The Dumbest Things You Can Do With Trade Show Promotional Items

At just about every trade show, exhibitors give away trade show promotional items in hopes getting noticed by attendees. Whether you call them promotional items, premiums, giveaways, “adcentives” (advertising incentives), tchotchkes, or swag, exhibitors distribute pens, hats, T-shirts, and coffee mugs by the case. But do they actually see any sort of ROI (return on investment)?

The answer depends on how the trade show promotional items are used. Giveaways can attract your target market to your exhibit, especially if you mention them in pre-show mailings. Once your prospects are in your exhibit, promotional items can be used to generate leads that can be converted to sales. A themed tchotchke that supports your integrated marketing message can help attendees tie that message back to your company after the show.

However, giveaways can also be a waste of money. To help you avoid the pitfalls, here are some common giveaway blunders along with tips on developing successful strategies.


1. Choosing your giveaway before setting objectives.

Your exhibit theme or message should be supported by your premium, not driven by it. Set your goals and objectives first. Then choose a premium to help meet a specific goal. For example, if your company’s objective at the show is to increase awareness, you might want to consider a unique but low-cost item that will generate buzz. However, if your goal is simply to connect with a handful of top prospects, consider a more expensive, higher-quality item.


2. Misunderstanding your target audience.

When choosing trade show promotional items, make sure the product will attract your target market based on their demographics and psychographics. Pick items that your prospects would keep on top of their desks (“top of desk, top of mind”). Will they look at it, handle it, play with it, or use it often? What items have you personally kept from the shows you have attended, and why? Consider asking some of your current clients what sorts of things they’d appreciate.


3. Giving the same gift to all levels of customers or prospects.

Take into consideration the value of the business you may get from your customers and prospects, and tier your giveaways accordingly. The swag you give to the “drive-by” prospect who scans your booth for trinkets shouldn’t be the same as the gift for your long-term customers or highly qualified prospects.


4. Handing out low-quality items.

Strive to find tchotchkes with a high perceived value for their cost. I’ve received pens that don’t write, flashlights that won’t light up, etc. Even though these products aren’t manufactured by the company giving them away, it reflects poorly on that company. Don’t let your swag end up in the garbage– it’s a waste of money and it makes you look bad.


5. Being Tasteless or Offensive.

I’ve been offered chocolate-covered insects, condoms, and apparel with double entendres as show giveaways. If you’re trying to create a buzz among attendees with your giveaway, make sure it’s positive. Make sure trade show promotional items are in line with your company’s image, and the context of the expo and industry. There’s a time and place for controversy, and it’s probably not a trade show. What is appropriate at one show may be inappropriate at another.

6. Omitting your message or logo.

Believe it or not, some companies give away promotional items at trade shows with nothing printed on them to identify which company handed them out. Others imprint them with the company logo, tag line, or URL in a tiny, illegible font. Print your logo and contact information legibly on your giveaways. Make sure this contact method will work for all attendees.


7. Heaping your giveaways on your counter or table.

Setting out your company’s giveaways for just anyone passing by devalues them. It also limits the interaction between customers/prospects and your exhibit staff, defeating the purpose of exhibiting. Instead, set up a system for giving away your items to people who come by your booth for a conversation.


8. Making your promotion stand alone.

Exhibitors have three opportunities to reach out to their customers and prospects: before the show, during the show, and after the show. Mention your giveaways in pre-show mailers to entice your prospects to visit your exhibit. Use your giveaways at the show to thank them for stopping by. Then, consider tying your post-show communication to your giveaway to remind attendees where they got the cool tchotchke.


If you’re investing your company’s money on promo items, it makes sense to stretch their promotional power from pre-show mailers all the way to post-show follow-up.


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Edited and condensed from an article by Candy Adams, the Booth Mom.

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