What We Talk About When We Talk About Swag

Anyone who’s worked at or with a corporate marketing department knows how difficult it is find branded swag that will attract attention, fit a tight budget and not look like every other tchotchke on the trade show floor. It’s a tough ask and one that often meets with a lot of input from the sales teams.

As somebody who’s sat on the wrong side of a Google search looking desperately for something — anything — to fit the bill, I have come up with a few rules of thumb that may help your hunt:

  1. A funny pen isn’t going to advance your sales pitch. The amount of business closed because of cheap gag swag is minimal if not nonexistent. At most, you might get a forced laugh. More likely, your real prospects will be stampeded by trade show swag grabbers looking for free gifts for their kids. Save the hokey jokes for the amateurs.
  2. It’s downright impossible to order the right sizes in T-shirts. But I’ll give you a hint: if you’re working in male-dominated industries like IT, and hoping to give these away to clients, shirt demand for the fairer sex will be limited. Err on the side of Larges and up.
  3. Don’t put your logo on things that will end up in the trash. There is nothing sadder than seeing a crumpled up, dirty napkin with a brand logo on it. Just don’t do it. Make sure anything you buy has staying power. The last thing you want to connect your brand with is trash.
  4. It’s called swag, not schwag. I’m writing this from Denver so let me be straight up: swag is a branded gift item. Schwag is crappy weed. People may not correct you, but I am not people. Think of it this way: “Swag is to something I want in my house as schwag is to something I want in my lungs.”
  5. Take a chance. This is really what I want to get across. Do something that means something and include a call to action within it. A notebook that says Shit I Gotta Get Fucking Done with the first page saying “Call Company X”, a thumb drive with your sales pitch preloaded onto it, a customized magic 8 ball with all answers leading back to your company…get creative and get on it.

We have somehow all been conditioned to believe that giving high-value prospects cheap pieces of junk at a trade show will somehow relate to sales. Maybe I’m wrong; I could be. After all, what I’m advising goes against the ‘cheap and easy’ way of just ordering 10,000 Post-It notes and moving on with your life which seemingly every marketing leader (myself included) has done at some point. I do believe though that it’s time to be a bit more thoughtful about what we’re doing and what we’re putting out in the world — even if that means not going for the easy wins. The easy wins never actually translate into ROI anyway.

Ask the White Walkers if you don’t believe me.

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