The Persuasive Power of Trade Show Give-Aways

Are trade show giveaways a blessing or a curse? Turns out, it all depends on how you use them.

The wrong way to use these giveaways (also called swag or tschotkes) is to choose a tired, common item and put your company’s name on it. Chances are, the majority of those won’t even make it home (hotel room waste baskets are a great place to find bad giveaway choices!).

Yet, time and time again, I’ve seen exhibitors who should know better doing exactly this. It would literally be better to just hand each booth visitor a $2 dollar bill and wish them well.

You’d probably be better remembered for that than you would by passing out a pen or a box of mints emblazoned with your logo.

MOD-1336 iPad Stand with Graphic Face Plate and Wings

MOD-1336 iPad Stand with Graphic Face Plate and Wings

The right way to use trade show giveaways or premiums requires some creative thinking, solid research and a little bit of effort. Consider these five factors when choosing the premium you’ll use as part of your exhibit marketing program:

1) They’re laser-targeted

Unlike virtually any other form of advertising, swag allows you to put your company’s name in the hands of people you want to remember you.

There’s no waste.

You only give them to people who visit your exhibit and talk business with you.

Try doing that with advertising in the show program, sponsoring anything at the show or using any form of technology!

2) They’re long lasting

Think about how many logo’d t-shirts you’ve got in your closet at home.

Look around your workspace and count the number of vendor or supplier logos you can see on the clock, Post-It cube, picture frame, coffee mug or other premiums you’ve saved specifically because of its usefulness.

Now try to remember how many giveaways that you received that never made it back to your office: silly hats, senseless stress balls, flimsy literature bags or plastic sunglasses.

Those were all examples of exhibitors flushing money down the drain, since you’d probably be hard pressed to even remember who gave you those cheap and useless premiums.

It turns out that even that box of mints isn’t too useful, since you’ll throw it away as soon as the mints are gone.

When you make your choice, factor in the lifespan of the product you pick. As long as it lasts, your promotional message will be in the hands of the recipient, reminding them of who you are and what you offer.

3) They communicate a message

A good premium is not only long lasting and useful, but it does something to remind recipients of your brand.

One example I’ve seen is a deck of cards with the company’s logo on the card backs, with an over-wrap that says, “With our company’s customer service, you won’t get lost in the shuffle.”

Another way to use cards is to send the aces to prospects in advance of the show, with a request to bring the card to the show and exchange it for a special gift.

When these prospects arrive, booth staffers already know they’re targeted attendees and treat them accordingly. Cards are a premium item that also passes the longevity test.

4) They’re a motivator to visit your booth

An extremely effective way to incorporate premiums into your marketing program is to create a two-piece premium, where one part is sent to the prospect prior to the show, and the remaining element is hand delivered in your exhibit.

The classic example of this is a set of cufflinks, where one is mailed to your target and the second, with its gift box, is waiting at the booth.

The same benefit can be accomplished with a mini Maglight flashlight, where the logo’d belt sheath is mailed prior to show time.

When the prospect shows up with it at your booth, you slip the logo’d flashlight into its holster.

Another way to capitalize on this technique is to hand out one part of the premium at the show, and offer to complete the set when you visit the prospect’s office to make a product presentation.

5) They promote relationships

How many times have you, as a customer of a company, felt neglected—even to the point where you’ve taken your business elsewhere?

That’s a problem a well thought out premium item can resolve.

When you receive something useful from a company you do business with, it elevates your opinion of the giver and can cement your relationship with them.

The same is true for your customers: give them something they’ll use and value, and you’ll have a better chance of being remembered favorably when they’re ready to place an order.

20' x 20' Visionary Designs Island

20′ x 20′ Visionary Designs Island Trade Show Booth

This is a process you don’t have to go through alone.

A good premium supplier can help by giving you a heads up about the latest interesting or “hot” item, or advising you on what premiums would be most effective in promoting your message.

Your goals are to increase your memorability, communicate a message, motivate a sale, promote a new product and increase brand awareness.

To accomplish this, both the premium and the message you connect to it must have an impact on the recipient.

I’m also a proponent of using two levels of trade show giveaways: a simple one that can wrap up a conversation with anyone who visits the booth, and something more substantial or expensive for those you want to treat especially well, based on their value to you as a customer or prospect.

Everyone likes to get something for free, and getting something that’s truly useful is the holy grail of premiums.

We’ve worked with a number of swag suppliers, and would be happy to make a recommendation.


A great premium is one element of the overall mix that can make your next show more successful.

Another element that helps guarantee success is a great trade show exhibit.

If your booth is lacking in its ability to attract attention and communicate your message, let American Image Displays help you select a fantastic trade show booth design that helps you make a terrific impression on the show floor.

For more information, call us at (425) 556-9511 or email [email protected].

For more, check out our article on how to use trade show video and how to get prospects with short attention spans.