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How to Get Everyone to Wear Your Promotional Shirt at the Next Trade Show - #MarketingMonday

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By Fausto Mendez

    Trade show giveaways, such as free shirts, are one of the most effective ways to boost brand awareness within your target audience, but the key is making sure your giveaway is not prematurely chucked into a trash can or hidden in a bag. Achieve this effect by designing a marketing campaign around your promotional giveaway instead of just handing out free stuff. 

    Handing out promotional giveaways at trade shows is one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book. The goal is to turn fans and potential customers into walking billboards for your brand - and also sell to those same swag-wielding folks - but since everyone at the show is handing out promotional items to everyone else, it’s harder than ever to get attendants to use your giveaway in public. 

Giveaways Are Not Marketing Campaigns

    Most trade-show exhibitors assume their free giveaways are their marketing campaigns, but that’s not how you should craft your presence at the show. The giveaway should only be a small component of a larger marketing machine, not the machine itself. Below, I craft an easy example for a video game publisher, but you may need to adjust the details of the plan to better fit your business and audience.

+ It all starts with a brand that other people want. If no one could ever want your brand, no amount of skillful marketing is going to change that. However, if your brand is worthy, you should see great success from this campaign. If you are confident that your brand would sell if people were introduced to it, you are on the right track. For this example, let’s pretend we run the marketing team for a gaming company.

+ You’ll need a low-cost promotional shirt or hat to give away at the trade show. Of course, you’ll add your logo, URL and/or message to the shirt, which is a service provided by a company like AnyPromo.com. You’ll need a lot of shirts, which is why they shouldn’t be expensive, but you don’t want to go so cheap as to encourage folks to prematurely trash your giveaway. If the shirt is of decent quality, fans will wear it long after trade show. For this example, let’s pretend we ordered 2,500 Hanes tees for less than $2.00 each from AnyPromo.com. These shirts brandish our brand logo, game logo, store URL and fashionable artwork.

+ Before you arrive at the trade show, craft a plan that encourages others to actually wear the shirts on the show floor. It is not good enough to simply give the shirts away. One of my favorite ideas is a contest that awards random shirt-wearing attendants at random times throughout the show.

A video-game publisher would bring along a few extra employees to covertly search for shirt-wearing attendants all over the show floor in order to offer them free copies of games. Coupons, gift cards and actual money are also great prizes. The goal of the campaign is the buzz it can produce as fans, potential customers and competitors will certainly discuss the masses of shirt-wearing fans, and once word spreads, you may even find a line at your booth for free shirts. A long line is also one of the best marketing tools your brand can have at a trade show.

+ For the next trade show, you may switch out the shirts for tote bags or another promotional giveaway that appeals to your audience. You don’t want to repeat the same campaign at every show as its effect will wear out if it’s used too often. However, you may decide to pull the same stunt at the same show every year. It could be a fun and memorable tradition that your fans anticipate.   


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