Trade Shows and Conferences: Swag Expectations v. Reality

February 17, 2020

Trade Shows and Conferences: Swag Expectations v. Reality

Are trade show booths even worth it? 

Trade shows have been around for centuries (at least since the mid-1850s). It is one of the oldest forms of marketing. When something has been around for that long, there’s generally a reason why. 


If you have been to dozens of trade shows or had a bad experience at one, it is easy to get jaded and think trade shows might work for brand X, Y, and Z, but it won’t work for my special snowflake company.

In our experience helping many of the leading companies find trade show swag since 2000, we can tell you that trade shows can be the most effective marketing you do all year. (Even Tim Ferriss agrees with us.)  

Let’s face it - no one wants to read another dry, boring piece of content about trade shows. So, we’re going to have a little fun and share five and a half tips using memes. 

Lesson #1 - Give out swag that people want, not the cheapest thing you can find. 

Expectation -  Buy the cheapest swag item that you can find, and attendees will be flocking to your booth for the item. 

Reality - You wind up hauling boxes of untouched cheap-looking keychains to the dumpster at the end of the trade show because no one wants them.

Give out swag that people want, not the cheapest thing you can find.

Lesson #2 - Use swag items as a conversation starter 

Expectation - Buy awesome swag items as a way to “fish” for new leads and get your ideal customers to start a conversation with you. 

Reality - You wind up attracting only the “trick-or-treat” attendees, who are easy to spot as they are the ones lugging giant tote bags full of freebies from literally every table.  

Use swag items as a conversation starter

Lesson #3 - Make sure to include a call-to-action. 

Expectation - You spend a ton of time brainstorming, searching, and buying the coolest swag item that is on brand and on budget. 

Reality - The word gets out about the cool swag items you are handing out. Now, attendees are flocking to your booth. The problem is you realize there’s no call to action on your booth, signage, or on the swag items telling people what to do after they receive it. So, you give away every item but are left with a large tab and no new leads or sales. :( 

Make sure to include a call-to-action.

Lesson #4 -  Make sure your company name and logo look good and are legible on whatever item(s) you give out 

Expectation - Let’s say you buy branded portable chargers to give out at your booth. Attendees love them since they can keep their phones charged at the event. 

Reality - You don’t think about how your logo and company information will look printed on the item until you see it for the first time at the trade show. It turns out your logo is printed so small on the charger that attendees would need a magnifying glass to read it. 

Make sure your company name and logo look good and are legible on whatever item(s) you give out

Lesson #5 - Make sure your swag items don’t get confiscated by TSA 

Expectation - You come up with a brilliant marketing gimmick. To showcase how customers can cut through the competition and generate more sales with your software, you are going to hand out small, branded Swiss army knives at the conference.  

Reality - Sure, it is gimmicky. But, attendees take notice, start conversations with your sales reps, and throw the Swiss Army knives in their purses or backpacks. They promptly forget they are there until they get to the airport to travel home. Many were running late and annoyed when their bag got flagged by TSA agents. Suffice to say, most of your branded knives are now locked up in some warehouse near the airport.  

Make sure your swag items don’t get confiscated by TSA

BONUS Tip: Tie your swag items to the conference theme 

Now, if you really want to maximize brand awareness and ROI at your next trade show or conference. Make sure that your swag item(s) relate back to not only your company but also a larger theme at the conference.

For example, if you are going to a cybersecurity conference and the main theme of the event this year is data privacy, then hand out branded data blockers. This is a clever way to insert your company into larger discussions happening at the conference.  

Giving out swag at trade shows, conferences and events can be one of the most effective things your marketing team does all year. However, you need to stop and think about all the angles to maximize your ROI. 

If you want help finding the right swag items for your next trade show or conference, let’s chat. You can give us a call at 888.553.9569 or email