A few weeks before the BlogHer '09 Conference I was approached by an attendee looking for free swag to hand out at the conference to promote her blog. In exchange she offered to spread the word about my business to other bloggers - an interesting offer, which I declined... it didn't really feel right to me and her blog is written for stay-at-home moms, which is about as far from our target market as one can get. That was my first clue, however, that swag is a pretty darn big deal at that conference. In fact, that's probably an understatement.
This morning, one of my friends forwarded this blog post to me: BlogHer '09: Does Swag Pervert the Purpose? Very interesting reading! The gist of the blog post is that so many freebies were being given out that they became a divisive factor in a conference whose purpose is to build community. People changed their conference behavior based on various swag giveaways, such as showing up for certain events where the swag bags were extra-sweet and then ditching the events as soon as they got their bags. Swag envy ensued when some attendees got special gifts and others didn't, and the author really questions the whole premise of whether handing out swag at such an event truly helps build business relationships at all.
One thing I think is fairly obvious is that the companies handing out the freebies wantedto be blogged about (favorably) and getting their promotional products into those particular hands makes perfect sense from a marketing standpoint. Just handing stuff out willy-nilly, however, does not help build relationships - a point made quite well by the woman who wrote this article. And handing out swag in a way that divides the target audience into haves and have-nots may have the opposite of the intended effect and actually turn people off to your brand!
In my experience, the best way to build new relationships using swag as a marketing tool is to use swag as a reward - not as a giveaway. Swag bags should be handed out at the end of an event as people are leaving, as a parting gift and reward for attending. If handing out swag at a booth or table, keep it out of reach so people don't just swoop by and grab it... require some sort of interaction on their part to earn it, like giving you a business card or answering a question first.
Lastly, think about how the recipients are going to take the swag home with them. Bulky, heavy items are hard to transport - ditto with items you can't get past Airport Security. I had to chuckle at the image of the blog's author giving away her swag goodies to people at the airport because it caused her suitcase to be overweight, but as a marketer that's the last thing you want to have happen to your swag at the end of the conference. Small, useful items that travel well are always a good bet for conferences where lots of people fly in from out of town.
Thanks to Pamela Mack at Occuscreen for sharing this blog post with me!