Swag with REAL SWAG – Don’t Cheap Out This Season

Written by 2016 MMC speaker Heather Blume. 

We’re quickly rolling into my most favorite of all seasons – a magical time of year that’s full of seeing familiar faces of people I love, great conversations, late night drinks, phenomenal parties, and, of course, presents.

No.  I’m not talking about the winter holidays.

I’m talking about national conference season!

Don’t get me wrong – Christmas is awesome – but sometimes all that family togetherness leaves me feeling a little bit drained.  Conference season has the opposite effect.  I might come home tired, but it is rare that I return from a national conference without new ideas or a spark of energy and motivation.

It’s also rare that I return home without a new t-shirt in my suitcase.

And here’s the really sad part, and my honest little confession:  I only wear two of them.  The Apartment List shirt in this picture to the right is in frequent rotation in my wardrobe, as is my blue shirt from Live Lovely.  Neither of these companies has paid me to wear their gear.  These were free shirts that were given to me by each company, one at AIM last year, and the other at SPARK, on the tradeshow floor/as an attendance gift, and they were the same shirts that were given to any attendee who approached their booth/attended their conference.   At NAA, I received no less than 5 shirts.  Brainstorming 2013, I came home with 2 others.  I do not wear those shirts unless I have not done laundry and I’m in dire need of clean clothes.

So, why am I wearing these two shirts and letting the others stay in my shirt bin?  Because I like these two shirts best.  Note, I said shirts, not companies.  While it’s no secret that I’m a huge Apartment List fan, and that I dig the tools that Lovely offers, my wardrobe choice has nothing to do with either of these things.  I’m also a big fan of two other ILS companies that I have gotten shirts from in the past, and, unless they are particularly clever shirts, I don’t wear them.

The simple truth is that the cheap Hanes Beefy Ts don’t cut it anymore.  I realize how expensive it is to do a t-shirt giveaway(believe me, it gets pricey real fast!), but if you want to spend your money on something that your customers will actually use and wear, then spend your money smartly.  Go for quality. For shirts, this means going with a truly soft shirt like those from American Apparel.

“But Heather!  Those are so much more expensive!”

Yes.  Yes they are.  But remember, they’re also the only t-shirts from the last year’s worth of tradeshows THAT I ACTUALLY WEAR.

You know what’s more expensive?  Spending a ton of money on making t-shirts or promotional items to give to your customers so that they can sit in a drawer, go unused, or, even worse, go in the trash bin as soon as that person gets home.   There’s a great book out there called “Your Marketing Sucks.” by Mark Stevens, where he talks about what a real ROI on marketing should look like.  His idea: You should be looking for a 300% ROI on marketing campaigns, not the customary 169%.  Brand awareness is crucial, but if you’re not making it easy for people to use your branded items, your investment is worthless, and people don’t wear scratchy or thick t-shirts anymore.


It’s not just suppliers that I see making this mistake year to year – properties do it all the time as well.  For years, the consultants and marketers in the industry have been encouraging properties to put their logos on reusable shopping bags that they can give as part of a move-ihb1n present for their new residents. Putting your logo on a reusable shopping bag is a great idea, IF you get a quality bag.  Example, again from a vendor:  Look at the Lovely bag to the left.  It’s not that thin fabric that I’m pretty sure will rip if I put too many canned goods in it, or a bag that looks just like all my other generic shopping bags, but rather, it’s made of a nice durable canvas.  Did it cost more?  I’m sure it did.  But because it a)looks nicer, and b)is of a better quality so I actually feel like using it, means that Lovely’s marketing investment is paying off.  (P.S. – I use this bag ALL THE TIME.  It’s become one of my go to totes because it’s an awesome size, a great shape, the handles are nice and long, and the marketing on it is actually fairly subtle by comparison to many of the bags out there.)

Whether you’re a property or a supplier, if you want to do a branded item giveaway this coming year, make some smarter choices about your investment.  Here’s are simple questions to go through before you order promotional items:


Would you wear the shirt/use the bag you’re ordering on a daily or even semi-frequent basis? Is it comfortable?  Does it look kind of cool?  Is it branhb2ded subtly?  Is it clever?  Does it in anyway fit in with current societal style choices in color or cut? Is it kind of unique? If your choice doesn’t hit a yes on at least four of these questions, then don’t order it until it does.


Would you actually use tchotchke that you’re considering on a day to day basis?  Is it useful? Does it look kind of cool?  Is it clever?  Does it play in to a current trend? If you got this from a booth/management office, would you take it home and give it to your kids or just trash it?  If it’s not useful, don’t order it.  This world has enough random plastic garbage in it already – if you want to give me something, make it useful, like this nail set I got last year from On-Site (to the right), which gets a lot of use because it’s small, great quality, portable, and unobtrusive.

  1. Office Supplies

Would you keep this on your desk? If possible, is this made with recycled materials or recyclable materials?  Would you have a day to day need for this supply? Is it cool looking? Does it play to a current trend?  Does it look cheap or unattractive? Are these pens of a good enough quality that they won’t break open and leak all over the inside of my potential client’s/resident’s bags on their way home?  As a former boss of mine at Career Strategies once said, “We don’t do cheap pens. The last thing I want us associated with is a mess.”

  1. Electronics

Would you plug your $600 iPhone or $400 Android phone into this charger without worries about it getting shorted out?  Is this electronic something that will be obsolete by the time I get it home (example: giving me a USB charger cable that is 28/28g rather than the much faster 24/28g.)?  Does this gadget solve a problem for your client/resident and make their life better? With electronics, usefulness and quality reign supreme.

When you think promo items for your clients and residents this coming year, think about what matters to them.  You’ll get more for your marketing and branding dollars, and they’ll be appreciative of the promo/gift items because they won’t just be something that wastes space.

(The products, services, companies, and conferences mentioned in this post are not clients of mine, nor do they pay me for any sort of endorsement.  I just happen to like them and their choices in swag.)

–>Like what Heather had to say? Be sure to register for the 2016 MMC to attend any of Heather’s FOUR seminars she will be presenting! And check out all of her other blogs on her website