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exhibiting 101
Astound Group used these apropos coffee mugs to attract attendees at EXHIBITORLIVE.
Purposeful Premiums
Before placing your next order for branded giveaways, follow these recommendations to ensure your tchotchkes of choice align with your company's objectives and target market. By Candy Adams
see a lot of questions from exhibit and event managers on industry forums about trade show giveaways. The most common question is "What are the best giveaway items?" To me, this is the wrong thing to ask. It's a little like asking, "What's the best car?" There's no one-size-fits-all answer to either question.

One attendee's trash is another's treasure. So rather than mindlessly ordering a thousand of the trendiest or "best" promotional products per recommendations from your colleagues on LinkedIn, let's take a close look at the steps required to select trade show tchotchkes that will appeal to your target audience and accomplish your exhibit-marketing objectives.


Make it Purposeful
Before embarking on a quest for the Holy Grail of giveaways, prioritize your show objectives and goals. Determine the reasons you want to distribute premiums and select items that fulfill those specific roles. Here's a rundown of some of the more common marketing goals that giveaways can help accomplish, along with advice on which premiums to pick:
Increase Brand Awareness. Distribute something that you can afford to give to everyone who comes by. Pick an item that will be seen all over the show floor and conference, such as a bag featuring your company name, logo, product name, tagline, or social-media moniker. That way, recipients become an army of branded foot soldiers extending your presence.
Build Booth Traffic. Use giveaways to lure your target audience to your exhibit. If you don't want attendees who aren't interested in your products stopping by to take up your time (and claim a free gift), consider offering something that would primarily appeal to the attendees you hope to attract, such as technology guides, autographed books, or white papers.
Nurture Relationships. Call to thank your clients for their current business before the show. That gives you the opportunity to invite them to visit your booth, see what's new, and pick up a high-value gift. You can even encourage clients to schedule a specific time for their visit so you'll have a moment to chat with them and create a calendar of appointments that may increase your return on relationship. Encourage Engagement. Use giveaways to thank visitors for attending a presentation, completing a survey, participating in a product demo, or talking with your exhibit staff. For these types of engagements, smaller, more nominally priced items are appropriate.
Foster Memorability. Remind booth visitors of your brand, product, and message. Look on your own desk and see what promo items you've kept. If an attendee tosses a giveaway in the trash because it has no value to him or her, then every dollar you spent to buy, print, ship, and distribute it is lost. But remember that your exhibit theme should be supported by your premium, not driven by it.

Once you've identified your goals (e.g., gathering qualified leads to convert to sales, increasing brand awareness, educating your audience on a new product or technology, fostering press/media interaction, etc.), prioritize them and determine whether giveaway items will help you achieve those goals. If the answer is "yes," keep reading. If the answer is "no," you can probably forgo giveaways altogether.


Do Your Homework
Study your target audience's profile. Familiarize yourself not only with its demographics — male or female, young or old, analytical or creative — but also with its psychographics, which can include attitudes, interests, and lifestyles. This information will give you clues as to what targeted attendees might like to receive. I've had success with gadgets for geeks and branded, personalized pens for executives. And Green giveaways such as rechargeable flashlights are a good fit for college students.

Depending on your audience, gift cards for gas and books, or for use at coffee shops and home-improvement stores, can be a hit. You can purchase them as needed from big-box stores in the show's host city.


Consult the Professionals
"Promo pros" — my nickname for those professionals who understand and are even certified in advertising specialty items — are worth their weight in giveaway gold. They can tell you which items are new, on trend, best suited to convey a specific theme, and more. These experts can provide product ideas based on price range, color, size, and shape.

Promotional-item vendors can also format artwork and determine production schedules that avoid manufacturing rush charges and meet tight shipping deadlines. So share your needs and budget with them, and you're more likely to find a giveaway item that's relevant to your audience and accomplishes your marketing objectives — without bursting your budget.


Focus on Your Target
Remember that not all attendees are created equal — and they don't have to be treated as such. Consider having a more personalized or valuable gift for your VIP visitors, and a less expensive token for attendees that stopped by but didn't meet your lead requirements. Furthermore, if you could only talk with 50 people while at a show, who would they be? Are you focusing your marketing on those attendees you most want to speak to?

When sales are your primary goal, these hot prospects are the ones you should be concentrating on. They might be current local customers interested in knowing what's new in your product line, hot prospects in the pipeline that your salespeople have meetings with during the show, your best referral sources (such as happy customers or industry analysts), or the top 50 suspects in the show's database who most closely match your current customer profile. Those are the people that should receive higher-value items.

Look at your total spend on all tiers of giveaway items and then consider dividing that by the number of hot prospects you most want to reach at a given show. For example, if you're spending $5,000 for 2,000 giveaway items, don't give everyone who comes to your booth a $2.50 item. Instead, your investment might be better spent if you offered each of your top 100 prospects a $50 gift.

Only you can decide — based on your goals and objectives — if this is a good reallocation of your giveaway dollars. But I'd bet if you did a good job prequalifying those 100 prospects and had a high-value gift and a compelling message for them when they visited your exhibit, your giveaways budget would generate a larger return and your sales pipeline would be much healthier.


Consider Free Items
If your promo budget is tighter than Melissa McCarthy's Spanx, think outside the box and consider gifts that don't necessarily fall under the promotional products label. What do you already have that your target audience would find valuable?

Limited-time product trials or free samples are usually a hit with attendees. You can even reach out to clients and prospects before the show and offer them the complimentary show-floor passes sometimes provided by show management. And if you're sponsoring a table at the show's gala event, you might be able to leave some of your booth staffers off the guest list, invite some of your top prospects, and turn it into a client-appreciation night. Or perhaps there is someone within your company that prospects and customers would like to meet at a small reception in your booth. Whatever you choose, offer something with a high perceived value, even if it doesn't cost you.


Follow the Rules
There may be rules on giving and receiving gifts at shows, and the show manager, convention venue, and/or their respective subcontractors dictate them. These no-nos can include anything from helium balloons to messy foods like popcorn and even raffles, which might be considered lotteries or games of chance in some states and thus regulated by gambling laws.

The venue may prohibit giveaways such as stickers or gum that will require extra labor to remove them from convention center walls and floors. And the official caterers at venues generally have rules prohibiting bringing any food or beverages into the venue that could cut into their concession revenue.

Exhibitors and industry regulations mandate other giveaway rules. In the medical and pharmaceutical industries, for example, there are limitations on giving gifts to medical professionals. Government employees and contractors may also be restricted in the value of items they receive. Other organizations may have restrictions on the dollar value of gifts that their employees can ethically receive without it being perceived as a bribe.

Carefully read the exhibitor manual and your booth-space rental contract to see what giveaway items show management, the venue, and their contractors are banning or are likely to incur surcharges. It could save you money now and hassles later.


Just say "No"
As a final note, a little discrimination is OK on the trade show floor. Nobody says you have to give every attendee who visits your exhibit the same gift, or anything at all for that matter. Remember, this isn't your 3-year-old's birthday party where feelings will be hurt if everyone doesn't get a gift. Rather, give purposefully, and you can reap the rewards.



Candy Adams, CTSM, CEM, CMP, CMM,
"The Booth Mom," is an independent exhibit project manager, trainer, speaker, consultant, and an Exhibitor Conference faculty member. CandyAdams@BoothMom.com

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