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How to Choose the Right Giveaway for You

Is Your Giveaway the Best Fit for You?

Exhibitors are always asking about which giveaway will draw visitors to their booth. Choosing the right one for both you and your target audience can be quite the challenge. How do you find one that fits your booth, your brand, and your budget? Ask yourself a few specific questions, and you just might find the perfect fit.

I had a chance to speak with Heidi Thorne, a promotional marketing expert, author, and business speaker with over 25 years of experience marketing B2B and small businesses, events and trade shows. Thorne revealed some critical tips and information about giveaways, that after reading this post, will equip you with confidence to choose your next giveaway.


What’s Hot and What’s Not

The most common question in regards to giveaways at trade shows is, “What’s the hottest and newest giveaway?” To be direct, what’s “hot” depends on what is relevant and useful for the show and to your target audience. There is no universal answer and no one giveaway that is right for everyone.

“There is no one item that really stands out across the board. But I do have to say I’ve seen a lot more microfiber screen cleaners and reusable drinking cups with straws in use lately,” said Thorne. She also added that t-shirts still rake in the most revenues of any promotional product in the industry, as reported by ASI at 13.8% in 2013. “What makes these “old school” type items STILL best and hottest? Because they’re useful! I don’t know about you, but I can always use another high quality reusable drinking cup to accommodate my Starbucks habit.”

Use caution when purchasing a tech promo. Just because it’s new and technologically advanced, does not mean it is a good fit. Some promotional items designed to be used with only particular devices can really hurt you. If you’re going to do the tech promo thing, go for items that work on many devices and platforms. Items that can “multitask” will appeal to larger audiences and have a higher retention value.

Decide With In-Depth Answers

So how does one decide on a giveaway for their specific company? Thorne said you should ask the reporter’s favorite questions:

  • WHO is going to be getting the items? (And the answer better not be “trade show attendees.” It better be an in depth profile.)
  • WHY are you even giving something away?
  • WHAT are you trying to accomplish?
  • WHERE are you giving it away?
  • WHEN do you plan to distribute them?
  • HOW do you plan to distribute or use them?

These questions skim the surface of how you can begin to answer. These crucial pieces of information and the in-depth answers to these questions are what will allow you to be able to suggest the right giveaway.

“For example, let’s say that your attendees are contractor types (a common “who” with my clients). Don’t even think about giving them a promotional tool. Sounds like a perfect tie-in. But those guys (usually guys are their primary audience) will just laugh at it since it’s not “professional grade” and then give it to their kids. What a waste! They’d like gas station gift cards a whole lot more. See how even answering just one of those questions can influence what is chosen?”

Generic Giveaways Because You Don’t Know What Else To Do

Generic giveaways are another hot topic of conversation for exhibitors. “Can’t I just give away pens with my logo on it?” The answer to this question is simple: What are you trying to accomplish with this generic giveaway and how will it be used? If you can’t give an answer to this question and if a pen isn’t going to send the message you want, just skip it altogether. If you’re just going generic because you don’t know what else to do, don’t buy anything at all.

Heidi Thorne is a business speaker and author with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing and advertising, including about a decade in the trade show and hotel industries. She is the author of SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business. Learn more about Heidi and her books at


Your trade show promotions one of the most important pieces in your trade show planning. Not only do you need to choose the right giveaway, but you need to make sure all of your other promotional tactics are on track as well. Read the Using Promotions & Social Media to Get More Trade Show Visitors white paper to learn how to maximize your promotions and giveaways. Click here for your free copy. 


About the Author

Jennifer Snyder was a Marketing Associate and Project Manager at Skyline Exhibits, based at Skyline's International Design Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.

6 responses to “How to Choose the Right Giveaway for You

  1. Great article Jennifer.
    “WHY are you even giving something away?”… this makes you really think. Doesn’t it?
    If it is not going to add value to their life or if it does not delight them in some way or form what is the point. People will be inspired to interact with your brand if you are engaging, compelling, humanistic and beneficial. For example a great giveaway could be a chance to win a sweepstake that gives them the membership to a privileged group such as, once a month session with the CMO (or the idea person) of your company. At the end of the day your goal is to turn your customers and prospects into your brand advocates.

  2. I love this giveaway article. I am surprised that pens are even a legit giveaway anymore. There are so many at every trade show I attend.

    We set a budget for the conference and go from there. Kindle Fire is a big hit right now but sometimes we rely on the trusty Target gift card. Everyone loves that.

    1. I find print on-site photos are always a big hit. Yes, I’m biased, but people just can’t seem to get enough of a branded photo of themselves. Great article, caught my attention for sure.

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