Inspiring Trade Show Giveaways That Optimize Event Investment

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When was the last time you thought strategically about your trade show giveaways? All too often, businesses invest heavily to secure a prime space at a significant convention. Event marketing and sales teams set up a high-quality, easy access display booth. Companies fly in and house an entire staff, from brand ambassadors to sales reps, all for a few days of concentrated interaction with customers and prospects. Then, they overlook the details of that experience, including the leave-behind items meant for existing and prospective customers. They don’t consider how to separate the genuine prospects from the swag grabbers. Often these trade show aisles are filled with free event tote bags, water bottles, hats, t-shirts, sunglasses, and other low quality promotional products that leave coveted attendees underwhelmed.
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Ditch the uninspiring promotional giveaways

The good news is that your trade show giveaways don’t have to be uninspiring. You no longer need to bore your potential customers with throwaway items. Before your next trade show, do what we do. Create inspiring items that help optimize your event investment.

We’ve thrived for nearly 35 years by going the extra mile for our clients. We’ve separated ourselves from the competition not by price but by considering prospect engagement, making every asset meaningful, and uncovering ways to meet multiple marketing objectives simultaneously. Ironically, our part of the total campaign budget (like a trade show initiative) is tiny. Yet, we often deliver the straw that stirs the drink.

Creating needle-moving trade show giveaways and engagement

The best giveaway ideas can often be determined based on your ideal trade show attendees and overall event objectives. Typically, trade show objectives fall into three categories:

  • Sales (at shows where you can write orders or sell merch)
  • Leads (attracting, engaging, and capturing the interest of your ICPs for follow-up)
  • Awareness (brand, new product)

Types of “trade shows”

The term trade show can describe many different kinds of events, from massively large like CES or small like local meetups, chamber of commerce events, or regional like market-specific buying shows:

Industry conferences

These sector-specific annual events typically place a priority on brand awareness, brand message, and thought leadership. If the right audience is on hand, the best giveaways may be high-end trade show swag that can attract and motivate ideal prospects to take an action like scheduling a demo or having a sales conversation.

Corporate conferences

Enterprise brands often create their own conferences with keynotes, learning tracks, and exhibit booths for 3rd party vendors and business units to introduce the breadth of product solutions available to existing customers. While you control your conference, you still must create a reason for attendees to visit your booth.

Industry trade shows

Some industry trade shows, like MAGICThe Inspired Home Show, and the Fancy Food Shows, represent opportunities for orders to be written and deals to get done. “Trade show specials” are commonplace: make your prospects a limited-time offer—either a discount or bonus for writing the order onsite. You don’t have to have a giant booth to generate a positive ROI. But you need a compelling reason to bring prospective buyers to your booth and a strong offer to close them on the spot.

B2C Trade shows

If you’re exhibiting at a trade show open to the public, you must consider how to address multiple audiences. At Comic-Con, for instance, many brands create limited-edition merchandise that sells quickly and retains high value on the secondary market, like Funko Pop!, Star Wars, or Marvel action figures. We created a limited-edition Comic-Con MS Gundam trading card for Bandai that remains highly sought after 20 years later. To engage prospective B2B buyers at an event open to the public, create spaces with VIP-only entries, so you can build relationships separate from engaging the public at large.

Smaller local or regional events

Local market events, like those organized by the chamber of commerce or as a branded buying show. If you’re confident that prospects are in your midst, make a good impression with a giveaway that leaves a lasting, meaningful impression.

Job fairs, career expos, franchise expos

These events are designed to attract a specific audience to take a specific action— such as connecting with an exhibitor on a job, career, or franchise purchase. Match your giveaways to the action you need. Don’t be afraid to only offer rewards to the people who take the action that aligns with your goals, such as completing a survey, providing lead gen information, or scheduling a tour or demo.

Virtual and hybrid trade shows

COVID accelerated the popularity of virtual (and now hybrid) trade shows; we created campaigns for our first virtual show (ON24) about a decade before the pandemic. Driving engagement at their virtual exhibit booths can be challenging, requiring marketers to reach out to attendees in advance with compelling reasons to drop by their virtual booth. On the upside, you can deliver engaging digital games and experiences while dropping digital goods as swag. But you’re less likely to be able to build the same kind of buzz as you can in person.

Specialty, cause, or niche trade shows

From sustainability trade shows to pet expos, these events draw crowds looking for specific solutions. Show them what you have and give them a reason to take the next step, whether that’s a demo, purchase, or share lead information. Leverage the commonality of the audience in your reward: eco-friendly swag is a must, for instance, at sustainability trade shows.

5 best ways to create effective trade show giveaways

Swag doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective. The best ways to create effective swag are to make them:

1. Novel

People crave novelty. Innovative promotional items with high visibility will draw crowds. We’ve routinely seen light-up bouncing balls, and ribbon badges become the most buzzworthy destination on a trade show floor.

2. Relevant

The best trade show giveaways clearly relate to your brand’s USP and campaign messaging. Sunglasses, for example, are a perfect giveaway if you’re also offering “test drives” of your product at your booth or doing an immersive driving experience game or reward. Without the theme, these low-end prizes seem passe, create no connection with your booth attendees, and hold no long-term retention.

We have used customized photos on several occasions to make a booth sticky (where crowds linger). For example, at special events or with sponsor IPs (such as green screen setups where the customer looks to be scoring a winning goal or making an impossible catch in a real game). These memorable, branded keepsakes are more likely to be kept and displayed long term, vs. the notepad tossed at home or stuck in a drawer.

3. Branded

not every effective trade show giveaway is branded. But, if you want to make sure you’re remembered, you need to find a way to add your logo. But if custom giveaways aren’t in your budget or you’re not buying in bulk, consider the addition of your company logo to the packaging.

4. Engaging

Let’s be honest. Trade shows can be exhausting for attendees and exhibitors. It works like Shakespeare integrating humor into his tragic plays when you can provide something engaging to break up the grind. It breaks up the event’s intensity and can become what attendees remember most when they return home. Spin Wheel Games are simple things that create engagement. We have executed spin wheels at events on several occasions when budgets are limited, and we’re trying to add an element of engagement to the booth. Event audiences will stand in line for much longer than you’d imagine for a chance to win a prize, even when the promotional giveaway items on hand are as uninspiring as pencils, hand sanitizer, and lip balm. Of course, we suggest you do better on the promo items.

5. Crowd-attracting

people are drawn to crowds. We naturally believe that when evaluating two adjacent restaurants, the busier one must serve better food. A crowd at a trade show booth triggers attendees through multiple triggers:

  • Social validation: this booth must offer something worthwhile
  • Curiosity: the need to discover what’s going on
  • FOMO: fear of missing out
  • Emotional contagion: a group of happy, excited people draws people who hope to have the same experience
  • Entertainment: a chance to break from routine and experience something new

Unleash your inner P.T. Barnum

Showman extraordinaire P.T. Barnum recognized the need to make a show out of an exhibit to attract and engage audiences. It’s not about what you have but about how you present it. Unleash your inner P.T. Barnum to create your own must-see event for attendees.

Have you attended a trade show with live t-shirt printing? These low-tech on demand booths can liven up any trade show, as they’ve grown in popularity over the last few years. Exhibitors typically offer 4 custom designs and varying t-shirt sizes so that the attendee can get the custom shirt for free, typically in exchange for some action, such as sharing lead gen information.

Live t-shirt printing

We recently recommended and executed a live t-shirt printing event. Our client’s goal was to raise awareness of a new service and get attendees to take a survey. Waiting for t-shirt customization to be completed gave exhibitors just the time they needed to talk to customers. At the same time, they also completed a quick survey via mobile phone (using a QR code for entry).

The t-shirt booth soon became the buzzy must-visit location on the exhibition floor. Every day conference attendees packed the booth from opening to closing, as we completely depleted inventory a couple of hours before close on the last day. The interactive booth also allowed the client to gather meaningful survey data that made them heroes to management. Plus, event attendees walked away happy after a positive experience.

New tech drives novelty and intrigue

Another favorite strategy is to infuse new tech into proven gamification strategies, like with the Mobile Magic vending machine that supported a new mobile app launch. This magic vending machine used NFC (near-field communication) to recognize when an attendee tweeted about a new product. Doing so unleashed a random conference swag prize from a vending machine. The machine attracted attendees eager to earn a prize while driving online awareness of the product at the show. Prizes ranged from gourmet snacks to power banks and iPods.

Mix and match events

Typically, trade show events must meet multiple objectives. For example, some serve multiple audiences, like B2C events or events where clients, prospects, and vendors are present. At other events, the goal may be to write POs and attract media attention. If you’re faced with meeting multiple objectives, embrace a mix-and-match execution.

For example, we developed a series of public events for a beauty school that had two objectives:

  • Capture leads of prospective students
  • Make the community aware of their services

To meet these disparate goals, we first drove engagement by offering FREE mini makeovers to attendees, completed by beauty school students. The makeovers met the second goal while also attracting a crowd by making a show out of the booth. Of course, the deliverable reinforced the brand, especially in the way our emcee presented each “after” attendee. Next, we sent brand ambassadors into the crowd to identify prospective students and drive leads.


Trade show events are a significant investment that gives your brand a chance to be face-to-face with people that can positively impact your business. Make the most of your spend by considering the entirety of the engagement experience. Create a way to stand out from your competition by making your exhibit a spectacle worth the price of admission. Once you draw in your crowd, reward the ideal prospects with thoughtful promotional trade show giveaways that make their experience memorable, even after the show. And, of course, make sure your sales team follows up quickly (24-48 hours after) to capitalize on the momentum and interest generated during the show while the experience is still fresh.

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About The Author

XPROMOS is an independent marketing agency with a 33+ year history of delighting B2B and B2C clients of iconic brands from Barbie to Sage. Exceeds expectations by creatively combining proven strategies with evolving tactics throughout the customer journey, while delivering on time and within budget.

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