Here’s How to Take Your Event Swag Strategy to the Next Level
Swag transcends print and screen, making it worthy of its own section within brand guidelines. Within the scope of experiential, tactile items like event swag are a peripheral way for attendees to interact with a brand that offers visibility into their culture.
Event swag can take on a spectrum of forms, from a branded tote at registration to a t-shirt after a sit-down demo to a worthy BA. Swag is a relationship opportunity, not a fleeting moment of joy only to be left behind due to an over-packed suitcase. When developing a swag strategy, it is imperative to ask questions that ensure the longevity of a brand connection.
Before we transform that abandoned hotel T-shirt into your attendees’ favorite gym tee, let’s ask some questions:
What medium carries your logo in a meaningful way?
Consider event swag that compliments your brand and provides an opportunity to engage with the attendee immediately. A swag item’s quality and purpose reflect on your brand. Does it make sense for a tech company on the cusp of innovation to hand out outdated technology like a flash drive? Nope. However, a music streaming platform handing out headphones parallels the experiences while enabling attends to engage immediately.
As BigSpeak points out, event swag is a gift. “Giving a gift invokes the strongest human persuasion principle possible: the principle of reciprocity. When someone gives you a gift, you feel obligated to that person. But how obligated you feel depends on how meaningful and appropriate that gift is for you.”
For a brand using a swag strategy that is engaging, on-message and meaningful, look no further than Pinterest at SXSW. Hosting 3,000 visitors, Pinterest House SXSW, aka the Lustre Pearl house, is ground zero for Pinterest’s new product launch for Lens.
To draw crowds at street level, users interact with an actual “board,” that houses tongue-in-check objects and corresponding phrases to inspire exploration. The back of the house is outfitted with a 30 ft. pegboard “Take Me Away” wall where attendees unpin Pinterest swag. The wall, with graphics, is seen from every direction on Rainey Street. Talk about sharing event swag in an impactful way that stays true to the brand and excites audiences.
Another tactic to develop meaningful swag, especially for millennials? Go nostalgic. “Share a compelling blast from the past with a millennial, and you’re likely to reach them on an emotional level — the holy grail of brand marketing,” notes Forbes.
For great example of nostalgic event swag done right, check out McDonalds’ McDelivery Day, an event designed to promote the brand’s delivery agreement with UberEats. The swag? 90’s throwbacks. Items include nostalgic T-shirts and old-school style pins.
“Ask yourself, would my target recipient ever buy this item for him or herself?” notes Fast Company. “The crowd at a beer-tasting event is more likely to happily stick a bottle-opener keychain in their pocket than get excited about a mouse pad.”
Swag is an opportunity to deliver nonverbal messages to attendees, make sure it’s a good one.
How quickly does it serve a purpose?
Do you want your logo on the most lusted after swag on the exhibit floor? Address an attendee pain point. Event swag like battery packs, unique eats, and reusable water bottles address typical attendee hang-ups. Consider what would improve your attendee’s experience even slightly. Ease a pain point, and you are sure to have attendees asking one another, “Where did you get that?”
“Your logo is going to be the same, no matter which product you choose,” Fast Company points out. “But your item’s success as a marketing tool depends on whether its recipient will actually use it.”
As BizBash points out, walking the trade show floor all day can be tiring and “any guest could use a little downtime and mental break from a jam-packed agenda.” Event swag with a purpose, especially stress-relieving products, can make a big impact and get attendees clamoring.
A great example of event swag that is both beautiful and useful is Whole Food’s line of giveaways at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. “Whole Foods offer[s] guests scented sprays as well as sunscreen, hair ties, and bobby pins,” notes BizBash. “A sign nearby read[s], "Refresh yourself before you wreck yourself." Swag that caters to the event’s demographic, is fashionable, AND practical? A total win.
Another unique example of event swag that serves a purpose and gets people talking? Coffee Cereal – a caffeinated, coffee-flavored cereal that Digital Talent Agency offers to its attendees.
“Get something unique to give away that you know nobody else has seen,” says Digital Talent Agency in Inc. Magazine. “We used Coffee Cereal to offer people little bags of a unique product and it work[s] out great. People like things that they don't see every day.”
How long does it live?
The conference is over, and attendees are packing up their suitcases. Does your swag make the cut? Longevity is an essential factor to consider when choosing the appropriate event swag. This approach may result in fewer swag pieces, but at a higher level of quality. Attendees are more likely to hang on to an item if they feel it has a value or can be used repeatedly.
“Some brands are rethinking their influencer marketing strategy (thanks, Fyre Festival),” notes Adweek. “But social media still matters, and creating an experience that people want to share with their networks on a micro-level is imperative.”
With sustainability top of mind for both event producers and attendees, swag is an easy place to make an impact. Some brands, including Lyft, Wordpress and Twitter have leaned into the effort by passing out event swag like branded fruits and desserts.
“Branded fruit is a fun and exciting thing for a consumer to receive at a corporate event, but it also taps into a frustration and fatigue that many people feel about receiving the cheap, disposable swag churned out by the $24 billion promotional products industry,” notes Fast Company.
Attendees may quickly eat up their swag, but not before taking a shareworthy photo. Which leads into the next point. Event swag must have a shareable angle. Something edible may disappear, but swag living on an attendee’s social profile extends visibility far beyond the confines of the event. If the item itself isn’t worth a share on its own, entice attendees with a call to action.
Following its bi-annual, three-day meeting bringing together the company’s general hotel managers from around the world, Hampton by Hilton sends attendees home with a deck of cards inspired by the Sneaky Cards game. Called Acts of Hamptonality, the cards include suggestions for acts of kindness like, “Thank someone who always seems to make your day a little brighter!” “After completing an act, attendees may log their action on a microsite and then to pass the card to someone new,” notes BizBash. Great example of event swag that lives on.
Does your branding have currency?
We have to take a minute and be honest with ourselves here. If you’re not an employee of your brand, would you still think your event swag is worth flaunting? This question is all about company exclusive swag like a stuffed animal of your mascot or laptop stickers solely dawning your logo. If your end game is to be the prized tchotchke on your attendee’s desk, consider your audience.
Are your attendees on the edge of their seats to hear your annual announcements? Have you formed a community within your industry? Then yes your swag is sure to elicit some bragging rights (think Apple’s recent WWDC 2019 giveaways that include a colorful WWDC reversible jacket and a collection of magnetic pins that include a sleek black Apple logo, a ‘hello’ pin, a Tim Cook Memoji, a ‘Call me!’ hand sign, and a mind-blown skull). If not, it may be worth trying a different strategy. Brand currency is nothing to cast aside, but be realistic with the approach.
How is it delivered?
Last, but easily the most important, how are people landing your event swag? At its core, swag incentivizes a conversation with attendees. Consider the level of interaction needed before swag is awarded. Does a badge scan meet your objectives, or does your product/service warrants a short demonstration? Evaluate your swag and determine if it is appropriate given the involvement you are asking of attendees.
A brand that takes an innovative, engaging approach to delivering event swag while staying true to its brand messaging is Google and its Google Assistant Playground experience at CES 2019, which sees the return of the ever-popular Gumball machine. Popular with both the Googlers (internal lingo for Google employees) and the CES crowd, Google decides to bring back the ever popular Gumball machine from 2018. Strategically located across from the booth, an 18 ft. tall, larger-than-life gumball machine stands outside the Las Vegas Convention Center. The only-Google-can-do product experience features Nest thermostats, OpenTable gift cards, Headspace subscriptions, smart plugs, beanies, and more. Old-school working gumball machines with ‘Visit our XXXL version across the street’ graphic vinyls point attendees to the extremely popular experience.
“The activation, which runs all week, invites users to enter a large coin given to them by a Google rep which then activates the machine,” notes Adweek. “Once it lights up, they’re given four categories of 15 questions each to ask Google Assistant, which then answers them before doling out a related prize. Google plans to give out around 1,400 prizes a day.”
Talk about delivering event swag in a one-of-a-kind, memorable, and most importantly, interactive way.
Another great example of a brand encouraging attendees to take action to get their hands on event swag is Amazon at SXSW. At the brand’s Amazon Resistance Radio Network Headquarters, attendees receive wristbands that are chip-activated. Using the wristbands, they are able to “access different points of the event space through questions. [The wristbands] also activate the swag stations in the General Store,” notes BizBash.
“Stuff we all get” is the playful acronym often awarded to event swag, but in reality, the sentiment should look more like, “stuff we actually want.” Petition to turn s.w.a.g. to s.w.a.w.? Regardless, setting clear intentions result in betters swag centric decision making. Create a swag strategy and stick to it. Attendees will hear your message and walk away with some great new swag.
Posted by Allison Celli | Request as a Speaker
I am an experience designer looking through a creative strategy lens. Make it playful; make it purposeful. Associate creative director, vintage match collector, and wedge salad enthusiast.