SWAG 2.0: How Companies Are Reinventing Event Giveaways

October 19, 2021

Andrew Witkin

Andrew Witkin is the founder and CEO of StickerYou, a global e-commerce leader in custom-printed, die-cut products that empower consumers and businesses to create high-quality materials for personal expression, marketing and packaging.

Remember the good old days when millions of Americans got on planes and went to trade shows in every corner of the country? It was one of the most effective ways for people to connect and get deals done, and it was also an amazing tool for companies to build and promote themselves by giving away branded items that people would take home and use. Over the last year and a half, those opportunities have been severely curtailed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while virtual events have filled the gap, most companies still can’t build long-term brand loyalty and exposure through SWAG.

Or can they?

Typically, companies order a large quantity of items to hand out to booth visitors, and as we all know, people are far more likely to keep expensive items for the long term. However, in many cases it is prohibitively expensive to buy hundreds—or even thousands—of top-shelf products to give away. That’s why so many companies create a tiered approach that combines a large number of inexpensive items available to anyone plus a much smaller quantity of higher-end gifts for “VIP” visitors.

In theory, this is a good approach, but the reality is that a lot of folks who probably shouldn’t be getting the $20 tumbler set always seem to get their hands on the good stuff. This doesn’t make much economic sense for the companies that actually pay for the items, but the rise of online-only events completely removes this unpredictability by allowing companies to send gifts based on role, title and organization, rather than hoping for the winds of fate to neatly sort booth visitors into the appropriate categories.

So let’s look at why this is such a burden for companies that rely on trade show giveaways to build and promote themselves. For starters, they can select exactly who will receive the items that they are giving away. Even if there are 4,000 people registered for a digital conference, a company may only want to send SWAG to 50 of them. That gives them the ability to control costs and at the same time not worry that the “B-listers” are going to make off with expensive items.

In basic math terms, it would seem that reaching 4,000 people would be infinitely better than reaching 50, but as we all know, only a small percentage of contacts actually turn into customers and partners. Rather than trying to boil the ocean, savvy marketing teams can laser-focus their SWAG strategies on the small percentage of people who actually matter to their businesses.

This approach also allows companies to customize gifts based on individual tastes and preferences. This is incredibly difficult to do at in-person events because it is necessary to use a one-size-fits-all strategy to appeal to as many people as possible. By ordering fewer items, companies have the luxury of choosing products that will actually resonate with the people who receive them. For example, if you know that a prospect is a big fan of golf, you can send them a nice set of branded golf balls. If wine is more of a passion, you can order a few bottles of high-end Cabernet Sauvignon. This is nearly impossible to do at a physical conference where there are just too many variables.

As a final caveat, many inexpensive items are very difficult to get due to supply chain problems. Almost all trade show giveaways are manufactured in China, and there are delays of several months because of pandemic-related logistical issues. So even if you want to get your hands on 4,000 branded Rubik’s cubes or 3,000 USB memory sticks, they might not arrive in time for your event. Ordering higher-end products, many of which are made domestically, can not only help you build better bridges with your prospective and current customers—as well as business partners—but can also help you avoid showing up empty-handed when the items that you ordered didn’t arrive.

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