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Purposeful Premiums
Promotional items can be fun, but they should also be effective. Review these tips on swag selection before choosing giveaways for your next show. By Candy Adams
here's an age-old dilemma among exhibitors: Should we have giveaways for our booth visitors or not? I see this question on the LinkedIn Discussion Groups for event and exhibit managers. I also field questions about how exhibitors can determine if premiums are effective or just a waste of money.

Let's start with the word "effective." According to dictionary.com, there are a number of different meanings, but two of them hit home with me when it comes to using branded trade show giveaways.

The first definition, "adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result," speaks to a fact that most people forget: Effective giveaways should net a positive result. And this result needs to be tied to your measurable goals and objectives. If you don't know what you want to accomplish in an exhibit, then giveaways are irrelevant and can't be effective, as there's no expected result that you can measure.

The second definition, "producing a deep or vivid impression; striking," is equally important. As exhibitors, we hope that the items we're offering booth visitors produce a positive and lasting impression about our company. Ideally, giveaways should help build buzz during the show, and memorability that lasts long after. It's about prospects seeing exhibitors' giveaways on their desks weeks or months later, and being reminded of their (hopefully) positive interactions.

With those two definitions in mind, let's take a closer look at the steps to selecting effective and memorable trade show tchotchkes.

Align Giveaways With Show Goals
Before the catalog-perusing session begins, prioritize your show objectives and goals. Determine the reasons you want to distribute giveaways in the first place, and select items that fulfill specific roles. Here's a rundown of common goals that promotional items can help accomplish:
Increase Brand Awareness – Distribute something that's highly visible and affordable enough to hand out to every attendee that visits your exhibit. If everyone is carrying a branded premium, your company name will be seen all over the show. I like to use bags with the company name, product name, and tagline.
Nurture Relationships – Promo items can be used to thank customers for their current business or to show them new products and services. Pick higher-value gifts, such as personalized leather journals or datebooks, tell targeted clients about the premiums before the show, and invite those people to your exhibit to retrieve the gifts during the show. I like to use office-related products that people will likely display on their desks, such as clocks, calendars, and pen sets.
Encourage Engagement – If attendees participate in an in-booth presentation, product demonstration, or conversation with staffers, give them a promo item to thank them for their time. Here is where more nominally priced items such as branded pens come in handy.
Increase Booth Traffic – At a show where most attendees are potential customers, use giveaways to lure your target market to your booth. For example, I've used white papers that would only be of interest to my specific target audience.
Foster Memorability – To ensure a long shelf life for your giveaways, determine which items your audience would likely use on a daily basis, then brand the premiums with a URL or product name to add another layer of information. If a recipient tosses a tchotchke in the trash because it has no value to him or her, then every dollar spent to buy, print, ship, and distribute it is lost.

Finally, keep in mind that your exhibit theme or message should be supported by your premium, not driven by it. Measurable objectives should be set first, with the promo item chosen to meet your objectives for the show. Do you want this object to convey a specific message about your product or service, reinforce an ad campaign, introduce your latest product offering, convey your exhibit's theme, or something else? Once you have the answers to those questions, review the following tips and let the shopping commence.

Ask the Experts
I don't specialize in giveaways. You probably don't either. Fortunately, there are promotional-item vendors that know premiums inside and out. They can tell you which items are new, on trend, best suited to convey a specific theme, etc. These experts can provide product ideas based on a specific price range, color, size, or shape, so share your needs and budget with them early on.

Promotional-item vendors can also format artwork and determine production schedules that avoid manufacturing rush charges and meet tight shipping deadlines.

Match Giveaways to Your Audience
Profile your target audience and figure out what they would like. Select giveaways that prospects will want to keep, look at, handle, play with, and use often. Know not only the demographics of your audience, but also the psychographics, which include attitudes, interests, and lifestyles. All of this information will give you clues as to what your target audience prefers. It's helped me learn that geeks like gadgets, executives fawn over personalized pens, and college students appreciate backpacks. If you're at a loss when it comes to demographics and psychographics, there is a fail safe: gift cards. Gift cards for gas, books, coffee, and home-improvement products are always a hit, and can be purchased as needed from local stores in the show city.

Remember that there isn't a hard and fast rule that says you have to give the same thing – or anything, for that matter – to everyone that visits your exhibit at a trade show. And unless your goal is purely name recognition or brand awareness, your swag shouldn't be given to every trick-or-treater that comes by with an open bag and puppy-dog eyes. I like to think of gift giving as a trade, in that attendees are trading their time and attention for a token of appreciation, no matter how small. So why should you reward someone for simply walking by your exhibit?

That said, I'm a big fan of tiered promotional items that can serve varying purposes and have different values. I see great benefit (and cost savings) in having a higher-cost and/or higher-value gift for VIP customers who visit the exhibit, and a lower-value gift for other booth visitors and prospects. If you go the tiered route, include instructions on who gets what in your exhibit-staff training manual. Detail the internal exhibit policies on distribution of giveaways so your staffers know exactly what you have, the quantities available, and who is eligible to receive each specific type of promotional giveaway.

Follow the Rules
Believe it or not, there are rules on giving and receiving gifts at trade shows. Attendees' employers and/or industry regulations (such as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, aka PhRMA, code for the health-care shows) mandate some rules, while others are dictated by show management, the convention venue, or subcontractors.
If attendees participate in an in-booth presentation, product demonstration, or conversation with staffers, give them a promo item to thank them for their time.

There is often a list of prohibited giveaways in the exhibitor services manual. As trivial as some of the items may seem, don't ignore this list. The prohibited items typically include everything from helium balloons (which can drift up to the rafters) to raffles (which may be considered lotteries in certain states). The venue may also prohibit stickers or gum, which require extra labor to remove from convention-center walls and floors. And the venue's official caterer generally prohibits exhibitors from bringing in and distributing outside food or beverages (including branded bottles of water), as this practice cuts into the concession revenue. The only exception to this rule is when the food or beverage is a company's product, and that exhibitor is serving sample-size portions.

In the medical and pharmaceutical industries, there are stringent regulations and limitations on gifts given to medical professionals at trade shows. Government employees attending shows may also be restricted in terms of the value of items they receive. And other organizations may have restrictions on the value of premiums that their employees can receive without it being perceived as a bribe.

Consider the Quality
Quality matters. Giving away tacky trinkets of little value isn't going to afford a favorable impression of your company's quality standards. I've seen fortune cookies whose customized fortunes were illegibly printed. I've received a combination carabineer/flashlight from an exhibitor who informed me that it probably didn't work. One of my all-time favorites was a lenticular mouse pad that rendered optical mice useless, leading the exhibitor to claim they were actually coasters for large coffee mugs. None of these giveaways were inherently bad, but they were either of poor quality or not thought through. Spend the time and money to find quality promotional items with high-perceived values. It's worth it because whatever branded promotional item you give to a potential customer becomes the face of your company and ultimately part of your brand.

Along those same lines, if you want to create buzz at a trade show, make sure it's positive buzz. An Internet-security company handed out colorfully wrapped condoms printed with the message "Have a SAFE show from XYZ Security." Not surprisingly, the condoms were the talk of the show, but because they were in such poor taste. I also remember seeing a line of attendees waiting in front of an exhibit holding postcards that said "Screw the t-shirts; we're giving away $5 bills." While likely intended to be humorous, the word choice might have put off potential customers who may not have appreciated the crass nature of the message.

Determine a Distribution Plan
Where are you putting your giveaways? Are they piled on a counter in hopes the bounty will lure attendees into your booth? I often see them scattered atop counters along the aisle for anyone walking by to grab. And if you watch, you'll undoubtedly see some attendees stuff as many giveaways as they can in their overflowing bags and even wire-mesh shopping carts, as if they've hit the jackpot with cheap key rings and pens. I call this a drive-by gifting. They have no interest in your product, nor do they want to encounter the evil exhibit-staff person who might try to make fatal eye contact with them while they're filching your goodies.

I prefer the more couth method of personally handing premiums to those attendees deemed worthy. After all, giveaways are just the means to an end – engagement on the show floor. So whether you spring for high-end items, stick to basic branded pens, or develop a multitiered system for premiums at your next show, remember to select swag that sends the right message about your company and helps you accomplish your exhibit—marketing objectives.E

Candy Adams, CTSM, CME, 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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