By Emily Long

We’ve probably all been to a trade show, open house, or business conference where we were given a bag full of swag, and at least half of it ended up in the trash can. It’s bound to happen. How many branded pens can one person use? But as a business owner, you want people to hang onto the promotional items you give them, in hopes that they may need your products or services one day and remember your company. At the same time, you don’t want to break the bank with extravagant trade show giveaways. Here is a guide to help you create promotional items for your business that are effective and affordable.

Ask yourself these five questions when selecting branded items to promote your business.

1. Is it relevant to your business?

One of the biggest swag bag blunders I see is that companies often give away items that are not relevant to their business. If there is not a reasonable connection between your freebies and the products or services offered by your company, you should not expect your swag to establish proper brand awareness. Instead, you can expect it to create confusion and potentially end up in the trash.

2. Is it useful to your audience?

The best promotional items are those that add value to the recipient’s life. Whether you’re giving away magnets, cups, or flash drives, your branded products stand a better chance of sticking around if they are useful. Certain products will be more useful to your demographic than other items. For example, a miniature tape measurer is probably more useful for a customer base of construction professionals than an audience of IT analysts. Be sure that your promo items provide value to your target audience while maintaining relevancy to your business offerings.

One of my favorite examples of a promotional item that is both relevant and useful comes from a job fair that I attended several years ago. A local car dealership was promoting their open positions, but they knew that everyone at the fair was a potential customer of their business as well. So to everyone who filled out a simple contact card, they gave away windshield sun shades with their logo printed on both sides in large font. It’s been three years since I attended that event and I still use my sun shade. I also know which car lot to visit when it’s time to replace my current vehicle.

Of course, giving away windshield sun shades can get pricey. But there are plenty of cost-effective ways to establish a connection between your business and its promotional items, which brings us to the next question.

3. Is it within your budget?

It’s always fun to see what kind of swag is available at a big brand’s trade show booth. But for most businesses, it’s not realistic to choose big ticket items for their giveaway pieces. The key is to use items you can afford to provide something unique for target audience members.

An example of this within the home services industry would be for an HVAC company to distribute customized Post-it notepads that contain a different message on each sheet. With every page sharing a different home maintenance tip and displaying the business’s logo and contact information, customers are reminded of ways to “prepare their heating system for winter” or to “save money on an electric bill during the summer.” Relevant? Yes. Useful? Yes. Budget-friendly? Yes.

4. Are you distributing promotional items to the right audience?

Another thing to keep in mind that can help preserve your business’s bottom line is to control how many people you are distributing promotional items to. As I mentioned earlier, your giveaways probably won’t resonate with everyone. What’s important is that they are impactful to the people in your key audience. So rather than leaving your free products out on a display for anyone and everyone to pick up at a business event, consider distributing items to only those individuals who speak with a representative at your booth, or who leave their business card with you.

5. Does it show your company’s personality?

Some of the most memorable promotional pieces I have ever received are those that convey a company’s personality while still maintaining a sense of professionalism. I once received a stress ball from a nationally recognized Notary organization. The organization’s mascot is a seal, as in the animal, because Notaries must attach an official seal to the documents they notarize. So rather than simply stamping their logo onto a generic stress ball, the organization distributed seal-shaped stress relievers with their branding tastefully featured. This unique display of company personality is what has secured that seal’s permanent position on my desk.

When selecting your business’s promotional items, try to think of ways to communicate your company’s unique qualities. Some ways of doing this include using humor, art, design, and technology.

Considering these five questions can help guide you in the process of creating successful promotional items for your business. If you have any examples of great giveaway products you have distributed and/or received, please share them in the comments below!