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Conference Swag – A hunter-gatherer’s perspective

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If you’re wondering if attending conferences is a good idea –  Here’s what I think.  This article is entirely about the “goodies.”

I decided to do a business experiment, in the make of marketing and wise use of resources: Attending the Veterans in Business conference and getting one piece of “everything” with the hope of learning a couple of lessons.  A couple of observations:

Attendees:

  1. A full bag of “swag” is heavy.  Also at some point it starts looking conspicuous, so you might want to have a really good reason for taking all the things, such as “I’m writing a blog about it!” for fear of appearing greedy.
  2. You must engage the vendor at the table in conversation. Cruising by just to grab stuff is not polite.  (Sneaky option: wait until everyone is at lunch).
  3. How many pens do you really need? Yes, it’s free. But you’re there to network, not get goodies for the kiddies. Eye on the [right-kind-of] prize.  Unless you have a good excuse (“I’m writing an article about it!”)
  4. Don’t let the dust gather.  Yes, you can quite literally weigh the effect of your networking by the size of the bag. But if you leave it all in a corner of your office and don’t look at the materials, don’t make the contacts, don’t utilize the intel you have gathered at the event, it may not be the best time spent on your business.

 

Vendors:

  1. What is the purpose of the goodies? To get people to your table? Or to leave a lasting impression long after they leave? Your goodie-investment decision can’t be based solely on the novelty / uniqueness of the giveaways, you must ask yourself if the giveaways are meeting the goals you set out.  I can honestly say that the wine opener isn’t going to be sitting on my office desk, for a variety of perfectly good reasons.
  2. Zoom in on your key targets:  Yes, everyone can have a pen.  You might also have a few special (and more expensive / perishable) goodies for the prospects that you want to make an extra special impression on. It’s ok to keep things out of view.
  3. Watch the paper. How many pieces of collateral are you handing out? How many do you expect someone to read after they walk away?  Don’t waste precious resources on volumes that will end up in the recycling bin.
  4. Do you have a mechanism for tracking interested prospects? Asking for a business card, even having a giveaway fishbowl – it’s quite amazing what folks will tell you for a chance to win a $5 Starbucks card.
  5. Don’t make it too difficult for someone to get one of your goodies. People don’t like to beg for things. If it’s on display, chances are you don’t want to leave the conference with a boxful – so don’t put them in the back of the table, while standing in front of it and scaring people off.

2017 Trends?

I was disappointed to score only one flash drive, and zero phone chargers!  Car chargers and USB battery packs were all the rage in the last few years, but no longer.  It seems that everyone is still into phone accessories though:

Health and wellness were big:

 

Plenty of office goodies

 

                                                                      i counted 25 pens (a couple of duplicates)!

 

Oh and right, the handouts

 

from vendors (left, 2″ high) and government (right, about 1″ high plus the book).

 

 

 

 

What you don’t see pictured is the candy.  An easy way to get folks to your table. An inexpensive marketing investment.  And if all you have is paper – candy will soften the hard edges.

Goodies-wise, the standout table of the whole conference of course never made it into any bag – it was a delicious display of cookies from Dog Tag Bakery.

 

So here’s a lesson for businesses who are trying to figure out how to spend a very limited marketing budget wisely:

  1. Who is your customer? [human being that’s making / influencing / contributing to] decisions on whether to buy a product/service you sell.
  2. What would cause that person to come to your table?
  3. What do you want them to remember after they leave your table?  (Pro tip: the phrase “My grandkid will love this!”  — maybe not what you were going for)
  4. Do you have a way to follow up with them after that conversation?

Making the best first impression is important. But no matter how cool your giveaway, it won’t transform a passer-by into a client – that’s YOUR job.  Gadgets can help.

 

What were some of the best (and worst) giveaways you have seen at business events?

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