5 Ways to Make Swag Meaningful

Wandering through another expo center at another conference made me think about swag: those little tchochkies, geegaws and giveaways we all create as gifts for clients and staff and tools for subtle name recognition.  Over the years I’ve created a lot of it with both hits and misses and think I now have some ways to make sure the swag we pick is meaningful, useful, and unlikely to end up in the circular file after a conference is over or in the Goodwill donation bin at home.

1) Remember your audience – Employees are interested in different kinds of things than clients.  There are also gender, cultural and generational differences that affect the popularity of some choices.  Be mindful of the recipients of your items, as well as the venue in which they’ll be used (and to which they’ll need to be transported.)  One of my recent missteps is a mini wooden Jenga-like game that everybody loves… until they have to cart 50 of them to a conference.

2) Be consistent in your identity – Ensure that your branding is consistent across gifts and giveaways.  It’s all too common to design different items for specific purposes (e.g., a conference, event or anniversary) and end up with hodgepodge of mismatched leftovers that are more likely to be donated than distributed.  The best way to make sure your swag has legs is to mark it with a consistent graphic identity.

3) Leverage economies of scale – While there are a few vendors who can make swag at reasonable prices in small quantities, (see 4imprint for example) this is the exception rather than the rule and you usually end up sacrificing either cost or quality.  I may have one principal who really wants a golf shirt and another who really wants customized name tags, but I have to weigh wants against costs and breadth of usage.

4) Respect quality – My go-to requirement when selecting gifts and giveaways is that the item has to be something I would use in spite of the fact that it has a logo on it, not because of it.  If it’s a good enough item to make my competitor annoyed that they can’t use it, I’m probably in the zone.  I have a tote bag I still use from a firm I no longer work for because eight years later,  it’s still the perfect bag.

5) Reflect values – If, for example, your firm has a mission to be environmentally sustainable, it makes sense to source products for giveaways that include recycled content and minimize off-gassing.  If your firm focuses on design, your swag should reflect high design as well.  What you give away says as much about you as how you conduct business so it should resonate with your firm’s overall values.


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