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Do’s and Don’ts for Your Trade Show Merchandise

One of the best parts of going to a trade show is all the goodies you can pick up from all the hot new companies presenting there. A good piece of merchandise can boost your overall presence at a show as well as draw in a sizable crowd, but how do you know you’re doing it right? Here are the dos and don’ts when it comes to giving out merchandise:


1. Do give away something interesting
If you’re going to be pouring money into free merchandise, it had better be cool enough to attract a crowd. Keep in mind that the majority of people who come to these shows work in an office, surrounded by pens and coffee mugs. Consider that perhaps a typical trade show attendee doesn’t need any more office supplies, especially when they can get them for free from the supply closet. This is your chance to really make a splash. Give away something that will get the whole show talking, which doesn’t directly relate to office life. What about some fun, colorful socks? Or a branded reusable container with some snacks inside? Or small, hard-cover moleskin-style notebooks? Or water guns? Try to go with something that won’t be instantly written off as “junk” while being unique and chatter-worthy. Something that they just “have” to take home.

2. Do consider services
A lot of companies are choosing to offer unique or quirky services like massage and psychic readings to get a crowd at  their booth, as opposed to giving away merchandise. This eliminates the all too familiar “grab and run” where an attendee will grab a piece of free merchandise and then disappear into the trade show abyss, without saying a word. Services that are usually expensive outside of the walls of the trade show will seem pretty exciting when people see them at your booth, not to mention that you’re offering them for free. They won’t be able to take home an item with your logo on it, but at least you’ll always have lots of people to chat up while they wait their turn.

3. Do giveaway something wearable
If you’re choosing to giveaway an item, you might as well make it wearable! By choosing clothing or accessories as your giveaway item, you’re optimizing your brand presence at the trade show. You’re upping your chances of being “seen” and better yet “recognized” by patrons and that’s “huge” and it doesn’t have to be a clothing item, just make sure it’s something that isn’t so easy to drop into a bag. Better yet…give away the bag! You’ll find that other items like hats, visors, scarfs, headbands and armbands will find their way onto the attendees’ bodies, which is great for exposure. They have to save room in their bag for all the other merchandise after all. Also, giving away costume-style pieces like propeller hats, silly glasses, fake mustaches and crowns are perfect fodder for photo-ops, and if it suits your brand’s personality, it’ll show prospects that you have a good sense of humor.

4. Do consider a big giveaway
There’s something so exciting about a contest. A lot of companies are opting for the big giveaway as opposed to handing out small trinkets. While the small giveaway has its perks, nothing really compares to the kind of attention and excitement generated by a big giveaway. Companies will often offer a prize, like an iPad or a vacation, and will encourage attendees to enter their name in a draw. Some companies will even utilize a flashy spinning wheel or lottery balls. If you’re hoping for a big crowd at your booth, the big giveaway might be your ticket. Not only does this type of giveaway encourage attendees to come back to your booth later when the draw is made, it’s a perfect way to collect contact information. If you are going with the “big giveaway,” make sure you have a space on the ballot for an email address. You’ll expand your contact list by the end of the day!


1. Don’t hide your merchandise in your booth
Some companies think it’s a good idea to put their free merchandise at the back of their booth to encourage prospects to stick around and be in the perfect spot to be cornered with a sales pitch. This technique might work in theory, but in practice, it rarely pans out. Your merchandise should be used to attract people to your booth. If it’s not visible upon passing, patrons won’t be “curious” enough to venture deep into your booth. Your goal is to get your brand out there and even if someone snags a piece of merchandise and doesn’t say a word, it’s still a win because your logo is going to go wherever they go. Who knows who will see it!? Many companies will assign one or two staff members to giveaway their merchandise. This tends to work well because then there’s an opportunity to strike up a conversation and maybe even break open the gates to a sales conversation.

2. Don’t be cheap
If you’re going to give away a pen, go for the best dang pen you can find. Keep in mind that your product will be up against hundreds of others being given away at the same trade show. If you’re going to go with a basic item like a pen or a mug, make sure it’s of a high quality. Attendees are more likely to hold onto an item if they know that it’s valuable. Another option is to order a large amount of an item from a well-known brand and put your company’s logo on it yourself. For example, you could giveaway Otterbox phone cases with your logo, clearly imprinted on the back. People know the brand and quality of Otterbox, so even though you’re giving away a phone case (which is a fairly common idea), it’s the brand that will get people talking. A cheaper example would be self-branded EOS lip balms or American Apparel t-shirts.

3. Don’t choose something disposable
By and large, if you’ve made the decision to giveaway merchandise, it’s important to make sure that it’s not disposable. Packaged snacks might bring the crowds in, but consider the fact that your logo is going straight in the trash once they’re done with it. Instead of giving away plastic water bottles, fill reusable bottles with your logo on it with fresh, spring water. Instead of giving away packets of tissues, give away a microfiber cloth. Always go with something that can last a long time. Remember, any ad space is good ad space.

4. Don’t forget to include your logo
This might sound like an obvious one, but many companies will place a tiny logo on the upper corner of their product and consider that to be enough to represent their brand. Not so much. Try to make sure your merchandise fully encapsulates your brand, right down to the color scheme. Make your logo bold and visible so that when attendees show their other trade show buddies their merch haul, they know exactly which booth to go to “get one of those.”

Need more tips and advice? Consider partnering with a professional trade show service provider like Evo Exhibits. Our experts work with you to identify your unique goals, create a booth tailored to your needs, and conduct post-show follow-ups for success at all current and future trade shows. Get in touch today!




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