Prevue Exclusive: Let’s Get Strategic About Swag

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swag from Alchemy MerchTrade show organizers and exhibitors spend millions every year on a wide variety of swag — much of which goes directly to the landfill. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Tote bags, tee shirts, lanyards, pens, water bottles…swag is a staple for most exhibitors and show organizers who their brand marketing to last long after attendees head back home. Unfortunately, most of that marketing merch ends up left in the room, regifted to others, or just tossed out.

There must be a better strategy when it comes to swag, right? Prevue recently caught up with Greg Kerr, Owner of Alchemy Merch, who has worked with companies like Apple, Nickelodeon, NatGeo and Nike, to learn more about how event planners and exhibitors can more effectively use merchandise as a marketing tool that truly will provide lasting value.

Prevue: How has the promotional products industry been adapting to accommodate societal and economic post-pandemic shifts?
Kerr: The promotional products industry has been experiencing shifts in response to the evolving post-pandemic societal and economic conditions. Traditionally, this sector has been characterized by a glacial pace of innovation, often sticking to conventional products and approaches. Many companies are now looking beyond promotional products by stepping up their offerings with fully customizable items. A promotional product is a stock item that can have your logo added to it within specific pre-set sizes. Fully customizable merchandise allows you to go beyond the restrictions and create something unique.

Prevue: What is the hottest trend for trade show swag being used by event organizers looking to engage their younger (under-30) attendees?
Kerr: Promotional strategies have historically revolved around a “churn and burn” mentality, where inexpensive items were distributed with little consideration for long-term value. Younger event attendees have no interest in those types of promotional products. Items such as enamel pins, PVC shoe charms and high-quality tote bags are gaining traction as they offer attendees products that hold intrinsic appeal and usefulness beyond the event itself.

Prevue: How can companies use swag that appeals to environmentally conscious attendees?
Kerr: There is a growing emphasis on sustainability within the industry. Eco-friendly options like wooden pins and reusable tote bags are increasingly favored, reflecting a heightened awareness of environmental concerns among event attendees. You can often ask for items to not be individually bagged to help cut down on wasted plastic use. Producing fewer cheap products that no one really wants is a step in the right direction. One good-quality tote can last a lot longer than cheap bags that get printed and thrown away after or during the show. A well-made and designed item may even make it to the next show for an attendee.

Prevue: Are there any used-to-be-tried-and-true options that no longer work in today’s environment? If so, are they being replaced with totally new concepts or just adapted to meet today’s needs?
Kerr: Lanyards and bags will always be part of conference staples. There are only so many ways to make a lanyard, but it serves a real function at events for holding badges. A nice way to get seen more is to make items like a pin that could be added to the lanyard. If your conference happens multiple times a year or every year, find fun ways to offer specials to people who show up at the next event with your previous iterations and make a game out of it. If there are ways to continue engagement with people across events, it can start to build loyalty or add a fun element to your booth — show up with last year’s pin and spin the wheel to get a chance at winning X, etc. We take the overall view that quality products will get more long-term use and provide higher value to you than cheap options that get discarded at the event and never extend your brand beyond the show.

Prevue: How can event organizers use swag to stay on top of some of today’s trends, such as engaging their industry’s top influencers to help promote their events?
Kerr: By incentivizing attendees to retain and reuse items across multiple events, organizers can cultivate a sense of brand loyalty and longevity. Additionally, targeting industry influencers with customized products that align with their personal brand narrative can significantly increase visibility and engagement, reaching broader audiences in the process. Express your brand’s “why” and tell your story through your swag. Pay attention to what an influencer prefers to talk about or use and target them with something truly custom that they would want to show their followers.

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