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Top Trade Show Giveaways 2016 (Updated)

by Johnny Bravo · 19 comments

Best Promotional Items 2016As a a sales professional one of my responsibilities is to attend local trade show events and hand out our unique trade show giveaways. This is an activity that I believe is essential to a sales career and one that can greatly influence success in sales prospecting.

Trade shows and other networking events are a great opportunity to get your name out there and meet new people. But first you have to consider how you will attract people to your booth.

A well known way is to have trade show giveaways. You know what I’m taking about, promotional pens, flashlights, car chargers, etc., etc., etc. These are usually handed out freely as promotional giveaways but can also be coupled with various trade show games (e.g. spin the wheel).

The problem with giveaways is that there are so many different items available that it can be hard to choose which is best for your company, your brand, and your audience.

Below I’ve detailed my three criteria for choosing a promotional item, some giveaways I’ve personally handed out at the conferences along with some other tchotchkes (I had to look up the spelling for that) I’ve come across in my experience.

What Makes A Good Trade Show Giveaway

Although there are a lot of options available, not all are created equal. To make the selection process easier I’ve broken it down into the 3 criteria a trade show giveaway should have before you decide to use it at your next event. 

First, it needs to be cost effective. If you were giving away free iPads I’m sure you’d be the most popular booth at the show, but that option is out of reach for most companies. One caveat to this criteria, I always recommend quality over quantity.  It’s better to hand out less items to select and targeted prospects than it is to hand out cheap items to everyone. Be sure to set a budget and stick to it.

Second, it must be intriguing. This can mean that it’s either unique like some of the items I talk about below or incredibly useful. This is to avoid the chance that it will be thrown away as soon as the attendee is back in their hotel room or in the office. For example, instead of simply an ink pen with your logo on it, how about a promotional tablet stylus which is much more unique.

Third, it must be branded. The easiest way to cross this off this list is to have your logo or tag line on the item. Also, make sure all of your branded material, giveaways and collateral, are consistently branded. Use the same logo, the same fonts, the same typeface, and the same colors across all your material.

Here’s a great idea I came across from an article written by Susan Friedmann at The Tradeshow Coach.

Use trade show giveaways to help pre-qualify your prospects. The example she uses is playing cards. What you do is send the face cards to your various targeted attendees. For example you send Kings to your key customers, Queens to vendors and suppliers, Jacks to hot prospects, and Aces to your whales. Send a note to bring the cards to the booth in exchange for a special gift. When handed in the booth staff will already know what kind of attendee they are and what talk track to use with them. It makes their time much more productive in front of visitors. 

Example Promotional Items

As I’ve already mentioned, there are an almost unlimited number of options when it comes to giveaways. And while I highly recommend you try to have a variety, below are some of the more common items you’ll come across. It’s good to have more than one type of giveaway because:

  1. It provides a choice for booth visitors to choose from.
  2. It makes it more likely you’ll have something no other exhibitor has.
  3. You’re less likely to run out of any one item.

Breath Mints 

On one hand breath mints seem like a good idea because they are great for events where a lot of face to face talking time is done, are easy to pass out, carry around, and allow for some good promotional real estate (front of the box or tin).

On the other hand they have a limited shelf life as a promotional product. Once you run out of mints in the box the branding potential is gone and in the trash.

Recommendation: Give out no less than two to each person. Tell them one for their pocket and one for their car. This will give your brand a little more shelf life with them. Or you can even offer for them to take more adn pass out to their coworkers what bad breath. 

Breath Mints Giveaway Example

(Photo Credit: Jim Winstead/Flickr)

USB Car Charger

Car chargers are a great promotional item! Something everyone can use. Most people have iPhones, Android phones, or other electronics that can be charged through a USB charger and could use it while away from the home or office.

The main problem with car chargers is that the logo tends to be on the side which goes into the socket so once it’s plugged in to be used the branding potential disappears.

Recommendation: These will go fast so be sure to control their distribution and use them with targeted prospects. They usually aren’t the cheapest trade show giveaway. 

MRI USB Car Charger Giveaway Example

Headphones

Branded headphones are cool like giveaway you can hand out. The only problem is that the ones that you are likely to have in bulk tend to be of low quality. But they are perfect for the traveling professional who may have forgotten or misplaced thier normal headphones during that trip. Or just to keep as a spare pair.

Recommendation:Generally the case is going to be the main branding area you’ll focus on but do your best to brand the headphones themselves. Using your company colors is an easy way to do this.

MRI Headphones Giveaway Example

Notebook / Tablet Notebook

Notebooks or tablet notebooks are nice promotional items to giveaway. Branded headphones are cool like giveaway you can hand out.

Recommendation: Don’t go overboard with your branding. Ideally a solid color with your logo on the front or back works best. Try to avoid “loud” colors though since it reduces the likelihood of someone using it outside the trade show.

 

Apartment Guide / Rent.com Tablet Notebook Promotional Example

Lip Balm

This was an item that I had actually never seen as a trade show giveaway which got me really excited. Way to stand out MRI! It was a hot couple of days in San Diego so these were going fast. Also many people told us we were the only exhibitor to offer them.

Recommendation: Unique idea for sure. Stay away from strong flavors though since some people don’t like the taste or smell. We had mint which is a pretty standard “flavor”. 

 

Promotional Pens

This is a probably the most common trade show giveaways out there. You can find these being passed out at conferences and networking events around the country.

Recommendation: Go quality over quantity when it comes to branded pens. When I get a pen at an event, if it feels, looks, or writes like a cheap pen it is in the trash after I’ve left the trade show. Professionals in all industries have no shortage of pens, give them a good reason to keep yours. Best Trade Show Giveaways: MRI Pens 2014

Reusable Water Bottle

These were cool reusable containers that we had to hand out. These got the most attention but because of their size were probably the least taken item. They reminded me of an adult Capri Sun with a mountain climbers safety hook attached.

Recommendation: As far as trade show booth ideas this was great and one of the most unique promotional products I’ve seen but most people had to ask “what are those”. Perhaps have one filled with water or have your trade show team each have one and use it during the show to reduce confusion. 

Need help deciding on your trade show giveaways? Tweet this post

Favorite Trade Show Giveaways

Here are a few of my favorite 2016 trade show giveaways I’m hoping to come across. I started seeing them a lot in 2014 and 2015 so expect even more exposure this year. Over all I thought they were all really unique, useful, and I’ve kept and use them to this day.Best Trade Show Giveaways 2014

Hand Sanitizer 

I am always happy to find a company that is passing these little goodies out as a giveaway. Like any networking event you shake hands and talk face to face with a lot of people. Passing these out help keep the germs away. I’m not a germaphobe but I hate getting sick. This can happen a lot if you are traveling to non-local trade shows. 

Recommendation: Brand these as best you can and have plenty of them available. They’ll go fast because everyone knows what they are, uses them, and wants them. even better, make those branded “cases” for the little bottles. Those will have a much longer shelf life then the sanitizer itself. 

Touch Screen Cleaning Cloth

Got this at the 2013 BOMA Expo. Super useful item that I will keep for a very long time. To be honest I don’t remember who I got it from or who made it. It’s green and the tag says “16×16 microfiber cloth…Made in China“. They missed a great branding opportunity. BIG MISTAKE!

Recommendation: Brand it with your logo, tag line, colors (if colors are part of your brand), etc. 

Tablet Stylus Pen

I’ve talked about this giveaway in a previous post about sales gifts. When I first received this it was such a high quality item that I still use it today (those 3 years later it is on its last leg) and have yet to find an alternative that works better. Most business professionals have a tablet of some sort so if you find a quality one to offer at events, they’ll love you for it.

Recommendation: Like pens, focus on the highest quality product you can find. Tablets are the fastest growing personal computing device. If you provide a valuable tool to better use them, you’ve won a big battle for attention. And when possible be sure to test out the stylus yourself. I’ve used very expensive stylus that are horrible and cheap (or free) ones that are amazing. 

DocuSign Tablet Stylus Pen Promotional Giveaway Example

Reusable Bag or Tote

I kid you not; of all the tradeshows I’ve been to there are usually only one or two exhibitors who give away bags or totes. Maybe there’s a trade show limit that I don’t know about. Either way these are one of my favorite tchotchkes to get. I think more companies should give them out for three great reasons.

  1. It gives you a way to carry all the other goodies you pick up through the day.
  2. It is the largest promotional item I’ve seen given out in mass quantities with a lot of available square footage for advertising.
  3. For hippies (California folks like myself) I can use these totes for grocery shopping, carrying food to the beach, as an overnight bag, to hold wet clothes after the beach, etc.  

Recommendation: This is my top choice for a trade show giveaway in 2016. One caveat, be careful that you don’t put too much info on the bags. Something simple like your logo and tag line on both sides will work. Or if you want to be a bit more creative perhaps a picture, caricature, or cartoon on one side instead. The point is you have a lot of marketing real estate but don’t go crazy. Make it simple but recognizable. 

Luggage Tag

Branded luggage tags are awesome promotional items to give away. They are small, relatively inexpensive, and have a long branding lifetime.  Most often you’ll see two types, folded or double sided. Made well, and with high quality material, either option will help promote your brand aggressively.

Recommendation: You can save money by having a printed logo instead of an indented logo (like the below picture) if you need to but the indented looks a lot more quality made look to it. Also with an indented logo you can swap out the colors easily if you want to give out different colors to different clients vs prospects or between different shows. 

On-Site Luggage Tag Giveaway Example

Emergency Packet

For any business related to healthcare, outdoors, survival, travel, events, etc. an emergency packet is an exceptionally relevant promotional item to give away at trade shows. United Healthcare provided this little packet filled with first aid quick facts guide, antibacterial hand-wipes, band-aids, tweezers, and alcohol wipes. They come in various sizes but tend to be of a medium size meaning they are “small” but aren’t easily stuffed into pant or jacket pockets.

And although the items inside have a limited shelf life, the packet itself will be reused over and over again and offers great branding real estate.

Recommendation: If you can afford to, hand out more than one at a time. One for the office and car. Or for you and your spouse. For your kids backpack. They WILL be used and shared. 

United Healthcare Emergency Packet Giveaway Example

Disposable Water Bottles

I love walking around an expo and stopping by the booths that had branded water bottles as giveaways. This seems like a pretty easy and inexpensive giveaway to have. All you really need to brand is the sticker. However you have to be mindful that water bottles relate back to my issue with the breath mints. It is a food item and has a limited shelf life. As soon as the water is gone, the bottle goes in the trash or recycling.

Recommendation: Give out a pair, one for now and one for later. Stay top of mind for as long as you can. I don’t know if this is even possible, or how much is costs, but what if you put a special offer code under the bottle cap or on the backside of the sticker? Maybe simply a specific landing page URL to keep the conversation going. 

Alcohol

This was a new one to me. There was an exhibitor with wine as their giveaway. Creative I’ll give them that but this can be good and bad.

Good: A lot of business professionals like wine, myself included. It’s unique. Appeals to many people. And can create a business social gathering area centered around your booth.

Bad: Not everyone handles their liqueur well. If they get out of control it’s your fault. If they get rowdy and make a scene, it won’t really help your brand. And when you cut them off, they may not be happy.

Recommendations: Trade a business card for 1-2 drink tickets. Also mark those that take advantage of the free booze. A small Sharpie dot on the middle part of their thumb should be identifiable yet not noticeable  This will help you keep track of who’s already had a couple of drinks and may not be the best to serve more to. Do not let trade show giveaways get you in trouble. 

My favorite wine: Merlot if you’re wondering.

Other Trade Show Giveaway Ideas

These are the other trade show giveaways I’ve come across that didn’t present much value and were quickly filed away in the round folder .

Clothing

Hats, t-shirts, sandles, etc seem like a good idea but unless you have a name like Apple or Google, it’s unlikely anyone will want ot wear around something with your company name or logo on it. Sorry to burst your bubble. Also, you have to worry about sizes and men’s vs women’s styles which makes these already expensive giveaways even more trouble some.

Recommendation: If you feel adamant about giving away a clothing item, try to make it something someone would actually want to wear. That means maybe using your company color but a very (very) small logo. 

Clothing Promotional Example

(Photo Credit: Paul Hudson/Flickr)

Stress Balls

As long as they aren’t toxic the best use for these is as a dog chew toy. I don’t know about you but I’ve never used a stress ball for more than a dozen squeezes in any month period. And usually not even outside the conference. They just take up desk space in my opinion.

Recommendation: Stay away from stress balls. Think of alternatives such as branded baseballs, basketballs, footballs, frisbees, etc. something that is less….lame. 

Stress Ball Promotional Example

(Photo Credit: Ixis IT/Flickr)

Elastic Bands

Gone are the days where someone wants to be LiveStrong. Elastic bands are not in style and if too heavily brnaded will not keep someone wearing them long, if at all.

Recommendation: If you really want to use elastic bands a great idea for them is to use them as an entry ticket to an exclusive event. Executed well you’ll still be able to hand out plenty of these while still preserving the feeling of exclusivity that are implied. 

Elastic Band Promotional Example

(Photo Credit: Paul Hudson/Flickr)

Flashlights

Small little flashlights that can go on your key-chain are a great idea. Based on their size; their price tends to be deceivingly high. But it is small, branded, and usable.

Recommendation: Don’t use the small round flashlights; instead get the flat ones. They are super bright, pretty sturdy, cost less, and are more likely to be put on a key-chain. 

What To Do Once You’ve Handed Out Your Trade Show Giveaways

I hope you don’t think the relationship is over once a prospect has grabbed something off your booth. This is were the real selling starts especially with a proper prospecting method in place.

If you’re exhibiting at a trade-show and someone comes up eyeing the giveaways at your booth you’re in luck. You have a few options.

You can collect their information. Whether that’s by collecting business cards (Have you read Are Business Cards Friend Or Foe?) or using a scanner to collect badge information, get what you can. If nothing else get the bare minimum: name, company, phone number, email address…in that order.

You can start a conversation with them to find to out what brought them to your booth.

  • Are they a customer?
  • Are they interested in your product or just the giveaway?
  • Have they heard about your produce before?
  • Have they used it before?
  • Do they know anyone who uses it?

There are a plethora of questions you can ask a visitor when they stop by your booth.

You can take a picture with the visitor and your giveaway in front of your booth and share it among your social media profiles. Ask them to do the same on their social networks.

You can ask for an introduction. Industry experts often know other people who regularly attend the same trade shows. They are good friends with them. They walk around events with them. Ask for the introduction.

I hope this has given you some good great ideas for trade show giveaways the next time you have an exhibit. Let me know in the comments below any other ideas you have or giveaways you’ve seen at shows. Or if you need a little help with your own trade shows be sure to sign up for VIP Status and Early Access to my upcoming Trade Show Guide.

To Your Success,

~ Johnny Bravo

Trade Show Giveaways image courtesy of sumetho & graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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{ 8 comments }

Mike Sierra September 12, 2013 at 7:34 am

Hello mr Johny.

Your comments are very helpfull.

I would like to havr your point of view about a giveaways product that i has not seen before at trade shows:
Trolley to carry all the things and samples brochures a person can collect while walking the show, this is a project I has been thinking to realize, this trolley “cardboard 100%” seems to be better that walking hanging a bag, obviously the bag cost is about 6 times chipper than a trolley cardboard that we expect to sale at U$ 8.oo per unid.

Thr benefits of our trolley cardboard are:

*Its more confortable to carry while walking the show if compared with hangbags.
* it really shows ” exhibits” the customer BRAND during and after the show.
As the trolleybox will be always visible 100%.
* The customer bring all information collected during the show and can keep it organized into the box, as the trolley cis totally foldable.
* Our trolley is 100% recyclable.
* Our minimun order is only 100 trolleys.

I would like your oppinion about if do you think that this will be very expensive as giveaways at the shows ?….

Johnny Bravo September 13, 2013 at 12:55 am

Hi Mike,

I’m glad you find things helpful.

I like your idea. If I understand you right I think you’re referring to little pull wagons? I have to say I have never seen something like that at a trade show but I can see how it would be popular.

It DEFINITELY would stand out.

The only thing that I would be a little hesitant about is the size of the giveaway. Carrying something behind you like a trolley or wagon can be a little cumbersome at a trade-show where there are a lot of people walking around,paying attention to the booths rather than where they’re walking.

I’d love to see what the product looks like though, do you have a picture?

~ Johnny Bravo

Rick Goldman October 1, 2013 at 7:50 am

BOMA? That’s funny, we made the BOMA Miami website for them bomamiamidade.org. I came here looking for info about promotional products that are typically used as trade show giveaways so I was surprised to see that you mentioned BOMA, a client of mine in Miami.

Great article with lots of excellent tips on promotional products!

Johnny Bravo January 16, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Thanks Rick, glad you liked it. Will you be attending BOMA this year?

Arleen October 29, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Johnny,
I sell promotional products, and the one question I get is what do you have that will my booth and company stand out. I know the items need to be cost effective, but cheap is cheap and if you are putting your logo on something it represents your company. We sell a lot of desk toys, like the boogie bot, bungee rocket, jellyfish yo yo and unique shaped stress balls. Car chargers are very popular and grocery totes. Both items people can use and will not throw away. You offered some very good suggestions.

Johnny Bravo January 16, 2014 at 11:37 pm

Thanks Arleen, I appreciate the kind words. Yes I firmly believe in quality over quantity for trade shows. If you are giving away a valuable item people are less likely to throw them away and actually use them instead. That is a lot of brand awareness that lasts a long time. A little extra investment can go a long way.

Karen Letain March 7, 2014 at 6:12 am

Great blog! I would also like to suggest that sourcing items that are environmentally friendly and/or from manufacturers with an excellent history of labor practices can provide that “edge”. Your clients/customers will realize you care not only about them but the world in which we live.

Johnny Bravo March 8, 2014 at 12:11 am

Hi Karen, thanks for the kind words.

You are absolutely right. Environmentally friendly products are a great value add when it comes to trade show giveaways. Having promotional products like that or from the kind of companies you mention will help tell a very different, real message to prospects.

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