To Swag or Not to Swag – That Is the Question

gift bagsSometimes I feel like I should be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for attending the most seminars and conferences, especially when it’s the end of the day or of the event and I’m toting around a bag of “swag.”

I hear that the swag bag they give participants in the Oscar awards show is really something to behold. However, for your garden variety business event, often the swag is of little to no use. I think it’s worthwhile to consider why you might want to invest in swag. And once we really understand why, it leads to a discussion of what kinds of items make good swag.

The motivation

Let me start by stating the obvious: In business you hand out a freebie hoping that somehow it leads to a sale someday. However, let’s unpack that just a little.

In all good and lasting business relationships, there is a level of interpersonal connection. With swag, you’re hoping to begin to establish, or reaffirm, that personal connection. Consider this parallel example: When someone does you a favor, you experience personal gratitude and somewhere in your brain a balance sheet pops up and you make a note that you “owe” this person a good turn.

In my example, the two people, over the years, engage in helping one another out. Frankly, that’s the ideal picture of an ongoing business relationship. By their continued engagement, both parties benefit.

Thoughtfully selected and valuable swag – although not always “valuable” in the monetary sense –can prime the pump of that relationship. But just as importantly, poorly selected and worthless swag can short circuit that relationship. With those observations, let’s look at some guidelines.

Good swag, bad swag

Consider who should receive your swag. If your budget is limited it is far wiser to present your most important prospects with some valuable swag rather than give everyone a ball point pen. As I said earlier, your swag may go existing customers with the hope of strengthening your relationships even more. In that case, you should know the recipients well enough to select some great swag.

Gourmet food items are never wasted. I end up leaving a large percentage of the swag I receive in my hotel rooms. But during busy conferences, when you’re on your feet all day, a delicious treat is always appreciated.

Avoid cheap items and items that are too heavy or big to carry easily. You may think that by handing out the biggest stuffed animal at the conference that you’re setting yourself apart from the crowd. Well, that’s true, but not in a good way.

Books relevant to a person’s business make excellent swag. However, a puff piece book about the athlete or celebrity you hired to sit at your booth for three hours is a waste of your money.

Anything that communicates value is a smart choice. Some items that don’t cost a lot of money nonetheless evoke the feeling of value. Moleskines, for example. They are merely small notebooks, but they are well made and send a far different message than a cheap spiral bound notepad, although in virtually every way they perform the same function.

One year my company gave away slim, folding, lint brushes.  They were a big hit because you could easily carry them in your purse or in a pocket.  In fact, years later I still run into people who continue to use them.

You should know what your customers and your prospects value. Use these insights as your guide to selecting the ideal swag to help you build stronger relationships and your money will be wisely spent.


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Image: Image: Gift Bags, © 2008 Monica D., used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.