Items that Carry on Giving

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One of the most common ways for companies to build their brand is through exhibiting at trade shows. No matter what industry you’re in, there’s a pretty good chance there is a conference targeting your desired customers and partners. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, almost all global events were either cancelled or moved online in 2020, and large-scale in-person events are unlikely to resume until the fourth quarter of 2021 – if not 2022.

In addition losing chances for face-to-face networking, companies are missing out on a critical branding opportunity: tradeshow giveaways. This is a significant part of the marketing landscape: according to Fast Company, businesses spend more than $24 billion a year on free branded items — from water bottles to hats to mugs to pens — to build mindshare. Even without physical conferences and tradeshows, companies can still get creative by sending items directly to the people who would have picked them up at their booths as recently as March 2020.

Let’s look at what kinds of gifts drive value, and which are destined for the back of a drawer.

Most importantly, a giveaway should have a repeat effect. Items like mints or candy don’t have a lasting value because they are quickly consumed. On the other hand, items people keep for months or years like caps or mugs grant companies who give them out the Holy Grail of marketing: multiple views to directly drive brand awareness.

Promotional tote bagphoto credit: Incase / Flickr

Ten years ago, mouse pads were the ultimate giveaway because people would keep them on their desks indefinitely. Unfortunately, the switch from desktop computers to laptops and tablets has rendered mousepads less effective. Useful and easy to brand in some truly creative ways, USB drives risk a similar fate moving forward as tablets promise to eventually phase out laptops. Travel cups and water bottles are also great, but by now people have so many that an extra one is not going to generate a lot of use.

So what are the winners for 2021? Here are some interesting top-sellers so far this year:

  • Pens
  • Mugs
  • Face masks
  • Tote bags
  • Koozies

Promotional pensphoto credit: Laura Taylor / Flickr

When looking at this list, remember: items must be perceived as high-quality or they will be discarded immediately. You don’t need to spend $20 per pen, but at the same time, a cheap plastic pen with a logo is not going to end up in regular rotation. Even PPE items like masks need to be above average in quality because most people own multiple masks and want something that’s just a little bit better than what they already have.

If these items have one thing in common, it’s that they’re equally useful for everyday life as for office work. Pens and mugs are great for the home and the office, while tote bags and masks make shopping easier and Koozies are for leisure time with cold sodas or beers. This way, branded items move from a business setting to the post-COVID telecommute-friendly workplace and even into everyday life.

BBC Sherlock promotional heat reveal mugphoto credit: George Thomas / Flickr

Mugs especially have always been popular, and may be better suited for shipping than handing out at trade shows because people working from home don’t have to worry about stuffing large items into their luggage. 75% of all swag given out at Las Vegas conferences ends up in Nevada’s local landfills — they don’t even make it onto the plane!

Of course, it is incredibly expensive to ship items to individuals as opposed to delivering them in bulk to a conference. It may be worth targeting a select group of recipients rather than going for the largest distribution list. Not only does this cut down on shipping costs, it allows companies to buy fewer items at a higher price, which in turn will lead to a reputation for quality most giveaways don’t have. To that end, spend the extra couple of dollars to upgrade your gifts. If you are sending out bags, for about $3 you can get an insulated liner, and only a bit more money will get you a generously sized coffee mug.

photo credit: John Fischer / Flickr

Stickers are always a great budget idea, either as an accessory to a premium product or on their own. Pens, bags, or mugs with Iron-on or stick-on logos can be adaptable and memorable than those with printed logos since they can be custom made very quickly and applied as the recipient prefers. Stickers on their own are a fun way to let people decorate their existing items with your logos, which could end up on laptops, tablets, notebooks, and even cars. If only sending out the choice items to a select few people, you can also send sticker sheets to a wider group for a tiered experience.

There’s no “right way” to handle corporate giveaways, but the shift from in-person events has led the industry to fundamentally rethink this critical aspect of marketing. All it takes is a little ingenuity to make an impact, even in the absence of physical conferences.

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