Swag Your Conference Attendees Will Love (and Loathe)

Conferences and events are a golden opportunity to connect with your target audience and create lasting brand impressions. While the speakers and sessions are the main draw, the swag you give out can be just as memorable—for better or worse.

The right swag delights attendees and turns them into enthusiastic brand ambassadors. But the wrong swag? It inevitably ends up in the trash bin or buried in the back of a desk drawer, never to be thought of again.

To help you make a positive impact at your next event, we‘ve rounded up real-world examples of the best and worst swag we‘ve personally encountered. Learn from these wins and misses to craft a swag strategy that wows.

Swag Attendees Love

What sets great swag apart? It‘s useful, relevant, high-quality, and has staying power long after the event ends. Here are some standout examples:

Utility Items

You can‘t go wrong with swag that solves a common problem or makes attendees‘ lives easier:

  • Mobile chargers: Phone batteries always seem to die at the worst time. Branded portable chargers are a practical lifesaver.
  • Umbrellas: Sudden downpours are the bane of outdoor events. A sturdy, compact umbrella shows you have attendees‘ backs—literally.
  • Water bottles: Hydration is key for alert, engaged attendees. Give the gift of refreshment with an insulated, reusable bottle.
  • Moleskine notebooks: Even in the digital age, nothing beats pen and paper for jotting down aha moments. A classic moleskine is always appreciated.

Wearables

The right wearable swag gives your brand exposure that goes far beyond the event itself:

  • T-shirts: A well-designed t-shirt is walking billboard for your brand. In a survey by the Advertising Specialty Institute, 85% of people remembered the advertiser who gave them a shirt.[^1]
  • Caps: A branded baseball cap is a functional fashion statement. 41% of U.S. consumers own a promotional hat.[^2]
  • Socks: Quirky custom socks are a fresh alternative to the ubiquitous t-shirt. Fun socks spark conversations and are eminently Instagrammable.

Edibles and Drinkables

Artisanal snacks and beverages are an unexpected treat that appeal to foodies and the perpetually hungry:

  • Gourmet popcorn: Skip the stale chip bags in favor of flavored popcorn. 67% of event attendees who received snacks or beverages from a sponsor said their opinion of the brand was more positive afterwards.[^3]
  • Tea or coffee: Perk up attendees with a bag of gourmet coffee beans or loose leaf tea blends. Bonus points for creative packaging.
  • Craft beer or wine: A bottle of local microbrew or wine is a welcome wind-down after a long day of sessions (where legal and appropriate for the audience, of course).
  • Custom chocolates: You can‘t attend a conference without chocolate, right? Spring for the good stuff with handcrafted truffles or bars in unique flavor combinations.

Tech Gadgets

Technology giveaways are perennial crowd pleasers at tech-centric events:

  • Wireless earbuds: As virtual meetings become the norm, a pair of sleek earbuds are an upgrade from standard issue headphones.
  • USB hubs: Extra ports are essential for the device-happy. A branded USB hub keeps your logo front and center on their desk.
  • Laptop accessories: From blue light blocking glasses to webcam covers, there are plenty of ways to enhance the work-from-anywhere experience.
  • Portable projectors: A high-end item like a pocket projector generates buzz and positions your brand as cutting-edge.

Eco-Friendly Options

60% of Americans say they prefer to purchase from environmentally responsible brands.[^4] Reflect your green values with sustainable swag:

  • Reusable straws, utensils, and totes: Replace single-use plastics with durable, stylish alternatives. The marine life will thank you.
  • Plantable seed paper: Biodegradable paper embedded with seeds literally grows your message. Perfect for handouts and postcards.
  • Solar chargers: Harness the power of the sun—and the cool factor of renewable energy tech. A solar-powered device charger keeps attendees connected off the grid.

Locally Produced Items

Source one-of-a-kind swag from local artisans and businesses for a memorable sense of place:

  • Handcrafted ceramics: A mug, vase, or catch-all tray from a hometown potter is both useful and meaningful.
  • Small-batch condiments: BBQ sauce, hot sauce, preserves, honey—if it‘s a local culinary claim to fame, bottle it up and slap your logo on it.
  • Locally roasted coffee or tea: Support area roasters and give attendees a delicious taste of your destination.

Luxury Goods

For VIPs and big spenders, elevate your swag to luxury status with high-end items they‘ll be excited to use and display:

  • Leather laptop bags, portfolios, and luggage tags: Choose premium materials for a sumptuous look and feel. Full-grain leather makes an impact.
  • designer drinkware: A hand-blown glass decanter or sleek metallic tumbler is a desk-worthy addition to the executive suite.
  • High-end touches and accessories: Think designer silk scarves, polarized aviator sunglasses, or even a set of engraved cufflinks.

Swag Fails to Avoid

Now that we‘ve looked at swag attendees love, what about the giveaways that miss the mark? Steer clear of these common swag pitfalls:

Cheap, Mass Produced Items

Flimsy pens, disposable water bottles, and those ubiquitous pop sockets have become the conference equivalent of junk mail—unwanted and destined for the landfill. In fact, the average tradeshow attendee throws out 18% of the swag they receive.[^5]

Useless Trinkets

Unless you‘re at an antiques roadshow, no one wants a paperweight or commemorative figurine. Other dust-collectors to avoid:

  • Stress balls
  • Keychains
  • Magnets
  • Fidget spinners

Poor Quality Products

Swag that falls apart after one use creates a negative association with your brand. Don‘t cheap out on:

  • T-shirts that fade or unravel in the wash
  • Pens that dry up or break after a few clicks
  • Phone chargers that overheat or short circuit
  • Candy or snacks that taste stale

Cumbersome or Heavy Items

Attendees don‘t want to lug a 500-page industry almanac or foot massager around the conference, on the plane, and back to the office. Keep swag small, lightweight, and easily packable.

Off-Brand or Irrelevant Items

Your swag should have a clear connection to your business and brand identity. Giving out garden gnomes at a FinTech conference, for example, will only elicit head-scratches. When in doubt, err on the side of practical and universal rather than quirky and niche.

Viral Swag Success Stories

Need inspiration? These events and brands knocked it out of the park with creative swag that got people talking, sharing, and engaging:

  • Salesforce: To promote sustainability at Dreamforce, Salesforce gave out hoodies made from recycled plastic bottles and bioplastic sunglasses.[^6] The eco-friendly theme perfectly aligned with their commitment to green initiatives.

  • charity: water: At the Inc. 5000 Conference, this nonprofit gifted yellow jerry cans, the kind used to transport water in developing countries.[^7] The eye-catching, unusual item drew attention to their mission to provide clean water globally.

  • Airbnb: The hospitality brand made a splash at SXSW with Airbnb-branded sleeping masks, a cheeky nod to a good night‘s sleep in any location.[^8]

  • HubSpot: Inbound attendees scooped up HubSpot‘s "Nala Cat" plush toys, a quirky riff on their logo.[^9] The cute, cuddly felines were a viral hit on social media.

Ultimately, there‘s no one-size-fits-all approach to swag. Consider your audience demographics, brand personality, and event goals to choose items that make sense for you.

Key Takeaways for Swag Success

Ready to elevate your swag game? Keep these best practices in mind:

  1. Prioritize quality: It‘s better to invest in a few high-quality items than a mountain of cheap junk.
  2. Make it useful: Choose items that solve a problem or make attendees‘ lives easier, like tech accessories or practical everyday tools.
  3. Keep it on brand: Your swag should align with and enhance your brand identity. If it doesn‘t feel relevant to your business, skip it.
  4. Think beyond the booth: The best swag has a life outside of the event. Consider how attendees will use and interact with it back at the office or at home.
  5. Aim for social shares: Instagrammable packaging and trendy, hashtag-worthy items get your brand in front of attendees‘ followers. User-generated content FTW!

With the right strategy, swag can be a powerful touchpoint to connect with your audience and build lasting brand affinity. As you gear up for the coming year‘s conferences and events, use these insights to create giveaways that win hearts, minds, and social media feeds.

[^1]: Promotional Products Work, 10th Edition
[^2]: 2019 Global Ad Impressions Study
[^3]: Event Marketer Experiential Marketing Content Benchmarking Report
[^4]: GreenPrint Business of Sustainability Index
[^5]: Event Marketer Experiential Marketing Content Benchmarking Report
[^6]: Salesforce Sustainability at Dreamforce
[^7]: charity: water INBOUND Case Study
[^8]: CNBC SXSW Brand Activation Roundup
[^9]: HubSpot Inbound 2020 Attendee Review