The Value of S.W.A.G.

Swag may be “stuff we all get,” but it’s not always “stuff we all need,” and that’s a problem. If you don’t want to see your branded swag filling the recycling bins, your swag must provide value to your target audience.
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It’s the nightmare of all trade show exhibitors

You spend months planning the perfect show. Your booth is engaging and eye-catching. Your staff is trained and charming. Your marketing collateral is refined and informative. You were delighted with the doodads, trinkets and swag you purchased to help visitors better remember their interaction with your brand. 

Yet, as you walk the show floor, you see those same knickknacks left behind on tables, kicked into the corners of walkways, and twinkling beside the detritus in trash cans. You wonder what went wrong. The most likely answer is that your swag didn’t resonate with your target audience. Sure, you gave away some nice, branded pens. However, you forgot to question whether your smartphone-addicted, always online crowd had any use for them.

TRADE SHOW ROI GUIDE Exclusive insights and equations for measuring your Trade Show ROI

Swag is a powerful marketing tool. However, to create perfect swag, you need to put some thought into it.

What is swag?

Swag is an anagram for “stuff we all get.” However, as a trade show marketer and exhibitor, that’s the wrong mindset when considering booth giveaways. It should be “stuff attendees care about,” but that anagram is “saca,” which is pretty lame. (How would you even pronounce it? Sack-ah? Saw-Kaw?) So, “swag” it is.

When you head to a trade show with the goal to put your giveaways into as many people’s hands as possible, those typically do not resonate with attendees. If you simply pour your handouts into a fishbowl and then set it at the corner of a table, you’re doing it wrong. In fact, if you have a swag fishbowl (or the equivalent), please lift it high over your head and smash it on the ground (or place it in the back of a closet and forget about it – less cleanup).

If you want visitors to interact with you and your staff, a fishbowl is the worst possible way to achieve it. You are more likely to attract “trick or treaters” hunting for handouts than invested attendees. Even worse, they will likely clean out your goodies and leave you with nothing when someone from your target audience visits.

TRADE SHOW ROI GUIDE Exclusive insights and equations for measuring your Trade Show ROI

Instead of the fishbowl, create a strategy to distribute the swag. Since the reason for your giveaway is to make contact with prospective clients, you want to make sure that attendees engage with your booth staff before walking away with your swag. Instead of just allowing any passerby to grab a handful of your handouts, establish a system for giving away your giveaways. That’s the first step to ensure that your branded swag stays out of the trash can.

The second step is choosing the correct giveaway. Your swag should connect to your brand and resonate with your target audience. It’s not a problem if the handout doesn’t relate to every attendee because your goal is not to reach every attendee. Your goal is your target audience, and when swag reflects your brand, it more likely to resonate with your target audience – and remain in their possession.

How to choose the perfect swag

Do you remember the last meaningful gift you received? It likely came from a close friend or relative – someone who understands you and knows your interests.

The only way to choose meaningful swag is to understand your target audience.

Gather consumer data and divide your crowd into criteria relevant to your industry and business. Possible options include:

  • Age
  • Industry
  • Job title
  • City and state
  • Pain points
  • Key purchasing factors
  • Active on social media (and which channels)

Another element that impacts your swag is an event’s ticket price. Someone who spent a couple of hundred dollars – or thousand – needs some high-quality swag if you hope to make an impression.

Swag suggestions

Would any of the following possibilities resonate with your target audience to create lasting memories of your brand?

Self-care kits

Travel is chaotic. Airports are an over-crowded nightmare, masks are stuffy and fog up your glasses, and your flight has a better chance of being canceled than taking off. Once attendees hit their destination, a busy trade show and an active show floor don’t provide much opportunity for relaxation.

So, let your swag help remind attendees to take a break and care for themselves. Put together an event survival kit by filling a branded bag with vitamins, aspirin, gum, a stain-remover pen, and a healthy snack (trail mix, protein bars, dry fruit, etc.).

Another possibility is to fill the bag with items to help them relax when they get back to their room, such as bath salts, calming tea, lotion, lip balm, aromatherapy products, and a candle (all branded, of course).

Green giveaways

If your brand is committed to environmental causes – or, perhaps more importantly, if your target audience is – consider keeping your swag green. This highlights your eco-friendly efforts, and everyone benefits in return, including the environment.

One option is a branded canvas bag. Recipients can repurpose the bag as needed, and your brand is top-of-mind every time it’s used. To help ensure your target audience will reuse this tote, make it fun, colorful, and aesthetically pleasing, which means putting the design first and your brand second (not distant, just second).

It’s also fun (and appreciated) to toss a couple of green goodies into the bag. Consider including a bamboo cutting board, reusable water bottle or travel mug, face mask or baseball cap (made from recycled material, hemp, etc.), and a reusable straw. If you include a mug or water bottle, be sure to insert a card with info about your products and services.


Sometimes the best gift to give is to give back.

Allow your target audience to impact a cause that’s important to them by including a card they can fill out so you can donate to a charity of their choice in their name. If you’re worried that this has less of a “keepsake” factor than other options, consider this: you generate goodwill, and you can keep your brand alive with “thank you for your donation” emails.

Still need help finding the right swag for your marketing program? Contact one of our experts below!

Of course, swag is only one part of your presence at a trade show. From displays to accessories, the The Grade Group is ready to tackle all of your trade show services and needs! See how we can help you. Give us a call at 972-734-8585 or contact us here.

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