Have the Best Trade Show Swag

By Janine Popick, CEO and founder of VerticalResponse

Corp giftsSwag, when done right, can reap big rewards. Here are the three things to keep in mind when preparing for your next conference.

I’ve been going to Dreamforce, the annual cloud computing event put on by Salesforce, every year since 2004. Over the past few years, the convention has blown up into one of the biggest technology events in the B2B industry.

Dreamforce 2012, which was held a couple of weeks ago here in San Francisco, was the biggest one yet, with 90,000 registered attendees. It was great for my email marketing software company, VerticalResponse, because we were a Salesforce AppExchange partner and, as a sponsor, we had a slick booth on the expo floor. In the weeks leading up to the event, our trade show hero was insanely busy coordinating not just logistics but another very important part of trade shows: swag.

Companies spend a lot of time and money on trade show swag, especially at a big conference like Dreamforce. You’re not only competing for attendees’ (dwindling) attention, you’re also competing with the other exhibitors.

Swag, when done right, has lots of marketing benefits. Here are the three things you should ask yourself for your next trade show:

1. Is it useful?

At Dreamforce, one company was giving out branded silicone speakers that you can attach to your smartphone to amplify your music. My marketing team loved it! Another company was giving out Skullcandy headphones, and there was a line at its booth the entire time. I also heard that shake lights (mini flashlights that don’t require batteries, just a good hard shake) and luggage tags were “must haves.” If I heard about them through the grapevine, I bet others were talking about them, too.

If what you’re giving out is useful, people will get exposed to your brand over and over again every time they use it. There’s a reason why there will never be a shortage of backpacks, bags and pens at any trade show.

2. Is it cool, fun or silly?

Several people at my company brought back fun items from Dreamforce that gave us a good laugh, like a stuffed monkey that made a screeching noise when you throw it (fun for five seconds), and plastic eyeglasses with blinking lights (apparently a lot of people were wearing them and posting pics to social media). Never underestimate the power of silliness.

If your swag is fun and different and hasn’t really been done before, people might tell their friends about it, wear it or snap a picture of it. Instant buzz!

3. Does it fulfil an immediate need?

Anyone who’s ever been to a big trade show knows–it’s rough. Your feet hurt, you’re thirsty from making too much small talk, you’re constantly pushed and shoved. Wouldn’t it be nice if you were handed a chocolate chip cookie … Or a margarita?

Giving out snacks or providing a place to sit might seem boring or obvious, but believe me, people will appreciate it. Chairs and charging stations were hard to come by on the expo floor at Dreamforce, so the few companies that offered them had tons of foot traffic.

As for VerticalResponse, we had a great idea for Dreamforce this year that we’ve never done before. We printed up 800 blue t-shirts with a cool cartoon character on the front, and gave them away for free to people we talked to at our booth. But that’s not even the best part. Every hour on the hour, we gave away $50 in cold hard cash to the first person we spotted wearing one of our tees. Yup, one $50 bill to one lucky t-shirt wearer, every hour. We collected hundreds of leads and now we’ve got 800 VerticalResponse t-shirts roaming around the world.

What was the best swag you’ve ever received at a trade show? Let me know in the comments!