Kill the Giveaways and Create an Experience Instead!

August 9, 2018

Sofia Troutman

Sofia Troutman is the Senior Digital Marketing and Product Innovation Manager for Skyline Exhibits. Sofia heads up Skyline’s marketing efforts in new product development and management, lead generation, exhibitor education, industry relations and market research.

I am often asked what giveaways are the most popular at trade shows. Event managers feel they should offer something but they are at a loss of what will draw people in so they can talk to them. However, they find that while giveaways were a good draw in the past, many of today’s show attendees are not interested in them. I have had multiple show-goers decline my offer of a giveaway because they don’t need it and this response has become much more frequent over the past three years.

This is in line with the demographic changes we are seeing in our population. Millennials have become most of the U.S. and Canadian workforce. Multiple studies show that they are prioritizing experiences over products. They don’t measure their success by what they own and instead focus on enjoying their life and collecting experiences they can share, often via social media, with their peers. They also tend to be more environmentally conscious and selective about what they own.

So, does that mean that there is nothing that will attract them to your booth? No, it doesn’t, it just means that you must be a little more creative than just offering the latest gadget to draw them in. More than half of Millennials will spend their money on experiences, so we know they value them. This is a strong indicator that you can attract those consumers by offering a unique experience.

How do you create an experience in your booth? First, you need to identify what your brand stands for and how to communicate that message. Once you know what that message is, you can design an experience to help communicate it. Part of that experience may include a giveaway, but then again it may not. It all depends on what will better communicate your brand message.

I often get the question: But what if my company is small and we don’t offer a product? How do we attract prospects? Here are some suggestions:

Identify Your Target 

Your brand message should guide what you do but you must also consider your audience. Not just your company’s target market, but also who is likely to attend your show or event. This will help dictate your next steps as they will determine your success.

Pick a Theme

Again, this should be brand-appropriate but interesting and attractive to your audience. For example, if your audience is made up of scientists they are more likely to respond to an experiment-themed exhibit than to a gambling one.

Rock Your Graphics 

Yes, they need to say who you are while having a big bold logo of your company and maybe briefly saying what you do, but that doesn’t mean they can’t tie into your theme and maybe also bring in a little fun.

Promote, Promote, Promote 

Communicate your theme before, during and after the show. This will make it more likely to be remembered and enjoyed by your audience.

Make It Playful

Create a game if possible, and if you can make it educational to your brand that’s even better. Whether it’s a quick iPad game where people get to select the top superpowers your company has or something more analog like a remote-control car race, having fun will ensure your company is memorable not only to the participants but also to observers.

Facilitate Sharing

Have an environment that is unique, provide a location specific to taking photos or video, promote the event hashtag and consider providing incentives to your visitors so they will share the experience.

Seize the Moment

While attendees may not want to clutter up their home or office with tchotchkes, they will want a giveaway that is useful to them. Since most attendees are traveling to and from the trade show, you know that there are some things they are likely to value. For example, earbuds for watching movies on the plane, a water bottle, snacks for their trip home, etc. If you are not sure you can always ask a few of your best customers for ideas.

Themed Giveaways 

If you can find something to fit your theme, this will also help extend the memorability of your show. If you have a charity you support or key values, those may be opportunities to have giveaways tie into your social responsibility. One exhibitor had a putt-putt golf activity in their booth and gave away branded golf balls to qualified visitors. One year we offered attendees at our show the option to have us donate to selected charities that aligned with our brand. Be sure that anything you offer reflects the quality of your brand.

Dress the Part

You can really increase the attention that your booth gets by having staffers coordinate their outfits with the theme or exhibit colors. You don’t have to be as dramatic as the staffers from Just Eat, but something as simple as wearing socks or a lanyard with your brand colors will make you stand out. Also, remember that Millennials appreciate it when you don’t take yourself too seriously.

By going through these steps, you are likely going to identify the best way to create a memorable experience for your audience. Make sure that if you do offer a giveaway that it adds to that experience and that you are not just offering it because you think you should. It is better to have no giveaway than the wrong one.


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