A Guide to Trade Show Giveaways

August 14, 2012

“Grab-and-Go” Christmas:
A Guide to Trade Show Giveaways

By Heather Howard, CTSM

Christmas morning was always a special time when my children were young. Their favorite thing was to get their overstuffed stockings from the fireplace and dump them into their laps. They marveled over the water bottles, packages of highlighters, and stress balls of all shapes and sizes that eventually became projectiles. They couldn’t wait to have their hot chocolate in their new grownup coffee cups. Or drink eggnog out of the fancy water bottles.

It wasn’t until they had begun to read that they questioned why their cool sticky pad dispensers had “Roadway Freight” printed on the outside. Or why their condensed-in-a-can t-shirts said “Labor Ready – Booth #235” on the front. My days of getting away with free stocking stuffers with my kids were over. Heavy sigh. I thank all of the vendors that never questioned me as I pulled a “Grab-and-Go.” I wasn’t really interested in their services. I was more interested in the stuffed pigs wearing little t-shirts with the company’s logo, sitting on the counter at the edge of the booth space, taunting me with their beady buttoned eyes. It was a big risk to obtain one. The risk is scarier for a seasoned trade show veteran like myself than it would be for a mother in the Cabbage Patch aisles in the ‘80s. At least then you only had your hair pulled and maybe trampled on by other mothers on the same mission. Here, the price to pay was much worse. A dreaded sales pitch. Or more terrifying than that, they could insist on scanning my badge and then send me endless e-mails pitching promotions and specials of products I would never consider … Was this free toy worth the price of a long-term spam relationship? Yes, yes it was. It was a challenge I was willing to accept. I stalked the booth for a while, walking by in each direction, watching how other attendees had to sell their souls to obtain one. I noted the placement of them on the shelf, measured the distance from the “safe zone” of the aisle carpet and the edge of escape from their carpet. I was patient. In a 10×20 booth there were only two people working the area. I knew if I timed it just right, the fuzzy pig was mine. I saw my chance and I took it. The two salesmen were with other “victims.” I walked by, reached my arm into the booth space, and the piggy had a new home in my bag. It was destined to be nestled in a stocking, six months later. SUCCESS!! I survived without the mark of even a business card placed in my hand. There are a lot of people like me on the show floor. The challenge is to make sure that you are not merely supplying Christmas gifts for free, but really utilizing the giveaways for their actual purpose. The biggest thing that would have detoured a grab-and-go attendee like me is placement.

All giveaways should be placed as far back into the booth as possible, with a few at different entrance points in the booth for enticement. In order to obtain one, attendees have to walk off of the “safe zone” of the carpet and into the booth space. Having the items at the back of the booth allows the exhibitor time to approach new visitors and qualify them as potential customers before they can Grab and Go.

I once heard an exhibitor call attendees like us “Trade Show Zombies.” Trade Show Zombies are those trade show attendees who wander up and down the aisles between the trade show booths with oversize bags, grabbing any available free candy, and more importantly, grabbing any and all available free loot. You can spot them by their glassy-eyed stares and often, by flecks of drool running down their chins. They have one purpose – to go by each and every trade show booth at the show and get whatever free stuff they can find.

The best thing to do to avoid a horde of them descending on your booth is to fall back on the following trade show advice:

Focus on bringing qualified prospects to your trade show booth. Don’t focus on the general masses.

Have people fill out a qualification form and answer specific questions.

Require them to talk to a salesman before they are entered into the drawing.

Have a consolidation gift ready for those that are not qualified. A free pen can easily be used to cut off a conversation with a prospect who is more interested in discussing the weather than doing future business.

In my opinion the giveaway should do more than just carry a logo on it. It should communicate a message and be original all at the same time. This is a tall order. Tradeshow giveaways are a great way to promote your company brand or highlight any other facet of your business. But they have to be done right to be affective.

Give them a reason to come to the booth. Have them bring the mailer or e-mail with them to get the giveaway. It is also a great way of measuring how the pre-show marketing is working by how many mailers you collect. make sure the promotions match the brand:
Promotional items improve brand recall. Avoid cheap gimmicks. (Save those for the stocking stuffers.) You don’t want the attendee to associate a low-cost or broken item with your brand.

Items that are used on a daily basis will have greater longevity. Sports bottles, iPhone accessories and creative office supplies will be more useful than a bag of candy or a stuffed animal.

It doesn’t matter how creative, expensive or useful your promotional items are if they aren’t directed at the right audience. To cater your purchases to the show’s demographic, consider the conference theme and venue, as well as the attendee profile – including age, profession, industry and interests. For example, a tech crowd may appreciate items like branded flash drives, mouse pads and earbuds.

Don’t forget that many conferences draw out-of-state attendees. To accommodate travelers who have flown in for the show, avoid over-sized/bulky items, as well as glass, ceramics or other delicate gifts that are likely to break in transit.

Consider ordering a smaller quantity of higher-end items for your top clients and partners. Personalizing products, such as high-end pens, portfolios and flash drives, adds an extra touch of thoughtfulness and showcases your appreciation.
Consider the quantity: Once you’ve selected your creative, useful and memorable tradeshow giveaway, consider ordering in bulk to get a better deal. Leftover items can be used at future shows or – when applicable – as part of your company’s internal incentive program.

Hardly do we ever have just enough ordered for each show. I’ve had clients run out on the first day, and others who ship boxes of pens back to the office. Paying both drayage and freight multiple times on them doesn’t make sense.

And the sad thing is, even though you follow all of the tips and advice, a percentage of the stuff gets dumped in the hotel room trash during last minute packing to make room for the cool daiquiris-by-the-yard cups from the strip. Don’t judge me; we all have one … right?
What to do with your leftover “swag” and stuff you have collected that you don’t want:

Even though it is often stuff that collects in our office drawers and in show bags that never get opened again once back at the office, somewhere out there – closer than you think – are people that could use a few new t-shirts.

On the last day of the show, walk the floor; grab an extra shirt or two from the booths. Women’s shelters are perfect places to drop off clothing. So are childcare centers. And if you mention to this booth that you are donating clothing to a shelter, they will usually load you up with a variety of sizes after the show rather than hauling it back. Companies are often thrilled to have people not only wearing their branded merchandise, but also needing it.

Some other ideas:
· Schools always need pens, pencils, notepads and thumb drives.
· Soup kitchens love leftover candy, bags of cookies, popcorn, or anything else that’s edible.
· Stress balls and stuffed animals can become cherished toys at a low-income daycare or preschool. Sometimes, you get a nice little tax write-off for the charitable donation as well, so everyone benefits.

When people visit your trade show booth, qualify them immediately, and see if they are interested in your business. A tradeshow floor isn’t the place to discuss why the hotel coffee sucks. Don’t cater to the trade show stocking stuffers. You’re at the show to create and conduct business, not to feed and supply the Grab-and-Goers. When you identify one, send him packing. Notice I didn’t say she? I am exempt because I am giving you these hints to run off people like me. So remember my face and give me a free tchotske as thanks. If not, trust me, I am well trained at the art of Grab-and-Go. I will get it sooner or later …

(Heather Howard, CTSM, is a contributor from Washington, D.C.)

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