We've seen our fair share of trade show events, both as attendees and as businesses exhibiting. You may have seen us this year at either Merchandise World or at the B2B/B2C Marketing Expo at the ExCel in London. Whilst there, we go and speak to other companies, have a little peak around at what other people are doing. The one thing that we did notice is the huge number of people supplying little giveaways. Being a promotional products company, that was something that caught our attention more than most, and after a long day, we sat in a hotel bar and got to chatting about what people were giving away.

The sheer number of people giving away the likes of pens was staggering. Even though we weren't even deliberatley looking for business, we'd each picked up at least five or six pens, and looking at them, I could remember only what one or two of the brands did as a business. This made us come to the realisation at how bad this type of giveaway was. The aim of the trade show is to generate leads and convince people to come to you for work, but I wasn't going to do an internet search to find them again. No matter how much this promotional product was, it seemed to be a waste.

We worked out that, for us, the people that we engaged with were much more likely to come to us for business than someone who had dropped by to look in mild interest, much like we had done at the other stands. Knowing that these casual admirers were most likely not going to do business with us, then what would be the point of giving them a promotional product? Perhaps being more sparing is the key to these types of shows? This then gives us two options. What this means is we then save a little more money in the budget which we can spend elsewhere, or what we can do is get some nicer promotional gifts.

The other thing we noticed is that when sifting through the pens is that when someone supplied us with something unique and different to everyone else, then we had a much easier time remembering what they did as a company.

7 ideas for exhibition giveaways

1 - Food

This is a great way to attract people to your stand, espeically if the food smells particularly amazing. Whilst they are eating, you can engage them in conversation. This is going to be much more memorable than a typical gift. The popularity of food is backed up by the BPMA, as they report that 17.4% of people in the survey responded that food or drink is the perfect promotional product. Whilst it is a great attraction to bring people to the stand, there's nothing they can take away with them to remember you, so make sure that your marketing materials/brochure is effective.

2 - Pens

Now, we have just bashed pens, telling you that the fact they are unremarkable and unmemorable is one of the reasons that they are a useless marketing tool. We stand by that statement, but there is no denying the pens' popularity. Anyone in business is going to come pick one up. This does not make it a good marketing tool, but a good tool for brand exposure. If you are a name that people immediately recognise, then a pen is a good idea. If you are a company that does a unique line of business or you are trying to prove you're better than your competitor, pens are a very bad idea. I currently have a pen on my desk that has SDL on it, and without checking Google, I have no idea who they are, where I met them and what they do. However, I also have a pen from Volkswagen. Now, I know who they are, and I remember when I got that pen.

Be careful when thinking about getting pens. You could very well just be wasting your entire marketing budget when you should be spending money on something more effective. If you are confused about the difference between marketing and brand exposure, you can read another piece we wrote on the subject here.

3 - Key Rings

One of the things that we create are some custom key rings, whether they are shape of a rugby ball, football, or more. Something like this might be more expensive than the pen, but as we wrote in the discussion above earlier, it's a question of memorability. Which will you find more memorable and will inspire you more to return to that business? A pen, or a little key ring in the shape of a football? All you need to do is be more sparing in the amount you give out, maybe instead give them out to someone who shows genuine interest rather thana  casual viewer looking for freebies.

4 - Wall Charts

When there is a tournament like the World Cup happening, a great giveway is a rolled up wall chart. Not only do people grab at these - everyone wants one to hang on the wall - but they are cheap to produce, take up a small amount of space, and you can promote yourself on these posters as much as possible, knowing that the people with one are going to put it on an office wall in full view of everyone and it will remain there and written on for the entirety of the tournament. It's a win-win situation, and were snatched up at the Marketing Expo when we handed them out. Worse comes to worst and you've printed too many, they are such an easy material to give away to your own staff and you can drop a few to every stand. The only possible downside for something like this is that these types of tournaments are sparing, but when they do occur, make sure to leap at the opportunity.

5 - Small Balls

A memorbale and unique thing to give away is something like a mini rugby ball, mini football, tennis ball, or stress balls. The importance here is size. What people do not want is to carry a full size 7 basketball around for the rest of the day. By appealing to a subject they like outside of the office, you most certainly will come across as unique and creative. It's this main reason we are in the promotional sports products industry. If you have a marketing campaign that runs alongside the British Open or the NatWest 6 Nations, this is a perfect opportunity to associate yourself with it. Don't underestimate people's love for sport.

6 - Bags

You know what's more annoying than carrying about fifty marketing brochures and a mountain of business cards? Trying to hold all of it at once. A great giveaway is to supply a simple bag. This has two great effects. It allows you to put all the information in it making them easy to hand out, but also with your name on a bag, your name will be paraded around the rest of the exhibition hall in a much more effective way than any other promotional product.

7 - Sports Bottles

What's great about a product like this is just how often it will be used. Whether it's taken to work or the gym, this is going to have huge long-term exposure. Bottles like this are a lot cheaper than you imagine and its appeal is a lot larger than any more specific product like custom tennis balls.

Our team's tips for surviving trade shows

  • Wear a comfy pair of shoes. you are going to be standing around a lot, so make sure that you are not going to have to amputate your feet by the end of the event.
  • Position yourself carefully around the stand. Keep the sides open, so that they feel invited to come talk to you, rather than forming a barrier, blocking off thie view of what you are trying to display.
  • When it comes to displays, sometimes less really is more. Don't pack everything you can into a stand, but at the same time, make sure that it is not a waste of space.
  • Engage with as many people as possible. Do not wait for them to come to you. Smile at them and wish them a "good morning" if they wander by. They have seen a hundred stands already and they all start to become a blur. Engage with them and they are much more likely to come chat.
  • Use the bathroom as soon as you feel the need to. You don't want to wait until you're bursting and suddenly get drawn into a thirty minute conversation with a prospective client.
  • Make yourselves look busy. If you stand there motionless, you give off two impressions. The first is that you are not a business worth talking to, as clearly no one else is. The other thing is that you seem very robotic, and this puts people off. Check email on a laptop or something. What we did was hold a rugby ball or American football in our hands, occasionally thorowing it between ourselves. It works.
  • If there is a place to leave some free stuff, then try and leave some things there - with your stand number on. This means if someone missed you, they can still see what you do and might return to come find you.
  • Use social media while on the stand. Inform people where you are, share pictures and immediately connect with people while on the stand. Use instagram to post pictures of you building the stand and film what's happening at the show in case you need it for any future promotional video.
  • This is a perfect opportunity to go snoop out the competition, see what they are doing and see how they pitch to you. This isn't wrong, it's just competitor analysis.

When at the B2C Marketing Expo, we had the pleasure to bump into Lawrence Dallaglio. He was happy to sign our size 10 jumbo rugby ball. Trade shows are sometimes a bizarre and amazing place. One thing we never thought would happen.

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Looking for Trade Show Giveaways?

Using our advice above, you too can find the perfect promotional giveaways for your next trade show. From stress balls to bottles and more, the perfect companion to your exhibition stand is here.

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