most companies put no thought into their swag initiatives and it ends up being a wasted and harmful investment. First, the out-of-pocket expense for customized items can be prohibitive. Second, giveaways, or swag, can actually diminish the quality of the leads you are gathering.  You do not want to frustrate your sales force by tendering leads that are unqualified; you know, the leads that resulted from someone just wanting the cute stress relieving ball for their 10-year-old at home.  There is nothing worse to a sales person than making a call to a supposedly qualified trade show prospect and finding out that the person has no interest or need in whatsoever in the products or services you provide.

Don’t believe this happens? It’s true. I’ve done it myself. When I started in this business, I had two very young daughters (both are now grown and one is a lawyer and the other a doctor); on the last day of every show, during the last hour I always went through the show picking up great toys for my girls.  I was their hero; but, I collected giveaways that companies paid good money for and I didn’t even know who they were, nor did I keep their contact information. Many of these companies tried to perform their due diligence and requested my business card in exchange for their trinkets. I happily complied; however, they ended up with another unqualified lead with which a salesman would eventually be wasting valuable time.

So, where does that leave us on the issue of SWAG? No show giveaways at all? Ever? Not necessarily. The right SWAG, given to the right prospect can do a great job in getting that potential client to remember you. Let me tell you about two very appropriate swag items that I received. These two show gifts have resided on my desk for 20 years. They are both expensive, they serve a business purpose and they are perfectly tied to the company which gave them to me and their business.  Every work day, when I see them, I remember who gave them to me and what the company does. These items keep those companies at the coveted “TOMA” (Top of the Mind Awareness) level. If I need the type of service they provide, I will call them first.

So what made these SWAG items so special?  First, these gifts are valuable; the company probably spent upward of $20 a piece for them. Clearly, it is not the type of giveaway that you will place on a counter in front of your booth for everybody to grab one as they fail to make eye-contact and hustle on by your booth.  These are the type of gifts that you keep hidden, and even locked inside the booth, and are given only to those potential clients who are very well qualified and demonstrated an interest in your product and/or services. You want them to remember you when you call them next week post-show and their potential business is very well worth the cost of the gift.  When you use SWAG in this manner, when you follow-up, these people will remember you and will take the time to talk to you about their legitimate business needs.

These items are also the type of gift that will be taken home and not be discarded among the ton of literature and thoughtless gifts casually given away by over eager and inexperienced show marketers. These gifts will make it past the show hall and hotel room trash cans into your luggage!

Is there a magic giveaway you must give? Don’t miss the whole point…  the gift needs to be designed around your marketing objective for the show, it has to be something that the recipient will want to keep on his desk, it has to perfectly tied to your message, your company name and service or product.  What it is not, is something you buy of the shelf for less than a dollar and slap your name and number on it.  It has to be the type of gift that shows how much you understand your customers’ needs, shows how much you want to earn the prospect’s business, be the type of item he will see every day and will remind him of who you are and what you do and most importantly, why they stopped at your booth in the first place.

Since I know you’re curious, I’ll tell you about one of the gifts I still have on my desk after all this time. Sadly, the company who gave it to me is no longer in business under the same name and the person who gave it to me is no longer with us.  The gift is made out of cast iron and it is a replica of the old mechanical penny banks you may remember from years gone by.

indian bank.jpg

There is an Indian (arguable the most recognizable symbol in the POP industry) that will take your penny on his hand and will save it for you inside a small shopping cart, the bank, when you push a mechanical lever that moves the arm of the small statue. At the time, the company was the one with the most OMA (Outstanding Merchandising Achievement) awards ever earned by any company.  The statuette given away, the actual OMA award, was a gold, silver or bronze Indian in full regalia (hence the Indian on top of the bank) representing the very first POP display used in front of tobacco shops years ago. The bank represented the marketing message they crafted for that show; the quality of the gift itself represented a quality POP (Point of Purchase) display that will earn you money by using it (the bank) in a retail environment (the shopping cart); the name and logo of the gifting company is cast in the face of the bank and their address and phone number are also cast on the bottom.  It was impossible for this gift to be used as merely a toy. It still remains a wonderful accessory to my desk and the message is engrained in my memory forever.

So, again, if you are going to use swag, do so wisely; make sure you are investing in the right giveaway and not just spending money on toys for the children of unqualified leads.

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