Did you just buy a whole bunch of branded stuff to give away at your trade show booth? If so, this one’s for you!

You want a good ROI from your swag, right? Well, it’s as easy as using it wisely. I had the good fortune to attend the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago and noticed a few excellent examples of booths using their giveaways and free samples to their fullest potential.

Follow in their footsteps and you’ll completely rock your next trade show! You don’t want to be careless and leave stuff scattered on the table, forgotten in a bowl, or worst, nowhere to be found. That’s how you get people turning their noses up in the air as they walk by your booth.

Here are five ways you can effectively use freebies and promotional giveaways at your next trade show.

#1:  Make Your Giveaway Feel Well-Earned

It’s no secret – everybody likes free stuff. That’s common knowledge. You will have way more success at your booth, though, if people feel as though they earned their freebie from some kind of accomplishment.

Take for instance the folks at Color It Candy. They handed out colorful PopSockets after you participated in their Skee-Ball game. To make things cooler, you also had the chance of winning a branded Bluetooth speaker if you reached the high score of 45,000 points.

Why This Works

Color It Candy created an interactive experience that invited participation with their brand. The people who visited ended up appreciating the free PopSocket even more because they felt as though they did something to deserve it.




#2:  Care About the Stuff You’re Giving Away

You took the time to buy swag like pens, water bottles, and t-shirts. So why are you throwing it on your table or leaving it in a bowl?

Booths with people who were engaging and actually handing you the freebies were the most memorable. Peatos, a snack company with a healthier selection of junk food, had their flavorful chips in one basket and bag clips in another. Both were handed out by employees of the company, which served as a way to open the door to a conversation.

Why This Works

People are going to pass by a bunch of booths at a trade show without a second glance. You need to be on the front lines with something for free to literally hand over to them. That physical act made Peatos way more approachable than the companies who were hiding in fear behind their table.




#3:  Remember Presentation Matters

The way your giveaways look and how they’re sitting at your booth makes all the difference. You want the free stuff to be part of the display and just as eye-catching and noticeable as everything else.

At the Sweet & Snacks Expo, the booths with the most traffic were the ones that were giving away free bags of potato chips, little candies, and even chocolate brownies. The neglected booths had garbage and toothpicks lying around from the samples.

Why This Works

Looks are definitely important at a trade show. There are hundreds of booths and displays for attendees to pick and choose from. I ended up visiting the booths that were clean, approachable, and if I’m honest, had something I could take for free to enjoy at home later.




#4: Mix Your Giveaways with Your New Products

Water bottles, tote bags, and other custom items might not be that awesome at first glance, but they will seem a lot cooler if they’re paired with new, exciting products.

Nestlé made their booth seem like a shopping experience for people who walked through their display. They had a snack bar you could walk through and fill your tote bag with sweet treats, including new flavors of Nerds and Crunch Bars, as well as extremely cute Butterfinger and Baby Ruth pens. 

Why This Works

Attendees felt excited about seeing new flavors and fun treats to try. That excitement carried over to the custom giveaways they were next to, which were nothing more than simple pens. The Butterfinger and Babe Ruth pens seem so much cooler when you’re putting them in your bag with other free goodies.




#5:  Engage All 5 Senses

The branded items you bring don’t necessarily have to be handed out for free to the crowd. You can also use them in other creative ways.

Fun Sweets Cotton Candy blew away the other booths by literally blowing custom beach balls into the sky. The compressed air made a loud sound that was hard to ignore, while the kinetic movement caught your eye as you were walking around the trade show floor.

Why This Works

Sensory marketing is a huge factor in a person’s experience with a brand, and ultimately, in whether or not they make a purchase. At a trade show, you should be engaging an attendee’s sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.






You shouldn’t go to a trade show just to go. The main reason you’re there is to attract new customers, show off what you’re all about, and in general, get the word out about your business. Surveys show the booths that have some kind of engaging free giveaway are more successful than those that are completely empty.

Overall, 87% of exhibitors claim to have a positive experience at a trade show, but just imagine how much better it could be if you use your swag wisely. These small items can do a lot in encouraging people to come up to your booth.  

As a refresher, here are all the facts you need to know:

  • 80% of attendees believe audience engagement and free samples significantly help define their purchasing decision. 
  • 7 seconds is all it takes for a trade show attendee to form a first impression of your brand.
  • 48% of exhibitors believe an eye-catching stand is the most effective way to attract attendees.
  • 92% of trade show attendees come to see what’s new in products and services.
  • 83% of the information the human brain processes is based on sight alone.

All People Have is What Goes Home

There’s a lot to see at a trade show. An attendee will spend 8.5 hours just looking at the exhibits. Who can remember everyone and everything?

That’s exactly why branded swag and free samples are so important. When people go home, they can ruffle through their bags, try your sample at their leisure, and use your promo pens, coffee mugs, or whatever else whenever they want. It’s in these moments where your brand comes back to mind.

And if you’re lucky, you can expect that person to pick up the phone or visit your website to reconnect! It just goes to show that “free” can have a huge impact, especially at a trade show.

References

Statista. (2019). U.S. and Global Trade Show Marketing – Statistics & Facts. Retrieved from, statista.com.

Matthew, C. (2018, March 2). 20 Powerful Stats on the Value of Trade Shows and Expos. Retrieved from, spingo.com.

Bizzabo Blog. (2018, December 17). 2019 Event Marketing Statistics, Trends, and Data. Retrieved from, blog.bizzabo.com.

Display Wizard. (2019). 20 Trade Show Statistics That Will Blow Your Mind. Retrieved from, displaywizard.co.uk.

Gibbons, S. (2018, June 19). You and Your Business Have 7 Seconds to Make a First Impression: Here’s How to Succeed. Retrieved from, Forbes.

Edwards, C. (2018, January 1). Small Business: Trade Show Factors of Success. Retrieved from, The International Journal of Business, Marketing, & Decision Science

American Express. (2012, September 13). Why Great Brands Appeal to All 5 Senses. Retrieved from, americanexpress.com.

About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over three years of experience in the industry. Her passion for writing has led to a BA in English & Communications from Aurora University and work published for the Advertising Specialty Institute and The Bolingbrook Sun Times.