I have a confession to make: I just might be a hoarder.

At least, every time I’m packing to go to speak at the next conference — roughly once a week — I have a secret smile as I leave a spare bit of room in my carry-on for whatever interesting “swag” I’ll see to bring home with me.

I know I’m not the only one. There are unboxing videos on Youtube and threads on Instagram dedicated to conference giveaways. For some, attending a conference is only worth it for –in the words of The Office’s Michael Scott — the “Stuff we all get.”


As a business owner, promotional items are a golden opportunity to get your brand into the wild. Finding a product that fits your budget, matches your style, and fits your customer’s needs enough for them to use frequently is the holy grail of marketing opportunities.

In the early days of Evernote, we often quipped that we were a t-shirt company instead of a SaaS platform because we spent as much effort on getting our high-quality, limited-edition shirts out into the wild and being worn by people around the world as we did on developing the product. This early awareness campaign worked beautifully though, and we were able to see relevant upticks in usage in each location where we sent the shirts.

Of course, our results were not typical; most companies are unable to see this kind of return from their promotional marketing effort. Additionally, most businesses have no idea how to measure the results they are getting.

Here is how you to fight through the crowds and become the swag everyone wants to get:

1.Be different.

Every few months, someone posts a list for marketers of the top 10 promotional items of the season. As far as I can tell, this means that everyone with a budget will go down the list and order something from it. This means that you’ll be at a conference with a onein 10 chance that your item will be there with someone else’s brand on it.

If someone has limited space in their suitcase, they’ll usually take the first one they see – and you’ll have lost the opportunity to have your brand in their daily life.

2.Be useful.

Do you need a stress ball? How about a highlighter with a flashlight? Or how about some stickers? For most people, even though they pick them up from the conference, the actual answer is no.

Instead, think about the things you personally would use on a daily basis. Water bottles, phone charger cables, power banks, etc are all things that I’ve seen people stand in line and even fight for.

3.Be realistic.

What goals are you trying to reach with your promotional item? Is it to build awareness? Are you trying to convert new users? Or is this a thank-you gift for existing customers?

Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, you can find the right product to fit any budget– including using a company like Spreadshirt or Printful to create an on-demand shop for people to purchase logo items (instead of you giving them away.)

If you do it right, your brand will become a useful part of someone’s life: