Time to Dump the Swag Bag?

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swag tchotcheswagSwag: those promotional, branded products that exhibitors, conference organizers and sponsors like to throw around like confetti…It’s time to revisit the value of the swag bag to see if there may be better options.

Swag — those cheap, disposable, branded water bottles, pens, and other detritus that most conferences and trade shows tend to leave in their wake — has always been a love/hate thing for exhibitors, sponsors and attendees alike. It’s a $64 billion industry for a reason, namely that it does help get a company’s name and brand in potential customers’ hands. But these promotional t-shirts, stress balls and other tchotchkes also tend to be environmentally unfriendly to make and ship, and most of them end up either in the trash or given away.

What’s a conference organizer or exhibitor looking for ongoing brand awareness to do? Here are three options you may want to consider.

  1. Offer fewer, higher quality tchotchkes. A new crop of swag companies has arisen to provide more palatable options for organizations that want branded giveaways that are more sustainable and ethically sourced than some of the usual suspects. One such company, Merchery, offers a selection that includes everything from Moleskine notebooks to Patagonia sweaters to Montblanc pens. While a Larq self-cleaning water bottle from Merchery may cost closer to $100 than the usual less than a buck per bottle offered by swag industry stalwarts such as 4Imprint, if you have the budget, this may be the way to go to offer gifts that truly will delight, though you likely would have to be much more selective about which prospects get the good stuff.
  2. Offer tchotchkes with a charitable component. Sticking with the water bottle example, check out Fill It Forward. In addition to giving attendees a branded bottle to drink from at the event and at home, Fill It Forward bottles also provide clean drinking water around the world. Each bottle comes with an app that tracks the individual’s water consumption and provides insight on the impact on water projects supported every time they use the bottle. Another charity/tchotchke hybrid is Fahlo, which partners with animal rescue and conservation nonprofits to provide bracelets that allow recipients to have an interactive tracking experience with real animals of their choice while contributing to wildlife conservation.
  3. Blend the tchotchke with an experience. One idea to try: There is no shortage of companies that would be happy to roam the show floor taking selfies, which then can framed and branded for attendees to download as a keepsake. It would be more costly, but would-be swaggers also could print these out on site and put them in a branded frame to hand out to attendees. Or you could provide a personalized experience (IRL or virtually) with a Broadway celebrity or drag queen — the possibilities are as endless and unique as your attendees’ interests.

Of course, you could do away with the swag altogether in lieu of a gift to the attendee’s choice of a local charity, something that enterprise data intelligence solutions company Alation has been doing for the past several years.

With event organizers rethinking everything about business as usual as events come back, why wouldn’t they want to put conference swag on the list of things that could potentially be done more sustainably while still providing a lasting impact for their brands?

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