Having trouble choosing the right trade show giveaways for your booth? It’s hard to decide which items are worth the money, when people’s tastes seem to change so quickly. But if you find the right item—whether it’s a set of earbuds or a convention tote—it can be a great way to attract people to your trade show exhibit.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Giveaways?
Giving out your own trade show swag items can be an effective promotional tactic, but they’re not always successful. For every benefit that giveaways can provide, there’s a downside because it takes more than giving out handfuls of promotional pens to make a mark on today’s attendees.
Pros: Branded giveaways have several potential benefits. Most importantly, they can help you:
- Pull in more booth traffic
- Build brand visibility
- Generate more leads
Cons: You can’t necessarily do all three of the above at the same time. Giving away free items, such as keychains or bottle openers, to pull in booth traffic isn’t likely to help you generate qualified leads because all your traffic is just people who are after the freebies.
In order to reap the benefits of promotional giving, research your target audience to ensure you pick giveaways they’ll find valuable. However, if you pick an item that’s too good, you risk handing them all out to visitors who are only there for the freebie. Another issue is the fact that most giveaway strategies don’t provide you the ability to track success metrics. These problems are solvable, but it requires planning and preparation.
Strategies for Offering Giveaways to Visitors
If it’s your first time at a trade show, or you haven’t used giveaways as a promotional tactic before, you might be wondering how to actually give items away! The key is to match your promotional giveaway strategy with the value and purpose of your gift.
Generate Booth Traffic/Brand Visibility
If you’re looking to boost your brand or get more people to visit your booth, you have a couple of options:
- Hand out lots of inexpensive items, such as a plastic tote bags, coffee mugs, or polyester lanyards, or
- Hand out fewer moderate-value items, such as a travel cup or woven cotton tote.
In the first instance, you can simply hand out items to every visitor, or let them choose their own swag from a basket or other container. For the second strategy, offer items to every fifth visitor or thereabouts. With the right item and good publicity, this can keep people coming while reducing the number of items you give away.
Generate Qualified Leads
To generate qualified leads, you’ll need to change up your strategy more significantly. Handing out cotton tote bags, key lights, or packages of cookies won’t cut it! Instead, offer a higher-value item to people who are willing to sit down for a meeting or engage in a similar interest-gauging activity.
For this purpose, it’s important to let your target audience know before the event—perhaps via social media—that you’ll be offering a giveaway. When you interact with qualified leads at trade shows they’re generally people who have already done some advance research. They know what they’re looking for, so you need to be able to offer them some incentive to look you up.
Gifts to Give, Gifts to Avoid
Trade show giveaways are a traditional part of the trade show experience, but the kinds of gifts that work best change from year to year. What’s considered fun, fresh, or high-tech is always changing.
So how do you pick the right trade show gift? It comes down to a couple of things:
- Your target demographic – Who are your audience, and what do they like?
- The purpose of the gift – What do you want your promotional items to achieve? If they’re for raising brand awareness, go for items on the less expensive side of the scale. If you have a more specific goal, such as getting more qualified leads or sales, then choose higher-value items and tie the gift to an exchange of value.
What Are the Popular Items?
Figuring out what’s likely to be popular isn’t as hard as you might think. Some items—like tote bags and breath mints—are always popular because they’re useful—at the show and beyond—and they need to be replaced on a regular basis. Others are popular trade show giveaway ideas because they’re new enough that not everyone has them yet.
- Pencils and pens – You’ll find that these are in both the “good” and “bad” categories of trade show giveaways. The traditional pencil or plastic pen isn’t a great choice, but it can be better if you opt for items with multiple functions. For instance, a pen and laser pointer combo, or a mechanical pencil that doubles as a stylus.
- Hand sanitizer, breath mints, and lip balm are inexpensive items that people like to have on-hand but often forget to buy for themselves.
- Stress balls – Stress relievers are useful personal care items, but many people don’t think to buy them for themselves.
- Reusable straws – Single-use straws have fallen heavily out of favor recently, making reusable straws made from stainless steel a newly popular replacement. People who haven’t gotten around to buying yet will likely appreciate the chance to pick up a freebie.
- Earbud organizers – They make good substitutes for flash drives. They’re similarly tech-themed and inexpensive but are more likely to be used and appreciated.
- Higher-cost and -value tech items – These include mobile chargers and charging stations, power banks, phone or tablet cases, and Popsockets®. When in doubt, choose cell phone accessories over desk accessories!
- Reusable water bottles and travel mugs – They are always desirable and run the gamut of prices. For high-value promotions, consider a brand like Hydro Flask®, or go for a smart water bottle with its own wireless Bluetooth® speaker.
- Tote bags – These are consistently popular. After all, attendees need something to carry their swag in! Inexpensive bags are a good option for freebies. For high-value promotions, opt for a good-quality laptop bag, messenger bag, or tablet-sized tote.
What Items Should Be Avoided?
It wasn’t so long ago that USB flash drives were a popular giveaway item. In 2019 they’re falling out of favor. Many organizations ban their use at work due to security risks. And now that cloud computing is on the rise, flash drives are less useful than they used to be anyway. Instead, choose tech gifts, such as stylus pens, cell phone wallets, power banks, or phone stands.
Some other items to avoid include:
- Paperweights, letter openers, and other desk accessories – In general, avoid anything that’s unlikely to be used or needed in the modern workplace. You don’t want to give the impression that your business is stuck in the past.
- Calendars – Desk and wall calendars used to be popular, but they’re another in a long line of items that has been replaced by digital counterparts. Ditto sticky notes! They may be a good one if you’re in the stationery business. If not, there are better options.
- Pencils and pens – A little old-fashioned and overused as promo items.
- Anything cheap – Cheap and inexpensive aren’t necessarily the same thing! It’s fine for an item to be inexpensive if it’s well-made and performs the function it’s designed for. A cheap item is poorly made, breaks easily, and doesn’t do what it’s supposed to.
Combine a Giveaway with a Sales Promotion
You could avoid a traditional freebie altogether by offering a giveaway that represents a different kind of reward. This can be highly effective, and since you won’t have to transport promotional products, may also help reduce your shipping costs.
For instance, offer a reward in exchange for signing up for a newsletter, filling in a survey, or making an appointment for a product demonstration. Make the reward something that brings the recipient back into contact with you. For instance:
- A discount on a future sale
- A gift certificate towards the purchase of your services
- A gift offer with a purchase or a signed contract
This strategy might mean you don’t have as many visitors as you might if you were handing out free, general-interest promotional products. But the visitors you do get are more likely to be truly interested in your trade show booth and what you’re offering. This kind of giveaway can save you some time by filtering out people who aren’t prospective clients and customers.
Pro Tip: This strategy works best in conjunction with a solid pre-show publicity campaign. When your strategy relies on attracting visitors with intent rather than general foot-traffic, you benefit from building up plenty of interest in advance of the show.
Prize Drawings Versus Giveaways
Giving out hundreds of low-cost trade show promotional items is one approach, but if that’s not your style, there are other options. An alternative is to offer one or more prizes of significant value as a means of getting people to visit your booth. Trade show attendees collect small, low-value key rings, plastic cups, and desk accessories all day. Many of those will end up in the trash or handed off to the kids once they’re back home. Think about what’s really of value to your desired prospects, and then give them the chance to win it.
General-interest items such as iPads are a popular option, but this doesn’t necessarily serve your interests. You might end up with a situation where most of the entrants aren’t part of your target market—they just want a free iPad.
Instead, choose trade show giveaways that have value for your target audience. Something your own company produces or provides can be a great option for this purpose. For instance, offer free ad space if you run a popular website; a free website upgrade if you offer web design services; or a discount on home repairs if you run a home contractor business.
By offering something of value, you can ask people to provide something of value in exchange for an entry into the drawing: their contact information. Ask people to drop a business card into a bowl or give their contact information in order to enter, then hold the prize drawing at the end of the day or show. It’ll cost no more than you’d put into buying a large number of low-cost trade show giveaways, and you’ll end up with a basketful of people with whom you can follow up.
Choose the Right Trade Show Giveaways and Reap the Rewards
At industry events, your success is a combination of many different elements. Promotional items are an important part of the big picture of your trade show presence, so make your choices with care.