3 Tips for Tech Marketers When Creating Conference Swag

By Jen Maidenberg, VP Business Development, IOD
Over the last six months, I’ve been on the US tech event circuit meeting and getting to know US-based tech companies focused in cloud, devops, big data, AI, and our other areas of interest. I started with a few AWS summits, then headed out to Vegas in August for my first VM World, and last week, did the rounds at Oracle Open World in San Francisco.

And while I won’t be personally headed to re:Invent 2018, my colleague Ofir Nachmani will, and I’ve asked him to report back to me on this VERY IMPORTANT topic: which tech brands are killing it and which are royally sucking at tech event swag.
This is critical data to consider as you plan your conference & travel budget for 2019. You know that, right?
Think about it: Would you rather spend four days sitting in workshops and sessions in crunchy, mis-sized, overly-branded t-shirts, or soft, almost-high-fashion ones that no one would ever guess you got for free by pushing your way to the front of a booth at the Javitz Center? Seriously, are you actually covering your laptop in logos you’ve never even heard of or are you saving space for the coolest laptop stickers of all time?
To be fair, tech marketing professionals have a lot on their mind in planning for shows: reserving the exhibitor space, making sure the booths are still both visually provocative and physically intact, figuring out who’s going to staff the booth and dividing responsibilities. You could almost forgive the lazy resignation that sometimes goes into designing and purchasing event swag.
But let me tell you: nicely designed and thought-out promotional items for your brand can make a huge difference in who pauses in front of your booth and who doesn’t; who stays to learn more and who just shoves the free gift into their free tote and walks away never to think of your product or company ever again.

The Swag Champions of Oracle Open World 2018

Disclaimer: I tried to hit as many booths as possible, but some greeters and staffers were more friendly than others so if you had cool swag, but you don’t see it listed below, it may be because of that unfriendly event marketing coordinator who sized me up and deemed me unimportant or more likely, I may have just missed you. This list is by no means comprehensive. Also, you won’t see included any raffle items like the Star Wars Death Star Lego kit or Amazon Echo.
Opus (by Epilogue Systems) with their reusable metallic straw, seemingly unrelated to their company, but certainly a conversation starter.
MemSQL, with their soft, truly unisex tee which almost was female-friendly (a rarity for tech event t-shirts). It’s a little too long for me to wear as anything but pajamas, but the simple design incorporating the infinity sign as part of their logo would inspire me wear it out in the world if it was a tad bit shorter.
Rubrik Inc., who seems to have consistently gorgeously designed promotional products, with a super cozy, MC Escher-ish / 80s metal band t-shirt.
An honoroble mention to Wipro for their fun DIY sloganed, iron-on tees. The idea was a great one that attracted a lot of attention and traffic. Sadly, the end product was far from female-friendly with the chosen slogans running across chest level and their own logo immediately beneath the slogans making the narrative of the text really, really confusing. But I do appreciate the innovative effort.
On that topic, I wholeheartedly agree with this post by Dave Gerhardt, VP Marketing at Drift and the video he shared recently regarding how logo placement can really make or break your giveaways.

3 Things to Consider When It Comes to Promotional Items

Okay so without further ado, here are three tips for tech marketers when planning swag for their next event.

1. Think Female-Friendly, Unisex, Gender Expansive

There is absolutely no excuse for not bringing with you t-shirts that are able to fit any gender, any size. This is not 1995. Having previously been in the t-shirt business, I know how well-equipped the industry is now to handle producing t-shirts of all sizes, from petite to plus. Sometimes a v-neck or a scoopneck works better for women. Consider putting your slogan on the back of the t-shirt instead of across the chest. If you’re going to bring t-shirts to a show, be responsible and think outside the small, medium, large, xl box. Otherwise … bring socks. Mongo DB gave away cute and comfy unisex ones at the last AWS Summit I attended. Or knitted caps. Yes, that’s apparently a thing.

2. Think Less Waste

Let’s say for some bizarre reason you still don’t recycle or care about our rapidly declining environmental situation here on Planet Earth. You should still avoid giving out papers or branded “gifts” that your visitors will likely just toss when they get home. To be clear, stop spending your marketing budget on items your visitors will put in a trash can headed for a landfill (because the lamination prevents us even from recycling), which includes printed brochures and one-sheets, little plastic unidentifiable doo-dads with your company logo on it, and pens that suck.
Give me something clever and inventive, but usable! And reusable! (See above mention of reusable straw.) I got a great branded stainless steel water bottle at the AWS Transformation Day in Philly last summer. I walk around the city holding it. I drink from it. They get big-time brand exposure for giving me something I can and want to use. I would love to wear a branded laptop bag if it was high quality and subtly branded. (Hint hint) Which leads us to my final tip …

3. Think Universal Slogan, Minimalist Placement

Two years ago when I started working for IOD, I received a wework key card and case to stick on the back of my smartphone. I didn’t hesitate to put the key card case on my phone because I really got behind (and still do) wework’s slogan: “Do What You Love.” Further, wework’s logo wasn’t on the case. On their laptop stickers (customized for various cities depending on location), their logo is small and placed near the bottom: the sticker highlights the city typically, not wework.
I am a sucker for a certain aesthetic: for example, I will always stop at a booth that has 80s-themed swag. But if the item is too heavily promoting a product or doesn’t fit well enough with my “personal” brand, I’m not going to wear it, slap it on my laptop, or carry it around. Sure there are some brands we all love so much that we will wear their logos willingly, and with pride. (All my Philadelphia Eagles-loving neighbors, for instance, spend every Sunday in their jerseys, even off-season.) But if I am not so familiar with your brand, the surest way to keep me from promoting it on my person is to make your logo or product the central image. Jfrog, whose t-shirt I wear out of the house and gets a lot of attention from strangers, chose to put their logo on the sleeve. This is a decent alternative to front-and-center.

Proud of Your Swag?

As I mentioned, Ofir will be at re:invent next month and will be on the lookout for impressive marketing swag. He will also be giving away our minimalist IOD cloud celeb laptop stickers. If you are proud of the work your marketing team has done to come up with, design, and produce stand-out promotional items, leave a comment below with a link to a photo I can check out. And if I stop by your booth at the next events I’ll be attending (CloudExpo and InfoSecurityNorthAmerica in NYC next month) to tell you I’m impressed, you can be sure I mean it! If you want to schedule a meetup in advance, let’s connect on Linkedin.

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