We have been the merchandise sponsor of the Mesh conference since it started six years ago. It has been a wonderful partnership that we hope will continue for many years. We wanted to share some perspectives on the approach that was taken this year as it was particularly successful.
We have learned that a conference swag program is a success when you look around after the first day and have a “ditched to kept” swag ratio of 0 to 100. Believe me, I have been to my share of conferences where attendees conveniently “forget” their lackluster swag bag in the washroom, beside their seat, or in the hallway. Unfortunately, it’s the alarmingly high “ditched to kept” ratio at most conferences that give this industry a bad name.
Here’s what we did to make this year’s program a success (in conjunction with the wonderful event planning firm MCC Planners and the brand aware Mesh founders).
1. Understand the target customer. We picked a bag that we knew attendees would actually use. As the target demographic was the technology community (geeky, picky, discerning swag aficionados) we knew that a bag that could serve as a grocery tote, laptop/tablet holder or even a purse for women would resonate with both genders.
2. It’s all about perceived value. The bag had high perceived value, validated by a retail price of around $50. Attendees of tech conferences are often inundated with cheap swag and many openly mock these gifts on blogs. We wanted to surprise attendees with a product they weren’t expecting.
3. Make it colourful. Most swag is produced in black or navy in an attempt to appeal to the masses. But when you aim for the middle, the results are often average at best. When people see colour, they get excited because it’s so unusual. We printed 50% of the bags in black and 50% in vibrant colours and within hours people were looking to trade their black bags for one of the coloured bags (yes, even the guys).
4. Don’t give away all the swag away at once. When delegates arrived, they were presented with their package (agenda, speaker bios, schedule, the bag) in addition to a printed voucher which entitled them to a “limited edition” mesh T-shirt. This voucher was redeemable at a separate merchandise table (aka pop up store). People loved this because it gave them something to do and also extended the gift experience.
5. Cater to the women! We printed 7 different colours of shirts in a full size spectrum, ranging from ladies small to men’s xl. People loved the choice of colours, but the consistent comment was that “the shirts actually fit and weren’t cut to fit like a dress” or “wow, I will actually wear this shirt out tonight!” While a tshirt printed with a 1 colour logo is quite inexpensive, they were still a success due to the fact they fit, were stylishly printed and were not constructed from your typical cardboard-like cotton.
6. Merchandise like a retailer. Conference swag doesn’t need to be squirreled away in tattered Made in China boxes when it can be nicely merchandised out in the open. Retail stores know this tactic as it’s an effective way to entice shoppers to buy. In a promotional setting where the goods are free, it’s just as important to create that sense of excitement by having a nice presentation. After all, you are asking recipients of your merchandise to walk around advertising your brand. This is all the more reason to make the experience exciting. We had access to a fantastic (and sharply dressed) volunteer team that helped merchandise and distribute the product at the merch booth. Little things like this count.
7. Engage the online community. A big part of the success of any merchandise program is gauging people’s reactions online. People increasingly turn to Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, etc to share their views with their friends. As most people like to receive free products, they usually talk about this online. Engaging with the Mesh community online about the swag was an important component of the program (examples here, here and here). One of the most powerful ways to extend a promotional products campaign is to keep it alive online. For some more thoughts on swag and social media, click here.
At the end of the day, we wanted to elevate the product and turn it into an experience. We accomplished this by creating a sense of excitement about receiving a limited edition shirt in a separate merch area as well as giving out a bag with high utility value. This was in contrast to doing swag for the sake of giving something out as people simply expect it (and often ordering it at the last minute because it wasn’t part of the initial marketing strategy).
When people get something they like, they talk about it and share stories with their friends. In the digital age, this is amplified via Twitter and Facebook, especially at a tech conference. When a promotion goes well, this translates into a great product marketing success story which attracts plenty of eyeballs – which is the whole point, isn’t it?
Photo credit (at top) Alexa Clark
Other photos, credit Kaz Ehara