Are you wasting money on your trade show giveaway?

How much money are you spending on trade show giveaways - the pens, pads of paper, flashlights (that's a really good one), bags, t-shirts, cars, toys, decks of cards (that's a great one), highlighters, poker sets (also popular...), and of course free samples?

More importantly, what are you getting in return for the free stuff you give away?  

Here are five different perspectives on trade show giveaways. Which do you think is most effective for your booth?

Exhibitor A: 

"Why do we give all this stuff away if nobody's going to use it? Why do we waste our money on this junk?" 

Most exhibitors that have this perspective simply set out a large pile of stuff and hope that someone will take it. They don’t collect lead information in exchange for the gift, and the gift is of such little value that people either ignore it completely or take one to give to the kids at home.  

The exhibitor is right: he’s wasting his money on junk.

Exhibitor B

“We’re building brand awareness. Whenever they use our pen, they’ll think of us…” 

If the object does get used regularly, it’s likely that the exhibitor is generating some brand awareness. Ideally, the giveaway will relate to the product the exhibitor is selling, and the branding will have some sort of call to action. A company that offers computer technical support, for instance, might offer a customized mousepad. When the user encounters a glitch, there’s the company’s logo, phone number, and “call us for help” staring right back at them. 

Exhibitor C: 

Our team stands on the aisle with our free giveway, and we offer them to people who walk by. It gives us an opportunity to start a conversation”

Here’s an exhibitor that’s really thinking! Robert Cialdini (from his book Influence) would point out that exchanging a gift with an attendee temporarily puts them in your debt. If you want someone's attention, offer them something they might want (and a pen, in some cases, is enough. A deck of cards ALWAYS is). The person feels obligated and will usually listen to what you have to say for a bit, and that might be the opening your sales team needs to start a conversation.

Exhibitor D: 

“We use gifts as a calls to action. During the show, our magician builds a nice crowd at our booth, gets people laughing, and gives one spectator their very own deck of branded of cards as a prize. Suddenly, the whole group is magnetized to booth because they want a deck of cards, too. After our booth attraction explains the product pitch, he explains that everyone can get their very own deck of cards if they scan their badge at the podium inside the booth.”  

This strategy worked with ASCO Power Technologies for years. We had several branded gifts and magic tricks that we gave out during the show, and once we gave one person a gift, everyone else wanted a gift, too.

There are two dangers to be aware of. First, if everyone gets a gift, you’re collecting everyone’s contact information, which means your leads are not necessarily qualified or even interested in what you’re selling. To work, this must be a show full of largely qualified prosects.

Second, in an effort to save money, there will be a desire to not give certain people a gift, or to openly give a high-value gift to qualified prospects while giving everyone else something less expensive. While this appeals to the budget conscious, show attendees don’t like it all. They feel cheated, tell their friends, and even the premium giveaway will lose its appeal.

Exhibitor E:  

We have a gift deployment system. Gift number one is an inexpensive magic trick we offer to everyone that visits our booth. Our magician performs the trick during the show, explains that the instructions are inside the package with the URL for a custom landing page with a “how to” video. Everyone is invited to visit our podium where a booth staff member will scan their badge and give them the gift.

Along the with the “how to” video is an offer related to our product (a white paper, video learning sessions, discount, free software trial, etc). Our unique landing page gives us all kinds of useful tracking data: in particular, which prospects from the show are most interested in our products and technology (and who we should contact first).”

Our second gift is hidden in the booth. When our VIP clients, highly qualified prospects, and vendors come the booth, we surprise them with a nice gift (portable chargers, poker sets, glassware, golf balls, etc) that builds the relationship and encourages them to come to our booth at future trade shows. We also track these clients on a separate badge scanner so we can be sure they get immediately follow up after the show”

This is without a doubt the ultimate trade show marketing strategy. A large percentage of show attendees see the booth, hear the message, and leave their contact information. Ideal prospects are quickly separated from the rest at the booth. These qualified prospects get their questions answered, a nice gift for visiting, and priority follow up after the show.

The custom landing page gives the exhibitor a second chance at connecting with each show attendee. Ideal prospects who do not enter the booth to meet the sales team are still likely to accept the info-product offer on the custom landing page. It’s good idea to send the everyone who scans their badge an email with the custom landing page.  


Exhibitors A, B, and C are using traditional trade show strategies that are somewhat effective but extremely inefficient. They don’t necessarily collect qualified leads in exchange for the money they are spending on the giveaway, nor are they entitled to give the prospect a follow up call or email in exchange for the gift.  

The approaches advocated by Exhibitor D and E are definitely the way to go. You’ll focus more attention on your booth, ensuring more of your ideal prospects hear your name and message, and more of your ideal prospects will give you their contact information, so you can follow up and start more sales. The custom URL that Exhibitor E creates sits on the existing company website, so there’s no additional cost, and the info-product only requires time (and the marketing department probably already has a white paper on file).  

Key Thought to Remember: It’s not what you giveaway, it’s how you give it away…

Ready to implement a reliable system for prospecting your next trade show? Mike Duseberg builds a crowd at your booth, broadcasts a message that identifies your ideal clients, and brings in qualified leads. Check out with further information, a free five minute “mini-webinar” on trade show tactics, and other free information.