We all have ideas floating around our brain about what amazing company swag would look like for our brands.
Organizations like Figma, Gong, and Slack have all set high bars for what amazing swag should look like…yet many organizations still seem to believe slapping their logo on a few pens will suffice.
Fast Company wrote a fantastic article about why this is a horrible idea, not only from a cost saving standpoint but also for sustainability purposes. No one actually uses or keeps bad swag—that’s why it’s imperative for businesses to focus on designing creative, high-quality materials that positively reflects on the brand.
Despite massive layoffs and budget cuts, realistically there’s never been a better time to invest in brand—look at AirBnB and what they did. Their shift of focus from search to brand marketing has resulted in 90% direct traffic to their platform unaided by advertising. The notion of buying a customer is the old-school thought process behind performance marketing; 81% of consumers must first trust a brand before making a purchase decision.
I think of branding in two segments:
Digital branding - think website, paid ads, social media, communities, and most importantly how the brand engages with their audience publicly across these platforms.
Offline branding - tradeshows, conferences, virtual, hybrid , or in-person experiences, and my favorite, a brand's swag...not branded swag.
Why is corporate swag important?
The reason why I believe swag and branded items to be amongst the most important elements to a brand is because it’s the one of the only tactile branding experiences you can have with a company.
And probably the only one you can let your customers, user, prospect, take home with them and continue to interact with - even after you, yourself, have stopped said interaction. On top of that, these items serve as a reminders of the brand. When your recipient puts on the beanie a season later - long after the card thanking them for xy or z has been thrown away, they are reminded of the brand once more and will briefly reflect on that moment.
Sure, some companies have mastered digital branding through unparalleled website experiences, viral social media posts, and advertising copy that is simply chef’s kiss. And while all these things make up a consumer’s perception of a brand, swag and offline experiences are a key link that’s often missing between how most B2B brands are perceived in the real world.
However, there are a LOT of misconceptions that should be addressed before covering my process for sourcing, designing, and distributing amazing swag.
It may be time to bury the pens, generic t-shirts, and stress balls forever. Yet when you look at the best company swag from 2022, you’ll find some standout examples that will leave you wondering, “how can I do that?”
Some of the best-in-class branded merchandise showcased at conferences such as SaaStr Annual 2022, included custom juice boxes, ‘Big Deal Energy’ hats, and cookies frosted with the faces of booth attendees. These are all examples of brand experiences that prove company swag is far from dead—yet it must be great.
2.“Creating branded merchandise is expensive and time consuming”
If your swag creation process looks something like this, it probably is:
1: Your boss or manager asks you to create cool, hip swag to give away online or to as a conference / tradeshow giveaway.
2: You work with an agency, come up with a budget, research vendors, source the items, and work on designs through way too many rounds of feedback, only to get hung up with the team on “if the logo is centered”.
3: Before you know it, the deadline is in two days and you end up rush-shipping a bulk order of might-as-well-be-sandpaper tees. Then, at the event you give them out, leaving you wondering afterward: “what do I do with all this leftover inventory?”
4: Explain to your boss what happened to the swag budget.
By investing in a dedicated swag solution like Postal’s Swag Editor or Paper Plane Agency, the full spectrum of projects is covered in a fraction of the time and cost, from keep-it-simple to creative and complex.
3. “Investing in swag is a bad idea because you can’t see ROI”
Showing your boss the return on investment (ROI) from a swag order is much simpler than you think with the right technology in place. The traditional method of giving every booth attendee a branded keepsake is where this myth derives from.
On the flip side, distributing your swag digitally gives you oversight into who’s redeeming the items and even lets you approve who gets it. Not to mention, schlepping suitcases through airports is removed from the picture when your swag closet is moved to the cloud. Digital swag redemption lets you track the impact of an item on an account, closing the loop when your boss asks, “What happened to that budget?” Learn more about how we used QR codes for in person event swag in our Play by Play blog post.
4. “You save when you order in bulk”
Yes, you may save money on bulk orders, yet what happens with the 375 remaining hats when you aren’t able to get rid of them? Bulk swag items and orders will always be necessary to some extent depending on company size and use case, but they often result in excess inventory which really doesn't save you money at the end of the day.
Don’t be fooled when your vendor invoices make the point that “you’ll save $6 per item when you order 1,000 or more”. Take a more calculated approach and realistically consider who will be receiving the item: what’s the duration of the campaign and how many eyeballs will you get on it? It’s better to sell out completely than overestimate the number of people who will redeem your merchandise…focus on investing in high-quality items that people actually want and ignore those “attractive” vendor invoices saying you'll save in bulk. #Waste is worse
5. “People don’t care about swag, they throw it away after conferences”
This myth is largely true for brands who’ve slapped their logo on any of the following: t-shirts, pens, stressballs, USBs, socks, koozies, coasters, plastic mugs, etc. In this day and age, these items only end up in the landfill—not a sustainable approach to branding.
Useful, high-quality items that don’t scream a company’s name must become the status quo if we’re trying to make meaningful engagements while helping the environment. There’s no shortage of items that you can brand—games, outdoor apparel, candles, and even perishables that invoke consumption such as champagne or cookies will yield more brand recognition than the traditional conference tchotchkes.
6. “Branded apparel is made out of cheap materials that don’t last”
Again, true if you’ve ever bulk ordered to save money on Gildan might-as-well-be-sandpaper t-shirts. Unless you’re willing to splurge, in most cases you’ll lose quality as quantity increases. There’s actually a lot of incredible vendors who specialize in producing the highest-quality apparel and customized items that are designed for use.
For example, take a peek at Slack’s collaboration with Cole Haan to make shoes that are actually cute. One thing to note from this collab is the size of the logo on the shoe: it’s relatively small. It doesn’t scream Slacks brand and has a minimalistic design aesthetic similar to Allbirds—a well-known, high-quality shoe brand that’s made to last. As long as you work with the right vendor, you won’t have to worry about cheap materials.
What are the most popular swag items?
Popular swag items from 2022 include sustainable drinkware, cleverly designed apparel, backpacks & laptop cases, totebags, wireless speakers, and branded perishables: mostly sweet treats and alcohol.
Many B2B brands such as Seismic launched an online swag store as well (check out ours), to provide an e-commerce style shopping experience for people to purchase branded materials off their website. This is an increasingly popular brand play by B2B companies to provide more of a business-to-consumer experience for those not necessarily interested in purchasing the actual product offering.
How to design company swag
When it comes to creating custom branded apparel that people actually feel inspired to wear in public, you must first determine what the swag is for and who it’s for (my favorite line). Typically, the process for designing swag starts with finding a vendor, getting quotes, finding a designer, getting them the artwork, then going back and forth until the final mock-up is delivered. There’s nothing wrong with this aside from how long it takes.
Additionally, having a swag tool for people who aren’t designers on the front lines of managing company swag need a way to spin up incredible designs on the fly. That’s what Postal’s Swag Editor is built for: cutting down production time by 60-70% so even the least design-saavy folks can create amazing swag.
At the end of the day, swag is personal preference. You’ll never create a “one-size-fits-all” item that impresses everyone. Speed and quality are the most important aspects when it comes to designing company swag, so having a solution that streamlines this process is crucial for B2B companies looking to elevate their offline brand.
An event planner, marketer, and member of the Postal family, Kiana Ghassemi is known for wearing a lot of hats. From product management to field marketing, she can be credited with developing the events product, producing Postal’s events, and executing various high-impact projects. Outside of the office, Kiana enjoys the beach, live music, and her two dogs.