Word of mouth marketing and the value of swag

By Ted Wright June 10, 2019

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value of swag

By Ted Wright

One of the most all-time most popular marketing ideas is swag – you know those little gifts you hand out at a trade show booth, customer meeting, or industry conference.

Today I’m going to save you a lot of time and money by telling you the truth about the value of swag and its effectiveness as a marketing tool.

Look before you leap

The swag business (also known as marketing specialties) has been under a lot of pressure in recent years. There is the relentless stress of coming up with new and relevant ideas and now there is a lot of criticism about the industry contributing to plastic waste on the planet – so many of these cheap trinkets just get tossed.

So it makes sense to apply some wisdom to this decision, and that starts with a careful analysis of the value of swag that involves three decision points:

1. Is it interesting?

The primary value of swag is to grab attention and start a conversation. If you’re just handing out pens or koozies at an event you’re probably just attracting people who want something for free. They’re not talking with you or about you. It’s a waste of money. So … make it conversation-worthy.

The best kind of swag reminds a customer of the emotional connection they have with you. It reminds them of your story, and it reminds them to tell it to other people. Conversation-worthy swag hangs around. It might be useful, fun to wear, or nice to display in an office.

The worst example of swag is the candy bowl. There is no value in a candy bowl unless you are funding a dentist or nutritionist. The candy dish has become our symbol of the lowest form of swag because there is nothing interesting or conversational about it.

2. Is it new?

Just because a piece of swag is interesting, it doesn’t mean it will always be interesting.

A few years ago, a popular give-away were these little plastic screens that you could slide back and forth over your camera lens on your phone. When they came out, everyone’s like, “this is the greatest thing!” But once everybody has them, they are no longer the greatest thing. It is a thing that goes in the trash or is handed to your kid.

Don’t send me swag that I can easily replace. I don’t need a new pen. I don’t need a calendar. I don’t need fruit or stale chocolates.

A friend of mine sent out cards one year that showed that a donation had been made in their name to a great charity. He never received so many thank you notes. That is something new, valuable, emotional, and conversation-worthy.

Push for new. If it’s new, it’s more likely to be interesting and conversational.

3. Is it great?

My friend Mark Schaefer wrote in his seminal book The Content Code that the value of content that is not seen and shared is zero. Same thing goes for swag. If people don’t use it, it’s a waste of money.

Baseball caps are a popular go-to swag item and you can buy caps in bulk with your logo on them for less than $5 a piece.

At Fizz, we spend $11 or $12 per unit because we produce a hat that people love to wear. We custom-design each image. The hats themselves are fully embroidered, five panels (instead of six so there is no seam down the middle of the front) and low crown. In short, our hats are little pieces of art constructed in the best way possible.

Fizz has fans who wear our hats all over the world. I know somebody who has worn one of our hats for 15 years. The best hat makes people ask you … “what’s the story with that hat?” Or, “Wow! I just love that design where can I get one?” When people wear your hat or shirt, they ad advocating your brand.

Sure, that takes more thought and effort, but if you’re not creating something conversational, why create it at all?

Swag can be an effective conversation trigger, but only if you put some thought and effort into the gift-giving strategy and keep these three considerations in mind!

Ted Wright

Ted Wright is the founder of Fizz, the world’s leading word of mouth marketing (WOMM) agency. Ted is also an acclaimed WOMM keynote speaker and the author of Fizz: Harness the Power of Word of Mouth Marketing to Drive Brand Growth.

Illustration courtesy Unsplash.com


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