Schwag, when done right, has lots of marketing benefits. Here are the three things you should ask yourself for your next trade show:
1. Is it useful?
At Dreamforce, one company was giving out branded silicone speakers that you can attach to your smartphone to amplify your music. My marketing team loved it! Another company was giving out Skullcandy headphones, and there was a line at its booth the entire time. I also heard that shakelights (mini flashlights that don't require batteries, just a good hard shake) and luggage tags were "must haves." If I heard about them through the grapevine, I bet others were talking about them, too.
If what you're giving out is useful, people will get exposed to your brand over and over again every time they use it. There's a reason why there will never be a shortage of backpacks, bags and pens at any trade show.
2. Is it cool, fun or silly?
Several people at my company brought back fun items from Dreamforce that gave us a good laugh, like a stuffed monkey that made a screeching noise when you throw it (fun for five seconds), and plastic eyeglasses with blinky lights (apparently a lot of people were wearing them and posting pics to social media). Never underestimate the power of silliness.
If your schwag is fun and different and hasn't really been done before, people might tell their friends about it, wear it or snap a picture of it. Instant buzz!
3. Does it fulfill an immediate need?
Anyone who's ever been to a big trade show knows--it's rough. Your feet hurt, you're thirsty from making too much small talk, you're constantly pushed and shoved. Wouldn't it be nice if you were handed a chocolate chip cookie ... Or a margarita?
Giving out snacks or providing a place to sit might seem boring or obvious, but believe me, people will appreciate it. Chairs and charging stations were hard to come by on the expo floor at Dreamforce, so the few companies that offered them had tons of foot traffic.
As for VerticalResponse, we had a great idea for Dreamforce this year that we've never done before. We printed up 800 blue t-shirts with a cool cartoon character on the front, and gave them away for free to people we talked to at our booth. But that's not even the best part. Every hour on the hour, we gave away $50 in cold hard cash to the first person we spotted wearing one of our tees. Yup, one $50 bill to one lucky t-shirt wearer, every hour. We collected hundreds of leads and now we've got 800 VerticalResponse t-shirts roaming around the world.