event swag in small gift boxes

Event Swag Ideas: 3 Mistakes That Keep You From the Best Conference Swag

One of the best things about a conference is the event swag, assuming the person planning an event understands the difference between good swag and bad. After all, who doesn’t like getting free stuff?

While most people are going to attend a conference or trade-show to network and interact, the swag they’re handed at the registration desk can go a long way in building brand affinity and adding value. The best event or company swag ideas can make things more enjoyable and memorable. But bad swag? Well it’s either entirely forgettable or so bad that it hurts. More importantly, it’s a waste of capital that could have been reapplied somewhere else.

The good news is that it’s not actually all that difficult to design good conference swag. You just need to be cognizant of some of the most common mistakes (and the fact that we’ve probably all made them at one point or another). Knowing 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.

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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.

event swag bags at a golf event

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.

You’ve got swag in the bag.

While most people who attend an event are there because they’re interested in the main focus, conference swag is that little cherry on top that can make a good event great. Every time someone uses your event swag, they’ll remember the occasion. By avoiding mistakes in these three areas, you can make sure that memory is just as good (or maybe even better!) than the event itself.

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What’s the best swag you’ve gotten at a conference? Let us know in the comments!

Brad Wayland

Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.