the best conference event swag ideas

The Ultimate Guide to The Best Conference Swag

Cheap swag has become an issue for corporate event planners as demand for branded, low-quality items declines among Millennials and Generation Z alongside concerns regarding its environmental impact. And even though the $24B promo marketing materials industry is booming right now, it’s still a challenge to find conference event swag that people love.

This is why we’ve come up with the top five best conference swag categories that include the most popular and sustainable promotional marketing materials available today. 

Discover tips for how to choose high-quality materials, ideas for personalization, and links to vendors you can purchase from. Then, explore answers to your most burning conference swag related questions and learn more about how these items can boost your event ROI. 

What is a swag gift?

A swag gift is a free item with a logo or brand name that companies hand out to event attendees. Swag gifts generate goodwill and brand recognition among target audiences. They are great marketing tools on a budget since they are available for bulk orders at a reasonable price.

Discover 5 ideas for the best conference swag

The best conference swag is environmentally friendly and affordable. Make it your goal to find conference swag your audience will love to use for a long time. Plus, check out some tips on what are high-quality versions of each idea along with how to make it your own and where you can buy it right now.  

1. Choose drinkware conference swag.

Drinkware conference swag includes reusable water bottles, mugs, and tumblers that match your branding or display your logo. This type of swag is best for conventions because lines for beverages are usually long and time-consuming but drinkware conference swag allows attendees to refill water on the go. 

Choose high quality: Prioritize options made out of glass or BPA-free plastic for the healthiest possible drinkware conference swag. 

Tailor it to your audience: Choose reusable water bottles for athletic crowds, mugs for remote employees or coffee lovers, and tumblers for those who travel often. 

Get it here: Check out these brightly colored stainless steel water bottles with screw-on caps. Choose your brand color and add your logo to this hot and cold beverage container.  

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2. Opt for brand name conference swag.

Brand name conference swag is any well-known product that your audience loves with your company name or logo on it. It’s best for annual meetings with stakeholders or VIP conference events because these items come at a slightly higher price point but are typically on attendees’ personal wish lists anyway. 

Choose high quality: Because this category includes nearly every item imaginable, you have lots of high-quality products to choose from. Narrow down your options by focusing on brands that align with your company values, appeal to your target demographics, and elevate your own company image in some way. 

Tailor it to your audience: Pay attention to what products your audience regularly uses, wears, or carries. See if that brand already offers a promotional marketing material partnership through their website or a third party. If not, reach out to discuss their availability. 

If your chosen brand name conference swag maker is unable to do custom printing, bulk order the product and work with an independent studio to add your logo or brand name to the item. Or, go low tech and add your own stickers or labels to the brand name merchandise instead. 

Get it here: Go to Swag.com to view their exclusive promotional product and brand partnerships with companies such as North Face, Moleskine, and Timbuk2. 

3. Present attendees with sustainable technology conference swag.

Sustainable technology conference swag is any piece of equipment or accessory, such as phone stands, power banks, and micro USBs, made with eco-friendly materials. Use them at events of any size but they especially work best in large conferences since they are recyclable or reusable for years to come. 

Choose high quality: Look for materials such as bamboo and aluminum since they are more sustainable than plastic. 

Tailor it to your audience: Create branded and sustainable Bluetooth speakers and wireless charger pads for Millennial and Generation Z attendees. And choose eco-friendly promotional bamboo stylus pens and reusable camera blockers for Generation X participants. 

Get it here: Choose solar USB charging panels, recycled laptop sleeves, or any other green technology product Eco Promotions Online has to offer. 

4. Offer wellness conference swag.

Wellness conference swag is any branded item that promotes mental or physical health such as yoga mats, step counters, and pill cases. Try out this type of conference swag at any event that features health-related workshops or for industries such as hospitality where wellness themes and ideas are trending. 

Choose high quality: Determine the quality of your wellness conference swag based on where the materials are from if it’s edible or can apply directly to the skin. The United States is best for this but Canada is a close second. For all other product types in this category such as fitness equipment or workout clothing, look for sustainable manufacturing processes, recycled products, and reusable functions. 

Tailor it to your audience: Pay attention to the health concerns of your target demographics. Millennials favor sleep hygiene and mental health promotional items such as satin sleep masks or twiddle balls. Generation X audiences prefer cardiovascular health and wellness items such as pedometers and stress balls. 

Get it here: Order custom band-aids or travel-sized first aid kits for your conference swag bag. 

5. Delight attendees with travel conference swag.

Travel conference swag includes any item that attendees can use before, during, or after they travel. Include items such as branded toiletry kits, luggage tags, and even fun games to entertain them. Use travel conference swag at events with international attendees or multi-city get-togethers such as a roadshow or a workshop series since guests will likely travel more for these event types than any other. 

Choose high quality: Look at stitching if you go with any kind of bag – single stitch seams tend to tear or break but multi-stitch seams last longer. And find travel conference swag designs that are lightweight, slim, or easy to fit into a carry-on.  

Tailor it to your audience: Consider whether your audience travels more for fun or for business. Cater to business travelers with products such as tech wraps to store all their cords and gear. Or pick out some travel-friendly spa aromatherapy crystals for the vacation crowd. 

Get it here: Choose this slim and quirky promotional Rubiks spinner to help guests stay busy on long flights. Or help them eliminate plastic waste with these reusable, TSA-approved cutlery keychains

Guide: How to Create an Event Planning Checklist

What do you put in a swag bag?

Put an assortment of items that fit within your theme and budget in a swag bag. Use new product releases or marketing campaigns as your swag bag themes for maximum impact at any conference. Choose one impact item (such as a piece of valuable tech or a designer blanket) to base the rest of your gift around. Then, pick two to four complementary products that look nice together to round out your swag bag. 

What are the best freebies to give away?

The best freebies to give away at a conference that will delight attendees and get your brand name out there include:

  • Hand out reusable water bottles. Strongly consider this option if the event venue has refillable water bottle stations. Or swap out traditional water bottles for collapsible ones if your target audience does a lot of hiking or backpacking. 
  • Give away eco-friendly totes. Choose canvas totes over plastic ones to help save the environment or opt for insulated bags if you think your audience will use them for groceries. 
  • Send attendees home with recycled click pens. Check out these sleek and customizable recycled pens with designs that stand out. 
  • Gift booth visitors with bamboo power banks. Tech made from sustainable products will win over Millennial and Generation Z audiences since they’re already voluntarily paying more to own similar types of items anyway. 
  • Distribute organic hand sanitizer keychains. Help everyone stay healthy with promotional products that are practical for daily use yet made with desirable ingredients or materials. 

What kind of swag do employees like?

Employees like swag that promotes self-care, fitness, and health because it feels good and helps them become productivity powerhouses. Choose gifts such as personalized palo santo sticks with your company name on the side or mini branded essential oil bottles that use your logo on the labels. 

Don’t make these 3 mistakes that can keep you from having the best conference swag

Here we’ll help you be cognizant of some of the most common mistakes (knowing that we’ve probably all made them at one point or another). Being mindful of what can go wrong is the first step in avoiding it.

1. Give your event swag the proper amount of thought.

Tailor swag to your audience.

The best swag is matched to the people who are receiving it. Think carefully about the kind of people you’re going to have at your show – your ideal guest, as it were. What do they like? What do they dislike? What sort of swag will truly resonate with them as people and make them remember their time at your show fondly?

People attending a video game convention, for example, will probably appreciate receiving codes that get them free stuff in one of the games they play. People attending an industry trade show? They most likely want something that adds value to what they do on a daily basis, or something they can use in their daily lives. That’s why you see so many water bottles or notebooks given out — they’re always a safe bet for items people will interact with regularly.

Make sure it’s current.

Beyond that, you might also consider tapping into current trends in your audience.  What sort of stuff is popular on social media? What are all of your attendees excited about? How can you make that relevant to your event and the cultural moment that it’s situated in?

There’s also the weather to consider. At a summer conference, you might give out sunglasses and sunscreen. Hosting in a place that’s known for rain? Add some umbrellas to your swag bag.

The best swag actually looks good.

Think also about how your swag looks. A water bottle that’s one massive company logo isn’t all that attractive, but one with a small, understated logo won’t deter someone from using it. Spend a bit of time ensuring that any branded items are branded tastefully, and that they’re the sort of items that your guests would use outside the walls of your event. For example, if you’re giving out T-shirts, make your logo the afterthought and let the message or design take precedence.Get swag placement right with easy diagrammingGet Started Now

2. Don’t overlook quality in conference swag.

As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. If you’re not spending as much as you need to be on event swag, then what you’re paying for is a less-than-ideal attendee experience. People will remember a bag that falls apart halfway through a conference or a water bottle that doesn’t close properly .

Think outside of the lanyard.

Quality isn’t the only factor here, mind you. It’s also essential that you consider what kind of swag you’re handing out. There are certain generic, boring, very bad, no good items that will probably be on a fast track to the landfill or junk drawer the moment a guest leaves your event.

Avoid handing out stuff that’s generic or poorly-made by thinking outside of the lanyard — just like the New York Post did when they gave out buckets of gummy bears. (Who doesn’t love gummy bears?)

Bad swag can include:

  • Keychains
  • Lanyards
  • Coasters
  • Magnets
  • Bracelets
  • Paperweights
  • Pens and pencils
  • Thumb drives
  • Low-quality phone chargers

Now, with the above list, bear in mind that some of the items actually can make good swag if they’re well-designed (and given the right context). But unless you know for a fact that everyone at a conference will be using the same kind of smartphone, chargers are something I’d advise you to stay well away from. Most people already have their own, and giving an attendee one they can’t use is just wasted space and effort. Plus, low-budget chargers oftentimes stop working or charge ineffectively.

Avoid heavy, bulky swag.

Paperweights are the ultimate bad idea — never give them out! They just take up space, and they’re heavy and bulky as well. In general, I’d say avoid anything that’s overly large, heavy, or bulky. Remember that people are going to be carrying this stuff around the show floor for hours, and then probably trying to fly home with it. Don’t force them to jump through hoops trying to figure out how to accomplish both.

3. Be a careful buyer.

While it’s important that you don’t skimp on quality, it’s also essential that you shop around for the best deal. The last thing you want to do is settle for a vendor that charges you through the nose for a product or service another might offer for free. You want to offer the best swag, but you also need to stay within your event budget.

A little extra effort goes a long way.

When purchasing gear for your event, make a list of prospective vendors, and get a quote for each. Compare and contrast them against one another, factoring price, reviews, proximity to your company/venue, and so on. 

Make sure you do all this legwork well in advance of your actual show, though. These days, it’s easy to forget that not every business ships their products as quickly as, say, Amazon. There will be wait times, delivery bottlenecks, and material shortages.

You’ll give yourself more than a few gray hairs if you don’t order far enough in advance and let these issues impact your event. At minimum, start your prep work a few weeks to a month ahead of time, including shipping of materials. That may seem like a lot, but trust me, the time will fly by fast.

Supercharge your event strategy with the best conference swag

Now you know exactly what the best conference swag is, how to find a high-quality version of it and different ways you can personalize each item. You also know how to put together a swag bag, what freebies your audience will love, and what kind of swag your employees actually want. Tie in what you’ve learned about the best conference swag into your overall strategy with these conference planning tips to engage your audience even more at your next event. 

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