Does anyone actually want conference swag? | How marketers can maximize swag!

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I used to struggle with conference swag. What should I do with it? Can you decline it? Can you just pick the best pieces out of the bag?

Of course, some organizations paid to be in bags, so as a fellow marketer, I feel the pain that people might not want what’s in there OR even look at it. I usually look at least. Maybe the most direct conversation happened when I was doing a 5-hour turn in New Orleans to speak at a conference. I get there and one of the organizers said: “Oh hi. I was getting worried, but you probably fly in like this often.”


The conversation continued along the same tone. <Here’s a welcome bag> “If you want it.”

“I don’t know. What’s in it?”

There was some snacks and I was hungry, so I took them. Lunch was after my session. I didn’t see anything else that I felt I needed/wanted to keep so I handed the rest back. Of course, now they have a partially full bag.

But getting swag and things can really be a drag to us light travelers. For example, on a 76-hour swing through Chicago this is my luggage:

Related: From interiors + sources: How to creatively repurpose conference swag

As you might imagine I have no extra room for anything. That’s also why we instituted a “no gifts from trips” rule at home. With 100-legs, 6 countries, 18 states in the USA in 2018, that seemed like a necessary rule.

  • No. 1 the cost
  • The time to find something the kids even want
  • Finally, where would I put it?

And I’m not a very good shopper – for myself or others. My 10-year-old asked me to bring back a keychain from Portugal. I actually saw keychains at a downtown store – 1,000s. No idea what kind she had in mind. Plus, she doesn’t even have keys. She enters the house through the garage, which has a keypad with code.

Getting swag can present similar a dilemma and I remember one time where others gave me all their swag to take back to the office and I ended up checking two bags (free due to American Airlines status).

Not to say all the swag I’ve ever received isn’t worth keeping.

Some back packs people hand out are quite useful and I’ve ended up using them.

Pens and notepads. I’m pretty sure all of my pens and notepads are swag from conferences or from hotels.

Some books. There’s value in companies to get their books into swag bags and I’ve read those books before and even when I haven’t (yet) I end up tweeting a picture of the books. They can make good reading materials for the flight home, too.

T-shirts. I’m actually a big fan of T-shirts that I can wear in the summer or at the gym. Sometimes I wear t-shirts while in the office. Depends on what’s on deck for the day, you know!

More reading: Read my fitness articles here

Shoes. Getting shoes is rare, but the Social Media conference in western Canada where I keynoted in 2018 gave them to speakers:

social media camp shoes

I’m still planning on wearing them for other keynotes. Great publicity there for their conference and certainly a conversation starter. I also wore them for my keynote there and since suit and Converse didn’t seem to match changed my look some. I can’t even tell you the last time – if ever – that I’ve worn a dress shirt untugged. Maybe that’s my look going forward. 🙂

social media conference

Portable chargers. You know I love my portable chargers and when companies have those in a swag bag I often keep them around as a backup. Most of the free ones that people hand out, though, barely re-charge my iPhone once. Nonetheless, they are good backups.

Hats. I do wear hats at the gym and sitting in my back yard in the summer. So there’s a chance that I might keep hats around – unless they are too cheesy.

For Marketers: How to decide what to put in swag bags?

I’ve played the swag bag marketing game before, too. And sometimes it works to get your brand in front of people. And sometimes, people just throw it away or glance over things. So what are some ideas to get the most out of our swag bag game as marketers?

As always, consider the goal! What are you trying to accomplish? If it’s conversions, will a t-shirt get you there? I doubt it. If it’s public awareness, a t-shirt with a call to action to tweet a selfie wearing it can however.

Budget: How much money do you actually have to spend. I used to half jokingly tell clients that I could send them that half a million dollar proposal OR they could tell me what their goals are and a ball park budget figure and I could see what could work. Also: Could that money be spend elsewhere and be more effective?

Measurement. How will you know that it worked? If the goal is to get people to post selfies in your t-shirt on Twitter and Instagram, that’s relatively easy to measure. Whether or not people read the flier, not so much.

Swag bag overkill. Some bags have so much stuff in them that it’s truly hard to stand out. Flier upon flier is hardly a strategy to stand out. Even if people look at them, they might spend a 1/100s of a second deciding whether or not to read further. When possible, figure out what all is going to go into a bag. And then figure out how to stand out.

Swag bag wrap

As a consumer I like getting swag that is useful. Always.

As a marketer, I also look what others are doing as part of their swag bag marketing. I only pay attention usually to the innovative stuff, though. 🙂

Some of the discussion on Twitter:

What are the best swag items you’ve received as a consumer OR put into a bag as a marketer? Drop me a note below. (Obviously, I will see your email when you enter it. Privacy blah blah).