The Enduring Sway of SWAG

December 16, 2020
By iQ Staff
Various items like water bottles, bags, and a face mask are spread out, all marked with "Allstate Foundation Disaster Preparedness Kit".

The term “swag,” evolved from the acronym SWAG (Stuff We All Get), refers to free goodies that are distributed to attendees at events, or perhaps in exchange for some level of customer participation in promotional campaigns. Branded items can help businesses engage with remote employees, reward top customers and convert prospects.

For example, to emphasize the importance of preparedness, Allstate Foundation distributed 1,000 disaster preparedness kits filled with branded emergency gear, including blankets, first aid kits, and flashlights. This promotional giveaway not only provided useful items to consumers, but also aligned visually and conceptually with Allstate’s brand.

Promotional products can be especially effective when aiming to reach Millennials and Gen Z audiences, made up of individuals who tend to avoid and distrust traditional advertisements. Branded umbrellas, hats and stress balls are often considered a welcome and effective form of advertising by the whole family. People like swag, and the items may be visible around the workspace, home or car for months, if not years. Consider how that compares to the time spent eyeballing a pop-up ad and searching for the “X” to close it.

However, not all promotional products are created equal. Items must be designed and distributed in a way that aligns with an organization’s mission and the audience’s values to effectively build brand awareness and preference.

Here are some factors to consider when incorporating promotional products into your marketing mix:


1. Usefulness

Today, consumers have well-defined preferences around promotional products. According to a PPAI study, 77% of consumers say a promotional product’s usefulness is the No. 1 reason to keep it, with health and safety products, computer products and writing instruments ranked as the most useful. Consider when, where, how and how often your product will be used. How will your target audience feel when they’re using the item and how will it reflect on your organization?


2. Segmentation

Design your promotional products using the same approach and level of research used when developing new market-ready products. That means taking time to assess and incorporate your target audience’s specific values and preferences into the product development process. Use research—not anecdotes or assumptions—to guide your decision-making process.

A report by The Halo Group named Millennials the most health-conscious generation in the U.S. Knowing this, branded personal health products related to exercise and eating right may be good options for marketers aiming to influence them. For example, suitable items might be a yoga mat or water bottle.

Gen Z puts high value on inclusivity. According to McKinsey & Company, almost half of Gen Zers value brands that don’t classify items by gender, making unisex apparel and accessories viable choices for promotional items targeting this group.


"Items must be designed and distributed in a way that aligns with an organization’s mission and audiences’ values to effectively build brand awareness and preference.”


3. Distribution

There are various distribution options, including in-person at trade shows and direct mail. Consider where and how your company will distribute your promotional products before settling on an item. Make sure to factor distribution into your budget.

Additionally, think about timing of distribution. Is the goal to entice? Reward? Demonstrate gratitude? Items should be distributed at appropriate times accompanied by corresponding messaging, so that the approach does not seem haphazard.


4. Quality

Promotional products are a physical representation and extension of your brand. Make sure that the quality of your promotional product reflects the quality of your organization’s actual goods or services. Ensure that brand standards are applied to promotional products so that they reflect your brand’s values and culture, as well as design style.

As you incorporate promotional products into your marketing mix, seek input from stakeholders outside of the marketing department to get fresh ideas and meaningful insights into your target audience’s needs and preferences. Consider hosting ideation sessions with clients, employees and vendors to source ideas for promotional products and distribution methods. A thoughtful approach that applies market research and best practices can yield results that truly wow your prospects.


Photo credit: Kent Reporter