I (Julia) love munching on free candy when I’m at a trade show, and I have enough branded pens to last me until the end of days. But there have been only a few times when a conference freebie has made me take notice and say “wow – now that’s a great idea!”
After doing caricatures at over 100 trade shows, my team and I have probably seen every giveaway and freebie there is between us. Here are eight of the best freebies I’ve ever seen at trade shows, along with their advantages and disadvantages. I hope this list will spark some ideas for your next show.
Ladies, have you ever been there? You’ve been walking around the trade floor in high heels half the day and your feet are just crying. I once saw a booth giving out branded flip flops with their logo on it and women were flocking to the booth to get out of their heels.
Advantages: Talk about making a good emotional connection to your prospects—the last person this happy to see a shoe was Cinderella. If the shoes are good quality, it’s likely that people will hang on to them after the show.
Disadvantages: Bulky and heavy to transport to the show. It’s cheaper to get only one shoe size but this may not fit many attendees, and of course flip flops are a better fit for conventions that skew female…so PR is in; but programming may not be.
Car USB Charger
Lots of booths give out branded USB sticks, but you can take it up a level by giving out a USB car charger. Who doesn’t need more power for their phone on the go?
Advantages: Everybody has a phone and everybody needs power. It has universal appeal.
Disadvantages: This doesn’t encourage a lot of interaction with your prospects – it’s easy to swipe a charger and move on. And keep a few held back for your key customers because they’ll go fast.
After sitting through a long flight, waking up early to catch the keynote, standing in line to register and lugging around heavy tote bags, most people are ready for a massage by the time they hit the expo floor. Hire a masseuse to bring in a massage chair and work their magic on your prospect’s knotty muscles for 5 minutes.
Advantages: You have the opportunity to chat people while they wait in line.
Disadvantages: They’ll remember the massage but might not remember your company unless you give them something tangible. Plus, prospects may decide the wait is too long and simply pass.
How many times have you heard someone say, “I really need to update my LinkedIn photo?” Give them the opportunity to do it right in your booth. Hire a professional headshot photographer and give them a corner of your booth to set up a half-backdrop and some lights. Then have them shoot away and either give attendees the link where they can go to download their photo. Or, better yet, send it to them in an email.
Advantages: Prospects will have to visit your site to get their photo. This is a great way to start a conversation after the show.
Disadvantages: This takes up a lot of space. People tend to get picky with their photos and may ask for a lot of re-shoots. You’ll have to instruct your photographer to be firm and keep the line moving.
Pretty much everyone needs to stay caffeinated at a big expo. You can help out the attendees by providing branded tea bags. Stamp your business info on each individually wrapped bag, or include a coupon with each one. Fun, fast, and definitely unique.
Advantages: Easy to pack, transport, and display. Doesn’t take up much space. Very unique.
Disadvantages: This isn’t that different from candy—when it’s gone, it’s gone.
Phone charging station
This is the best way to guarantee a lot of stops at your booth (especially from Millennials).
Advantages: You will guarantee a captive audience for at least a couple of minutes – prospects won’t just swipe the swag and move on.
Disadvantages: “People who often forget to charge their phone” may not be your most qualified prospects.
Something for the kiddos
A lot of attendees want to bring back something fun for their kids. You can save them the trouble of having to leave the conference in search of a toy by providing it right on the show floor. There’s a lot of stuff you can do here: I’ve seen Slinkies, stuffed animals (small enough to fit in carry-on), and yo-yo’s.
Advantages: Very popular with parents. It’ll stand out from all the boring “grownup” giveaways.
Disadvantages: Unless your target market is 8 year olds, you don’t need to be building brand recognition among second graders. And do you really want to associate your brand with “BRADEN! I told you four times to pick this stuff up!”?
The Butt Sketch Artist
Believe me, I had the same initial reaction to this you did. But Krandall Lee Newton gets lines around the block when he works at a trade show. I worked alongside him (I drew faces and he drew butts) and he is the real deal! People stand for just 2 ½ minutes to get a sketch from behind.
Advantages: Krandall and his team are very flattering. People are skeptical at first, but he makes you look good. This guarantees that you have the most unique giveaway on the floor!
Disadvantages: A good amount of space is needed for the artist and the subject, not great for a 10×10 booth. There are very few artists that do this and they can be booked for months in advance.
Of course, I’ve got to add one more: digital caricatures! These are as personalized as it gets, your prospects won’t throw it out, and it will draw a crowd to your booth as people love to watch their friends get drawn. Out of the 100+ trade shows we’ve been part of, we’re always one of the busier booths! If you’d like more information, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.