Whether you are creating meaningful employee gifts for your annual company picnic or memorable items to give away at an event or trade show, branded giveaways, or swag, are a company necessity. Unfortunately, finding the right products at the right price can involve wading through hundreds of products on dozens of websites, using low-quality digital renderings to make your final selection. Because swag is often treated as an afterthought those ordering it don’t usually have time to factor in design, production, and delivery time to create a high-quality item.
Ideally, you want your branded giveaways to become indispensable to those who receive them, and create a positive association with your company. However, too often due to low quality, shoddy products, or a mis-match between item and recipient, company swag is transformed quickly into trash—not the lasting impression you want to create. To help you choose the right products for your team, we spoke with Jeremy Parker, founder of Swag.com, about how to choose swag that will build connection with your team and customers and make them proud to represent your brand.
Create an emotional connection
Well-designed, high-quality swag is an effective tool for instilling team pride and brand identification. Parker explains that the days of buying swag for the ‘walking billboard’ effect are over. The goal of creating swag is longer about getting other people to see your logo, but about building an emotional connection to your brand.
When deciding on swag, especially for employees, think of it as creating a feeling about your company. We’re already inundated with so many visual messages throughout the day, so instead of a product with a prominent logo, choose something that will inspire excitement and passion. For example, socks have become a popular swag item, especially for startups because while not many people see them, they make the person wearing them feel special. Swag can also be used as a vehicle to recognize employees’ life milestones outside of work. Parker has seen companies create swag for employees’ babies and adopted dogs. While these may seem like small gestures, they can go far in making an impact and build brand loyalty. And that’s more powerful than a random logo on a t-shirt.
Think quality first
Quality is the most important factor when choosing swag. That may sound like common sense, but we’ve all been guilty of trying eek the most out of our budgets. However, this type of penny-pinching typically results in a low-quality item that ends up in the trash. Aside from wasting money and tarnishing your brand, this also isn't great for the environment.
It’s tough to make a decision on a product without holding it in your hand. Parker recommends finding a vendor or supplier who is transparent about their quality and offers samples. His company encourages the brands they work with to start with a sample to ensure they are happy with their choice before moving forward with production.
If you are using a vendor for the first time, he also suggests starting small and working your way up. For example, start with a sticker order to test the experience and product. If you’re ordering custom items, you want to work with someone focused on quality no matter how small the product or order.
Narrow your options
According to Parker, 95% of the swag companies purchase are promotional items like t-shirts, notebooks, pens, water bottles, and mugs. They’re mainstays because people actually use them. But even if you decide to stick to the basics when ordering swag, decision fatigue can rear its ugly head because in most cases, each vendor offers dozens of options for each, creating overwhelm.
Your swag vendor should be your ally to help you narrow your options. A quality vendor will have done the work of vetting products for you. For example, Parker says that Swag.com spent their first year of business visiting vendors across the United States and testing over 150 manufacturers. They ultimately narrowed down the number they work with to five and are able to leverage those relationships to get the best quality and prices for their customers.
Before you start wading through all your options, consider the look, feel, size, and color of the product you want and how that reinforces your brand. If you are unsure, talk to your vendor about your goals so they can suggest several options.
Choose swag your team wants
To help determine items your team wants and will use, ask them directly. Parker suggests sending a survey asking for their top three ideas or choices. You can’t get everything everyone likes but you can get a general idea of the items that are the most desirable. For customers or clients, think about the industry you are in and what items might make their day easier or more enjoyable. If you are at an event or trade show with other vendors, see what other companies are giving out and how participants are reacting to the swag. What are they throwing out? What are they already using proudly? Doing your research at the beginning can help you make the right decision.
Think outside the T-shirt
Water bottles have taken the lead over t-shirts as most popular swag item, Parker noted. He believes it resonates with a lifestyle that says “I’m healthy and care about the environment.” It also offers free advertising for a company because its an item people use every day. He’s also noticed that similar items that promote health and wellness, such as yoga mats and workout balls, have also gained in popularity.
Stickers are also a popular option and one that is portable and one-size-fits-all. Parker has observed that the act of choosing a sticker for a laptop is a source of pride for many people and taken almost as seriously as getting a tattoo. For companies with larger budgets, Parker advises companies choose items that people use regularly like a backpack or a cell phone case. In the case of Swag.com, Parker has partnered with brands like Chrome Industries, Incase, and Patagonia to offer custom-branded items. If there’s a brand you love that is not available through a vendor, consider approaching them directly to collaborate on a branded item—it could even make for an interesting, memorable cross-promotional opportunity.
Balance timing and design
Practically, the earlier you start planning for the swag you need, the more options you will have. Parker recommends ordering swag a month before you need it, especially if you want to review a sample first. Typical production time is about 10 to 14 days, and it’s always nice to give yourself some buffer time just in case.
To determine the design for your swag, most companies opt for a version of their logo and sometimes include an additional tagline or image. While your swag vendor may offer some design help, you want to ensure your swag meets the guidelines for your brand. In this case, your best option is often to work with your design department to create swag. They may also want to approve the final product or mock up before production. If you don’t have a designer available, get clear brand guidelines about how to use your company’s logo, because while you want to get creative with your swag, you also want to ensure you are creating an consistent brand experience.
Overall, to create great swag that serves your company’s goals pay attention to what your team members and customers like and want; prioritize quality; order samples before a large order; start small with a new vendor; and create products that celebrate your team and make them feel special. When created with this thoughtful approach, your swag will be an important part of your strategy to create brand connection and engagement.
Photography by Mel Walbridge