Whether your company has a merch store for employees or hands out swag bags at events, there’s always going to be a need to find something to fill those roles. Products are a dime a dozen, whether you order them from Alibaba, dropship them from whatever vendors strike your fancy, or shop for them specifically.
How can you choose the best products?
- Find something that suits your needs and the needs of your audience. Most people don’t want or need a notepad in the days of ubiquitous smartphones with note apps, but everyone still wears clothes, so branded apparel can be great.
- Pick items suitable to the value of the use. An important tech conference full of C-levels needs something more than a branded water bottle and a pen with your logo on it; on the other hand, giving every attendee a new iPhone is dramatically overkill.
- If possible, include a consumable your brand makes. Giving every event attendee something they might actually use is great, but if it’s something memorable that they then know they can get more of from you, it’s even better.
- Consider partnering with and supporting local businesses. Even if you don’t make the swag, supporting a local artisan for unique and memorable items can be a great idea, and the story behind it is infinitely more memorable than yet another pen with a logo.
- Find something unique to an event. For example, maybe your keynote speaker has something they could offer to join the swag bag, like copies of a book.
Above all, we heavily recommend seeking out ethically produced items. This can be especially hard with dropshipping, but doing your due diligence is important. You don’t want to be positioning your brand as a leader in green and sustainable production only to turn around and ship a load of unethically produced shirts from China to your conference in California. Seeking out local producers and evaluating the overall supply chain that leads to the products you choose is critical.
With that said, here are 15 ideas for top-class event merchandise and swag.
Sure, it’s not exactly uncommon or unique, but everyone wears clothing, and t-shirts are some of the most common pieces of apparel you can consider giving out to folks attending your events.
If you’re looking to do a branded shirt, one of the keys is to make the branding relatively subtle or subdued. People are a lot more likely to actually wear and enjoy your shirts if they don’t feel like NASCAR drivers wearing sponsorships on their sleeves and walking around like billboards for you. Even something simple like a polo shirt with your logo embroidered in the right place can be enough.
Shirts are also a great opportunity to attach a story of ethical production and supply lines since apparel is a common source of environmental and social damage.
Leveling up from a shirt is a jacket. Jackets are more durable and longer-lasting, and they can be very useful to attendees, especially if your event is taking place in a location where the weather is taking a cooler turn and you’re bringing in people who might not be prepared for the weather. We probably wouldn’t recommend giving out jackets to attendees of an event in the middle of summer in the South, but the more usable the jacket is, the better off you’ll be.
Jackets do benefit most from being a comfortable fit. One option is to give out a voucher for a jacket, allowing your attendees to shop for the specific style, design, and size they like from a dropshipping store you set up. It adds lead time and requires action on their part to claim, but the added value can be worth it.
Simple caps are easy to have embroidered or printed with your designs, and they’re generally as close to one size fits all as you can get out of a single piece of apparel.
They’re also relatively small and easy to fit inside a swag bag, they’re useful whenever you’re in an area with sunlight, and there are even people who collect them. Plus, a hat can be a pretty durable item to hand out. They make for great branded swag.
Socks are just barely off-beat enough to be an interesting piece of swag while still being common enough that they aren’t a completely unusual item that could flop. It is, however, important to design interesting and compelling socks and make sure they fit as many different people and sizes as possible.
Pick the right kind of sock for your attendees, as well; a conference in the north for people who love the outdoors might benefit more from thicker winter socks, while a business conference where everyone is at home in dress shoes and slacks would prefer thinner, dressier socks. Make sure your choice is appropriate.
A good tote is perhaps one of the best items you can put in a swag bag, and not just because it’s useful and easy to brand. It can even be the swag bag itself! The key here is to make sure your tote is both ethically produced and durable.
Far too often, cheap totes end up falling apart after just a weekend’s use at a convention, their handles popping loose or their corners wearing out. You want to go the extra mile – even if it’s a bit more expensive – and make sure you’re getting a tote that is made to be durable and long-lasting. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to find those if you just click the link in the heading above.
Coolers are like the cooler totes. They’re definitely thicker and more durable, and while they’re bulkier and harder to handle and pack away, they can still be useful as carrying cases for everything from beverages to swag to more fragile items your attendees would want to keep contained. Or, of course, they can be used for their intended purpose as thermal insulators.
As an added bonus, you can pre-load them with snacks and drinks, so your attendees don’t just have water and snacks on hand for their event; they have snacks kept cool, chocolate kept un-melted, and water nice and chill for a refreshing midday drink.
7: Travel Mugs
A travel mug is another pretty common piece of swag. There are two key things to making your mugs memorable. The first is that it needs to be high quality and durable. All too often, travel mugs end up cracked, worn, or don’t seal properly after just a few uses, and then they cause spills and problems. That’s not something you want from something with your branding on it, right?
The second element is that branding. Make sure your branding is on point and isn’t too intrusive. You want people to like and enjoy using your mugs and associate your brand with that experience. To that end, choose a design that best suits your branding.
More and more people are growing concerned about the use of plastics to carry water, in particular, the amount of microplastics shed by disposable water bottles. Yet you still want to make sure your event attendees are able to stay hydrated, right? Giving everyone a solid water bottle made of safe materials can be an excellent choice.
Metal water bottles are some of the best, but there are many different styles and designs that can be made from recycled materials as well. Pro tip: don’t forget to make sure there are places to refill those bottles throughout your event; otherwise, they’ll just be dead weight.
Coasters are an interesting item in a swag bag. They aren’t generally immediately useful for attendees of an event, but they’re small and easy to bring home with them, where they can be of endless use for a long time. If your coasters are made of durable materials like our ethically made leather coasters, they can be a wonderful, long-lived gift.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, coasters like our seed paper coasters are great springtime swag items that can be discarded or taken home and planted, and they will grow native plants. Just make sure not to include seeds that could end up invasive!
Planners and other forms of stationery are good options for people who still like to do things old-school. They’re best for business and academic conferences and less so for tech conferences, but they can still be a great option anywhere.
The key is to have something with more purpose to it than just another notebook and pencil set. There are all kinds of designs of planners and other kinds of stationery you can pick from, and making them out of ethically sourced paper products is icing on the cake.
11: Flash Drives
Flash drives are interesting. Some kinds of conferences are not the appropriate places for these kinds of devices. For example, no one attending something like DEFCON would willingly accept a flash drive and use it. On the other hand, there are lots of different kinds of conferences that can benefit from the inclusion of a flash drive.
The best option, though, is to pre-load the flash drive with useful materials, like your event schedule, conference hall map, images with discount codes for your store, and other digital swag. Just don’t include something dumb like a screensaver or other possible vector for a virus. Attendees should be careful, even if they trust you.
Lanyards are another piece of swag that serves multiple purposes. Depending on the kind of event you’re hosting, you might need your attendees to wear badges to identify them as attendees. Rather than pins, stickers, or cards they can lose, a badge on a lanyard is a common way to provide this certification, and conventions everywhere have used them for a long time.
A branded lanyard can hold this badge and can be useful even afterward to hold employee IDs and other items. They can be surprisingly useful!
Keychains are another small piece of merch that can have some surprising benefits. A keychain can tell a story, and our leather keychains are excellent at helping to distinguish you as someone who puts the details of ethical production in everything you do. They’re also durable if the recipient intends to use them.
At the same time, there are even people who collect keychains, so a unique keychain with the branding of a high-profile event can be a sought-after item after the event itself is over. Some people keep them, some might sell them or give them away, but they’ll stay in circulation for a surprisingly long time.
Watches aren’t the kind of things you give out in every swag bag. Rather, you have choices here. You can give everyone a raffle ticket and give randomly selected attendees the watches as a door prize. You can give them to the most high-profile attendees, like your primary speakers and your biggest backers. Or you can even make it entirely random. There are a lot of options for these valuable pieces.
The hardest hurdle is just that they aren’t suitable for every brand or event, so they might not be a great idea. When they hit, though, they really hit.
In the era of COVID-19, more and more people are aware of how something as simple as a face covering can protect both themselves and the people around them. Masks come in all kinds, and they’re very easy to add branding to. A simple mask – or, more likely, a pack of masks for an event’s duration – can be an excellent way to promote safety amongst your attendees for free. You can also include mask accessories like mask keepers and ear savers and provide different sizes and styles of masks for relatively cheap.
Whatever you choose, know one thing: everything we’ve recommended is something we know exists in an ethically produced or union-made form. They’re all available in our store, and you can investigate the stories and the ethics behind each and every one of them. We’re more than happy to dig into the details with you as well; you only need to ask.
Daniel Cardozo, CEO of Ethix Merch, is a passionate advocate for ethical promotional products. With a mission to transform global supply chains, he serves on the Labor 411 Foundation and Advertising Specialty Institute’s Promo for the Planet Advisory Board. Daniel is dedicated to empowering socially and environmentally-conscious consumers.