10 Tips for Avoiding Promotional Product Waste, Disappointment and Mistakes at Your Next Trade Show

July 22, 2016

Brian Burr

Brian Burr is the vice president of WholesaleHats.com and has been a leader in the screen printing and embroidery of wholesale hats, beanies, visors and other promotional items for trade shows and events for over 30 years.

A lot goes into a successful trade show experience and every business wants to receive a profitable return on their show investment.  Aside from the show itself the most important thing to remember is that most of the work for marketing is in the preparation and implementation leading up to the show.

This is particularly true when it comes to the promotional products  (baseball hats, pens, cups, etc.) offered in your booth or at any time during the event. By putting adequate time and thought into the process, you can avoid the pitfalls of a poorly executed and costly, promotional giveaway.

Here are 10 ways to assure success:

1.     DON'T ORDER WITHOUT A PLAN: Don’t get swept away by a sales rep pawning the latest, coolest new promo item. Without a clear strategy, you risk negative ROI from your promotional budget and your campaign can end up a total waste of money. So plan ahead and know what you're going for within the overall campaign, the brand impression you want to make or the interaction and experience you want attendees to have before you place an order.

2.     CREATE YOUR STRATEGY: Ask ”What do we want to achieve?” Name recognition is only one goal, so consider what's possible beyond that. Once you have an objective in mind, choosing the right items becomes easier.  Do you want your items to make a splash at the show?  Do you want the promo item to have a long shelf life making lots of impressions over the years? Or be very utilitarian for your audience so when they associate with it they feel you’re helping them?  These are just a few ways to approach your strategy.

3.     APPEAL TO YOUR CUSTOMERS: Promotional items that don't fit your target customers' tastes or lifestyle can backfire - confusing or even alienating them. So be mindful about who they are and cater to their preferences and lifestyles.

4.     CHOOSE RELEVANT, REUSABLE ITEMS: The last thing you want to see at the end of a long day are your promotional items in the trash. Make sure they're not only relevant, but well made, too. Promotional items reward your investment when sturdy and useful enough to be used repeatedly over a long period. Such items not only enhance awareness, but create a positive association with your brand.

5.     AVOID CRAMMING TOO MUCH INFORMATION: Don't ruin a promo item by making it difficult to read. Keep things simple and only provide the basics.  Name, website and/or phone number is often enough.  If the text, logo or images are too small you’ll miss an opportunity for that impression.

6.     ENSURE ADEQUATE CONTRAST BETWEEN COLORS: Unreadable printing can be disastrous. Light colors on a bright background makes people squint, and clashing colors make them wince. Choose carefully and get feedback from colleagues as well as wholesale suppliers. No one knows what works better than the professionals who customize items every day.

7.     PROOFREAD ALL ORDERS: Assuming copy is correct, or only glancing at it briefly, can lead to mistakes and costly re-runs. Don't be the only one to read a proof; share it with others for confirmation. There’s no usually no getting your money back once you’ve approved a proof.

8.     GIVE YOURSELF ENOUGH LEAD TIME: In our super-busy last-minute world, suppliers usually accommodate last minute orders by providing rush service. But even an order that's been proofed can arrive with unforeseen irregularities.  You want to build in enough cushion to provide for corrections. Remember, rush service not only costs more, it creates the risk of receiving an item which can't be exchanged or replaced in time before your event.

9.     TREAT VIP’s LIKE THEY’RE SPECIAL: Not qualifying recipients is a waste of money. If you can quickly qualify who your most promising leads are, treat them accordingly – especially if you can do so in advance of the event. This goes the same for your most valued customers.  Let those approximately 20% of your clients (your VIP’s) know how much you appreciate their business. Tiered giveaway plans allow you the opportunity to show appreciation to repeat customers and cultivate browsers most likely to buy.

10.   FOLLOW UP:  Be sure staff collect adequate contact information from those who visit your booth and always, always, always follow up. Following up is your final and best opportunity to create new relationships, reinforce your value and retain existing customers.  Prepare your communications in advance so you can hit send at the show or immediately after.  Even a friendly, “Nice to meet you and I will contact you when the dust settles after the show” email can make a professional impression on new contacts.  Follow up with every new contact at least five times by phone and or email to be sure to maximize the results of each lead.

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