10 Ways To Deliver Awesome Schwag For Your Startup

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10 Ways To Deliver Awesome Schwag For Your Startup


startup-giveawaysFirst off, Dharmesh and I would like to announce a contest for the official OnStartups T-Shirt. We're looking to choose a design put together by one of our readers as the official t-shirt for OnStartups. The design should be unique, include a slogan related to entrepreneurs, and something stylish. We don't want "Yet Another Startup Shirt". We want something fashionable and truly remarkable. Make something you would wear yourself. What do you get if we pick your design? Our gratitude, $100 in Amazon credit, a couple of the t-shirts, and a tweet/link from us to make you (more) famous.

To enter: Post your entries to our Facebook page- http://www.facebook.com/OnStartups . This way the contest is open to comments. We will reach out to you via FB message.

To go along with the contest, I thought I would put together an article that outlined some of the dos and donts of Startup schwag. Many see the schwag given out at conferences as a waste of money or hard to measure on an ROI scale. For a good number of companies, this is true, but it's also something that can be highly valuable if done right.

Make A T-Shirt A "Normal" Can Relate To

My favorite T-Shirt to this day is my bright yellow Wistia (hi Chris!) t-shirt. It's not because the t-shirt stands out and makes sure I don't get hit by cars on Comm Ave. while going for a run, but because it hit a chord with everyone working at a local pizza shop here in Boston. The shirt uses the slogan: "Share Video Like A Boss". The owner of the shop thought it was genius and something that automatically made sense. They understood Wistia's value prop in an easy and simple way. I didn't have to pitch them on what Wistia did, and they easily understood what they did: awesome video sharing for your business. Don't just slap a logo on a shirt or some other piece of schwag. Have a good catchphrase and a call to action that anyone on the street can understand.

Don't Spray And Pray

There are certain companies that just put their schwag anywhere and everywhere. They are at consumer web conferences, ad conferences, enterprise conferences, and anywhere that startups might be lurking. They have a huge promotional budget in the millions of dollars, but odds are you don't. Even if you do, don't do what "spray and pray" corp does by giving out schwag at every single conference. Instead, find out where your audience and customers really are. Find the nitty-gritty meetups that they are at and sponsor it + deliver schwag there. If you're someone like GitHub, you're not sponsoring every developer and consumer web conference under the sun, but you are sponsoring intimate personal meetups consisting of 20-30 people at a time. Be personal and go after your audience. Don't worry about having a huge in-depth reach. 30 well placed pieces of schwag will go further than 3,000 poorly pieces of swag drowning in a sea of other swag.

Produce Novelty

T-Shirts are an obvious form of schwag, but there are tons of other types of schwag that are highly useful or just plain ole' novel. My friend Pete taught me this when he interned at Half.com back in the day. He saw what they would do with things like Urinal cakes (schwag that you obviously couldn't take home, yet novel). His belief was using slap bracelets would be a great novel item that would ring home with 80's babies that used to have them as kids. I used to write this concept off as a dumb idea, until I saw a startup do this a year ago. It was a hit and spreading everywhere. The fun and novel nature of the schwag made it a huge hit amongst the crowd.

Produce Utility

An alternative to to producing novelty comes in the form of producing utility. When the iPhone first came out a few startups would use screen cleaning cloths as schwag to give out at parties. It is still one of the most useful pieces of schwag that I have ever received. If you give a person schwag that has utility to them, it will stay with them for a while. They won't see it as just another t-shirt, but as something that they don't want to let go of. Making things that people don't want to let go of is a powerful force.

Make Sure It Is Something You Would Wear

I have a fascination with comic book character themed t-shirts. Though I'm essentially promoting a commercial brand, I love doing it, since I love the characters involved. I feel startups are the same way. I would love to wear a t-shirt that has the look and feel of a designer comic t-shirt I might find from somewhere like ECKO or French Connection. Sadly, I see too many t-shirts that are oversized, poorly designed, and just wear out over time. Instead, look at your t-shirt as one of 3 items you could only wear for the next 3 months to social events. If your company's t-shirt isn't something you would wear, then don't make it. If you won't wear it, others certainly will not wear it.

It Should Not Be Easy To Lose

Ahh schwag pens. Maybe it's just me, but they ALWAYS get lost and get no visibility. They just sit in a sea of real estate agent pens. The same can be said for stickers, keychains, and a whole host of other little trinkets that always get lost. T-Shirts can also have the same happen to them, if they are the traditional black coloring we are all used to. I own about 30 black t-shirts for one reason or another. Wistia's yellow t-shirt? Aside from my Boston College t-shirts, it is the only other yellow t-shirt I have. It stands out and I wear it more often. Make sure your swag has a long lifetime value. (Yes, I really just gave swag an LTV metric.)

Have A Social Aspect To It

My favorite aspect to the slap bracelet concept is the social nature that they provide. Sure you may slap the bracelet onto your wrist, but it often ends up with you sharing the swag with someone else by slapping it on their wrist. How can you make your swag something people not only talk about, but literally share with their friends? Why not make the swag come in pairs with a directive to share it with others. Many breath-mint packages come with two openings: one for you and one for sharing. Try to do the same for your company's schwag.

Its Quality Speaks About Your Company

At one conference, a company was giving out USB flashdrives. This would have actually been really useful to me. Here was the problem: It only had 64 mb of storage. This was in early 2009. I understand giving out 2 GB flash drives could be costly, but this was just a non-starter. It would have been better for the company to not do it at all and give away something else. This stuck with me, as it impacted the way I looked at the company. It looked as if they didn't really care about the small details and how people might perceive them in a way that matters. Everything you do speaks about how your company perceives style, design, and quality, including the schwag that it gives out.

Find A Way To Make It Measurable

I almost ended the post by saying something that included schwag isn't measurable, but then I caught myself biting my tongue. It may be hard to measure, but it shouldn't be completely impossible. Have a unique tracking url that can only be seen by those exposed to the schwag in one fashion or another. You can also attach other calls to action if its a physical product other than a t-shirt that gives you a free trial of the product.

The People Delivering The Schwag Have To Be Equally As Great

People will stop to take a t-shirt or another piece of schwag from you. When they do so, you might get a quick ten seconds to grab their attention about what your company does. If the person behind the schwag doesn't know much about your company or how to sell it, that entire opportunity is lost. They will also take your schwag as well, but odds are they won't have the context as to what your company does. Even worse is the following conversation that will come up between the person now wearing the schwag and a person that asks them what your company does. Since your own representative couldn't explain what your company does, how will someone else? You have also killed referral explanations of what your company does. Like anything in a Startup, it's all about great people. Even the person handing out the schwag should be someone great. Odds are if you're a small team, it is you. What is some of the best schwag you've received at a conference or elsewhere for a company? The best response in the comments will get a free OnStartups T-Shirt. Hint: Visuals of the actual swag will rank higher :).

You Should Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jasonlbaptiste, Friend me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jasonlbaptiste, Email Me: jbaptiste@onstartups.com, or even call: 201.305.0552

Posted by Jason Baptiste on Wed, Nov 24, 2010


"Durant Not Sloan," best schwag on the planet, from California of course: http://www.cafepress.com/durantschool. 

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 2:51 PM by William Brah

I remember that in the 90s, there was a lot of superstition around creating t-shirts for your startup. Most people I knew thought it was tempting fate and that if you made shirts, you would go under. I wonder if that idea is still around today.

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 3:00 PM by John Shiple

Great article, as usual. 
I have been in the schwag (swag) biz since 1985, and I agree with your thoughts, especially in the idea that better selectivity allows you to stretch your budget--while giving you the budget for better gifts for important decision makers. 
I usually suggest an A-B-C approach at trade shows: C gifts for everybody that comes into your booth. Nominal value. 
B gifts for better prospects. 
A gifts for prime prospects/clients/media. 
Keep the A & B items out of view from public, and present with showmanship. 
More ideas on trade show schwag at tinyurl.com/3agcy6j

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 3:04 PM by Robert Piller

I don't think it's legal to give out "schwag" unless you live in CA or Madison., WI: 
adj. Term used to describe low grade marijuana. This type of marijuana is usually brown, seedy, dry. The term is also used by many pot heads to describe anything that is low grade. noun. low grade marijuana 
Swag - however - is a different story. What you been smoking Jason ;)

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 3:09 PM by Steve Ludin

Steve Ludin is correct. Schwag and swag are not the same thing.  
Schwag is marijuana.  
SWAG (stuff we all get) are promotional items given out for free.

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 3:14 PM by Michael

For those pointing out the swag vs. schwab error -- it's actually my fault. 
Having done some quick research online, determined that although the "official" term is "swag", the term "schwag" (even in this context) is much more common. We went with the more popular, commonly used variation. 
For the record, Jason had it right when he wrote the article -- I changed it.

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 3:20 PM by Dharmesh Shah

I was seriously considering issuing pen Schwag but after reading your article am seriously thinking of spending my money elsewhere. Whatever happened to those fluffy balls with the ribbon tags that everyone had stuck to the corner of their monitor once upon a time?

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 3:20 PM by Nicola Burt-Skinner

I'm glad you posted this. I completely agree that the shirt has to be of high quality... crappy shirts simply are... crap. 
We bought nice shirts for our startup ($15 each @ 20x) and it was well worth it. So many people have commented on how much they love the shirts! 
Can you guys post a high-res logo for OnStartups?

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 3:20 PM by Alex

I also like swag where the medium is the message. We make an OTC needle pain reliever called Buzzy, and distraction materials. Our swag is a yellow kazoo: it buzzes, blowing out decreases pain, and annoying everyone is a GREAT distractor from pain! Plus, kids all over trade show halls are bringing attention to us. (the latter may not be all good) -Amy

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 3:23 PM by Amy Baxter

I was at an event a month ago where they were giving away a knitted monkey head hat from Mailchimp. It was pretty great!

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 3:27 PM by Terran

So right to think out of the box.  
Those cotton pom poms are very cool and retro. Here's a link: http://tinyurl.com/2g3qzld 
T-shirts are overused, as are pens. 2GB -4GB USB flash drives and flash drive pens are very popular, as are messenger bags and neoprene iPad sleeves.

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 3:30 PM by Robert Piller

We use MailChimp because of the cute high-quality vinyl stickers they gave out when sponsoring Ignite Atlanta. The name stuck, so to speak, and our kids have it on their binders. 
Also, Kazoobie manufactures our Kazoos in the USA and a link to the pictures of them is <http://s58264.storefront-solutions.com/prod-KAZOO__10_PACK_-19.aspx>

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 3:57 PM by amy Baxter

A T-Shirt is a exclusive wear when we have some message written on it/them: 
Hope sees the invisible achieves the impossible ! 
This slogan has the potential to boost anyone's spirit and can be a guiding and motivating one for all. Hope to hear from all who read this message.

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 4:05 PM by Saurabh Swaroop Bhatnagar

Great article, some additional points to consider when buying schwag... 
1) 83% can identify the advertiser on schwag they own 
2) 41% have a more favorable opinion of the advertiser after receiving schwag  
3) Know your audience, for example males are more likely to own shirts and caps, while females are more likely to have bags, writing instruments, calendars and health and safety products. 
4) Promotional bags have the highest number of impressions.  
Thanks for the article. - Scott

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 4:09 PM by Scott Baby

Is there a deadline for the contest?

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 4:18 PM by Miguel

After 18 years in the promotional products industry there is no perfect swag. Best thing is to get an experienced sales person and figure out what the message you want to get out and what medium is best to say it. Also important is e-mail and blog marketing supported by social media

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 4:29 PM by Matt Davidson

I'm a firm believer in useful -- and "viral." Post-it notes with the logo and slogan on the sheet itself, not just on the sides of the stack. This way when people use them, the person receiving the post-it also gets our message. Sheet magnets with a great design have worked. People tend to leave them on file cabinets, or if consumers, on refrigerators. Ditto bagclips with magnets -- they hang around people's homes for years. Finally, we had fun with club cards--on one side was the URL for the 18-25 site that hadn't launched yet, and on the other, the message, "Don't go there." Of course, lots of people did, and found "I thought I told you not to come here...but as long as you're here, do you want to give your email address so we can let you know when we do launch?"

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 4:38 PM by Michael Odza

Maybe because I sit at my PC all day I like schwag (yes that is the more common spelling) pens. I have to admit that if I was still a road warrior they wouldn't be as likely to not get lost.  
I make it a point to pick up something small I can keep near my desk for companies I recommend frequently. I keep a jar full of their pens so I have their company name, phone number and Web URL handy. Make your pen distinctive in shape or color so I can grab it during a phone call or when typing an email or in chat.  
Anything useful that a PC user would keep near their keyboard (mouse pads, keyboard rests, pens, a stress ball (good for loosening up your fingers too) - that is the kind of schwag I could use.

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 4:44 PM by Gail Gardner

i owned a goldman sachs T shirt for just over 12 years before it fell apart... its was a high quality beefy T 100% cotton, with a iconic small logo on the front (not back) i wore it running, or when i was out and about in casuals ... how much would 12 years of advertising cost ... go for a iconic ageless small logo and high quality ... it will pay long term ...

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 5:01 PM by glyn

I agree with Robert Piller about "varying" swag for intended users/decision makers and Steve Ludin about "schwag" because I used to reside in CA....  
Just to name a few of the best swag items I've received: T-shirts (the right color and/or slogan says it all!), Pens- good quality ones that you actually will keep & use, Note pads/post-its- with company name, slogan, URL, etc, A coupon/card of some sort for something FREE- FREE gets attention- it depends on what is received for free that keeps attention, Toys- Beanie Babies, Rubiks Cube or puzzles of some sort that get/keep your attention or can be passed on to kids (looong shelf life if kids play with it!) A "Swag' bag of course to keep all the swag you collect/receive at any event,  
USB Drives 1Gb or more (I've thrown away lesser sized drives) and last but not least Hand Sanitizer or Bottled water w/ company name, slogan, URL, etc... given at the right event these are immediately useful swag items!

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 5:45 PM by James Tillman

The best schwag: 
As one who is a minimalist, the often cheap and useless schwag I received at conferences usually found it's way into the trash. However, I did receive one memorable item that stands out above all the hundreds of others. The schwag received was a choice to have the company donate money to one of three causes.  
Instead of spending $5 on a grip-ball with their logo, this company donated $5 for every candidate who talked with them. In return, I received a small sticker proclaiming my donation, and a link to their website where I could learn more about the charity upon who I bestowed a minimal fortune.  
This schwag was great for X reasons: 
1) I didn't receive a wasteful mediocre material good, but rather a feeling of goodwill.  
2) Out of all the schwag I received, this is the only one I told my friends about. This in turn caused them to think about said company.  
3) I visited their website to learn more about the charity I donated to, which also caused me to look at the company more too.  
For all those considering handing out some schwag a the next conference/trade show/job show, I would highly recommend using his terrific tactic.  

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 5:52 PM by Kai Stephan

Thx for your post. 
Who doesn't love a freebie now and then? Kids have always loved free stuff, regardless of it's monetary value, and I know quite a few big people who will knock you over just to get their goody bag at some of the events I attend, LOL. 
As a mommy blogger I'm always giving away both worthy prizes AND Swag. Seems people love winning stuff no matter what it is, it is the actual thrill of being the lucky one. 
Note: I loved your Yiddish-ized version of the word SWAG -- which as other posters ahead of me have pointed out means Stuff We All Get.

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 6:51 PM by Janis Brett Elspas

Thanks for such a fabulous post. I'm writing from the perspective of someone in the swag industry and I can tell you from first hand experience that we hear from jaded people all the time who complain about disposable trinkets and trash (fortunately, our customers don't fall into this category :) 
It was really interesting to hear your perspective as an "end user" as your insights would make you a bona fide and much sought after expert in our industry.  
2 thoughts - anytime you want to moonlight as a swag ambassador, let me know as your insights were brilliant (@RIGHTSLEEVE) 
Secondly, I wanted to leave you with some thoughts of ours on how social media has changed swag (for the better) http://bit.ly/i9Xo0g  
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 
Mark Graham 

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 7:08 PM by Mark Graham

Great SWAG post Jason. The <a>SocialGrow team is in the middle of planning our SWAG purchases for 2011 to increase brand awareness with our core demographic: Social Media Marketers. I like Robert's ABC recommendation as well. 
I'm thinking bright orange t-shirts, you agree??

posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 8:22 PM by Marsh Sutherland

Have you ever seen the Scottevest/SeV 'Performance Polo'? I recommend you use that as a 'Best of Breed' for innovation and producing utility.

posted on Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 12:10 AM by Ian Korman

Nice article! 
Can you post a photo of your yellow t-shirt? 
I'm curious... :) 

posted on Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 2:26 AM by Balazs

Nice! People love schwag!

posted on Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 2:29 AM by David Robins

Wonderful article, 
Can you train some people how to do it. 
I am interested. my youth can benefit a lot. 
I love schwah

posted on Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 2:47 AM by Jonathan

Last year we gave away free Mojito Kits, complete with 2 glasses and muddler (laser etched with our logo), miniature Bacardi flasks, mint sprigs, limes, soda, straws and recipe card for the Perfect Mojito. Needless to say they were a HUGE success and people kept the glasses and muddlers. 
The less fortunate ones got Mojito Pralines.

posted on Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 3:14 AM by Vlad

All excellent advice. Really (I've been giving out 4G flash drives with our deck and reel, to targeted potential clients). 
My favorite piece of Schwag is from a WIRED Magazine Halloween Party in 1998. They gave out clip boards made from a circuit board, and an aluminum plaque on the back with a pixelated WIRED logo. I've had it for 12 years and it's still a prized possession. 
You should have a look at The Intent Schwag Museum. Anyone can set up an account and share their best shwag. You can see my (2 item) collection at: 
The Internet Schwag Museum - The Chris Grayson Collection 
I have a few other pieces I'd like to add, but I've never bothered to take the time to photograph. At some point I'd also like to add a few rejection letters I received from dot coms and digital boutiques back in the mid-90s.

posted on Saturday, November 27, 2010 at 12:35 PM by Chris Grayson

Great article. I always thought of schwag as something useful, but I like the idea of something that will stand out. I'll have to brainstorm some ideas for myself!

posted on Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 10:02 AM by Katie @ SM Workshop

Hi Dharmesh, 
Great article. My name is Geoff Roberts, I am the inbound marketing manager at Mobilaurus. As a relatively new Boston-based startup (and HubSpot user!) this question hit home with. We've been searching for a way to give out company some SWAG, on a startup budget, in a way that is memorable. Let's face it -- giving away bumper stickers just ain't gonna cut it -- they are going in the trash. This post has been massively useful just in all the comments and ideas it has gotten on the table. Thanks as always! 
Geoff Roberts

posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 7:40 PM by Geoff Roberts

Informative article. Thanks for the education.

posted on Sunday, December 05, 2010 at 4:36 PM by Lalitha Brahma

May I add, that if you ain't true to yourself, you ain't true to nobody...

posted on Wednesday, December 08, 2010 at 2:30 PM by Golfing Gloves

thanks man this first post Iread on your blog. I will read all your post after now

posted on Monday, December 27, 2010 at 3:56 AM by lig tv live

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