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How to Make Your Conference Swag Memorable

Like a kid at Halloween, part of the conference-going experience is getting back to the room and rummaging through the goodies in a conference swag bag. But like some trick-or-treat stops, there are companies that still insist upon spending thousands only to give out the swag equivalent of dental floss. When done correctly, swag* creates a memorable and positive image of a company, broadening its appeal. When done poorly, the opposite is also true.

While traditional swag bags are still good to offer (and expected), consider these options during the planning stage to show that, in addition to your business’s pens, notepads, and flash drives:

We Have a Social Conscience. Some forward-thinking companies alert attendees that they’re donating a portion (or all) of their swag budget to a charity or charities. However, this new “conference crowdfunding” approach requires a deft touch. If you go this route, offer attendees a wide variety of charities to choose from (usually involving stopping by a booth to make your selection or working it into the registration process) or risk alienating/turning off some.

We Have an Eco Conscience. Even the most ardent scorched-earth supporter can be revolted by the sheer volume of branded paper and plastic products thrown out during and after conferences. To combat this, some companies offer “green” swag—reusable, recycled bags and contents—and “digital” swag—free downloads, e-books/whitepapers, discounts on apps other gifts accessible online—to support an eco-friendly message. Caveats: make sure the gifts are desirable, easy to access, and (papa), don’t preach.

We Have a Conscience, Period. Let’s face it: conferences are exhausting and hard on the body and mind. Show that you literally feel the pain by attending to their comfort at both the event and back in their room. Provide good on-the-go snacks during the day, then maybe tea and slippers, crossword puzzles, and a sleep shirt for the hotel room. Also, bear in mind that many attendees travel by air, so make sure any swag will clear security (and sure, let them know you’ve thought of that, too).

We Value Your (Confirmed) Attendance. To encourage early registration (and appeal to some big-name clients), dangle the carrot of a limited supply, Oscars®-worthy swag bag with high-end items (electronics, spa packages, tickets to shows or sporting events) to the first 50–100 people who register.

We Support Local Artists. Show that your company isn’t just interested in slapping your corporate logo all over town by enlisting the services of the homegrown talent pool. Hire local bands to perform and/or artists to design the event’s swag bags to make a gracious and inclusive statement.

We Like a Shared Laugh. Some of the most fun (and therefore memorable) swag items reflect the current zeitgeist/pop culture. They’re funny, relevant, and better yet, show that YOU are funny and relevant while still getting your brand message across. Of course, these will be instantly dated (like that t-shirt from 2008 indicating that your company survived a certain BBQ), but, at least for this event, it’s a good way to let everyone in on the joke.

We Support Tech Support. Beyond the expected charging stations and Wi-Fi, consider a printed insert offering on-site (light) tech support/tune-ups/troubleshooting for attendees’ laptops and mobile devices. Of course, it has to be utterly, completely, and totally transparent. Don’t replace their background with your company logo, install a business card, or discreetly upload your mega-band’s latest album (et tu, U2?)

We, Too, Loath Conference Dead Spots. For many, conferences are fraught with social anxiety. Give attendees a way to network while promoting your brand/product through effortless, fun engagement. For instance, at PAX Prime, Seattle’s Big Fish Games redesigned a Whack a Mole game as Whack a Gopher to support the release of “Fairway Solitaire” (featuring a goofy gopher as the protagonist)—a huge hit.

We Understand the Kids/Pets in Your Life Want Swag, Too. I still remember the joy of receiving trade show stuff as a child. Sure, they were pens from a medical supply place, but they still rocked. Today, up the ante by providing lightly branded backpacks and book bags for the event first and the kids afterward. For the four-legged friends, logoed chew toys, leashes, and food bowls are always in demand and will be used daily. Do these cost more? Absolutely. Will they be dumped at the hotel? Absolutely not.

These are just a few ideas. Any others?

*How to Pronounce “Swag.” In short, it’s “swag” not “schwag.” While there does not appear to be conclusive evidence of the word’s etymology (some say it comes from a seventeenth-century term for cheap trinkets; others say it’s an acronym for “Stuff [or, if you prefer, an expletive] We All Get”), when it comes to pronunciation, you’ll be best understood if you say “swag” when referring to free stuff and “schwag” when referring to, well, low-grade marijuana.

Avalara Author
Mark Berens
Avalara Author Mark Berens