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How to Build a Swag Bag That Converts

A huge aspect of creating a great, memorable swag bag is knowing your audience, and knowing what they’ll most likely find valuable.
Written by
May 20, 2021

The goal of swag is to inspire attendees of your event to make your brand a part of their life. By adding a little piece of branding to their normal routine, it’s more likely that they’ll think of your company when they’re in need of your services. It’s critical that you pick items that will not only entertain and impress, but convert. PPAI research has confirmed, year after year, that the right swag increases sales.

But how do you choose? Isn’t it all up to personal preference? Well, not really. A huge aspect of creating a great, memorable swag bag is knowing your audience, and knowing what they’ll most likely find valuable. However, this can be a challenge, especially when compared to the average event budget, where swag bags often only get the leftovers. What’s an event planner to do?

We’re here to help; here are our top rules for creating swag bags your attendees will love, share, and keep:

1. Start with a great bag

The first swag to be part of your swag bag is just that: a great bag. Make sure that it’s one they’ll keep and use. Remember, every time they use it, you get free advertising. They look at your brand, their friends look at your brand, strangers look at your brand. So maybe it’s time to upgrade from the dollar-grocery bag to something a little nicer and more functional.

But what kind of bag? It depends on your organization, but there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind:

  • If at all possible, don’t make it black. Black is only memorable if you’re Batman.
  • Make sure it’s aesthetically pleasing first, and focus on branding second. No one is going to use an in-your-face branded sack. Consider if you would use it regularly, and consider asking coworkers or friends outside of your brand what they think.
  • Make sure it isn’t too big to carry around the event all day, and that it’s a size that would be practical to use in regular, everyday life. We recommend a size between a lunchbox and a messenger bag.

That bag doesn’t have to be physical, either – consider a digital swag bag!

Digital, or virtual, swag bags are gaining popularity with each event, as they’re both efficient and economical. They’re also especially nice for events where the best gifts aren’t physical – this can apply for any industry from environmental (how embarrassing would it be to have a plastic swag bag at a trash-reduction themed convention!) to online gaming (no one would say no to Humble Bundle or Steam).  

A great example is the digital swag given away at Enterprise UX 2016. The bag included software from IBM, UXpin and even SAP. What’s even sweeter? The 52% converted leads figure that resulted for sponsors – talk about success!

2. Make sure about half of your items are useful

Just like the bag, you want to make sure that at least half of the contents of your swag bag are functional as well as fun – it’s critical that the majority of items hit a balance between the two. Why? Let’s see…how many pens do you have? Can you nail down a solid number? How many of them have brand names on them? Exactly. Should I even mention frisbees?

A great example of something a little more utilitarian but also a bit more fun is USB sticks. There are lots of unique designs, they’re easy to brand, and it seems that you never have one when you need one… until now. The best thing about these sticks? You can load them up with information about your brand, promotional videos, and more before distributing them.

Second up for consistent winners are any and all digital accessories, from phone battery banks to screen cleaners – just make sure they’re decent quality. If you can’t afford headphones that are better than Apple earbuds, then maybe go with something else.

If you want to really stand out, do some brainstorming as far as what your demographic needs or appreciates – if you can, something specific to their industry. For example, if you’re hosting a conference for construction workers, consider branded noise-cancelling headphones. If you’re hosting personal trainers, a branded protein shake bottle will do the trick.

3. Include a (nice) shirt

Nice clothing is one of the most successful swag items at any event. However, this won’t work if the item isn’t high quality and appealing. Make sure that you don’t overdo it on the design – if you don’t have a graphic artist in house, hire a professional to create a nice piece of art to put on the shirt. Remember, as with all of this swag, if you wouldn’t wear it regularly, your attendees most certainly won’t either.
ire swag bagImage credit: Investigative Reporters & Editors

However, if you can’t spring for a designer, crowdsource your design from your attendees. NICAR 2015, a conference for computer-assisted reporting, won big with a submitted design that catered to the tongue-in-cheek humor common in the profession.

The lesson here? If you aren’t sure what your attendees want, ask them.

4. Include a few consumables

We’re constantly hearing about the shrinking attention spans of average people – so cater to that! Make sure you have consumables and items that can be used the instant they’re received.

Great ideas that are always appreciated:

  • Snacks, candy and sodas – it’s hard work networking all day, and almost anyone will appreciate a treat! Make sure to cater this to your event and your attendees, and be conscious of common allergies and preferences. As a hint, stay vegan and nut-free.
  • Business card holders. We always forget ours and just stuff cards into our pockets!
  • Hand lotion samples can be absolutely wonderful if your event takes place over several hours in an air conditioned venue.
  • This is where those phone battery banks can pull double duty: make sure they’re charged (and labelled as such) and include a charging cord, and you’ll be sure to receive many thanks.
    As always, keep in mind your attendees’ particular needs. The more personalized your swag, the better.

5. Include high quality novelty item

Okay, so we admit that “splurge” will mean different things to different budgets, but make sure there’s at least one nice thing in the swag bag that will serve as a centerpiece item worthy of proper desk – or otherwise prominent – placement.

Giving away packages akin to the Google developer gifts will certainly earn you higher attendance. If you only offer them to the first 100 or 1000 signups, you’ll drive purchases and see a faster conversion rate, which will continue to drive attendance by making your event look popular.

One of the most cost effective souvenirs you can include is actually a piece of 3D printed art. This offering is even better if you allow attendees to design their own! Think about also offering easy, useful designs, like phone cases.

If you can, include a premium giveaway that will really wow your audience. A great example is the hardware given away at big name events like Google I/O, Apple WWDC and the Oscars every year – these are usually featured new hardware from the host company. For example, TED, the genius conference that costs $8500 a ticket, has an entire gift room, which includes not only a backpack full of gear but also allows attendees to choose 5-6 items of their own choice. The backpack in-and-of-itself would blow many other conferences out of the water for content.

No matter what you pick for your swag bag, make sure it’s personalized, relevant, and – above all – useful over the long term. You’re using this item as a gift offering to start a relationship with a new client, so make sure you swag accurately represents the quality of your company.

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Written by
November 12, 2021

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