If you’re planning to exhibit at a trade show this year, you may be wondering what you can do to drive traffic and generate leads while you’re there. Enter the trade show giveaway, which has been for many years the standard staple for generating goodwill and motivating potential buyers and prospects to provide you with their contact information for future follow up.

And yet, one big challenge with giveaways is that because they are such a staple at shows, many of the ideas that were once fun and motivating to booth visitors have become old hat, and no longer generate leads or give your trades how presence the boost that they once did.

So what can you do? Should your company dispense with giveaways altogether? Or would a reboot to your giveaway strategy provide the boost your trade show presence needs to get results?

Why Use Trade Show Giveaways?

When determining your strategy around giveaways, it’s important to keep in mind why you are giving items away in the first place. A few of the most important reasons to give away promotional items at your booth include:

Lead generation:

This is usually going to be your number one reason for attending shows and offering giveaways. Your strategy revolves around getting contact information from leads, with whom you plan to follow up after the show. This will require a very motivating or possibly high value giveaway, and can be done as part of a raffle, either in your booth, or through the show management (some shows require you to raffle items through them rather than in your own booth.)

Brand awareness:

You might be simply trying to get your name out there. This can be especially important for new companies or those whose product is either not well defined, or involves a concept that is difficult to convey. If all you’re looking for is brand awareness, less expensive giveaways might make the most sense. In addition, it’s a good idea to find a way to measure awareness. Tying the giveaway to a social media or other online promotion can be a good way to do this.


Companies or products that are a little more high-concept might need to go beyond making sure people know their name, and actually educate them about what they do. This is one of the most difficult things to do with tradeshow giveaways, but it is possible. If you use a high-value giveaway, you can tie it to viewing or attending a presentation about your company or product – either in your booth or online. Giving away your company’s actual product or a free service is another option, or perhaps the educational material can go directly on the promotional item.

How to Select a Giveaway

Once we’ve identified our reasons for using giveaways, we need to think about which giveaways are going to be right for our business. Here are a few criteria to consider:

Relevance / Brand Alignment: Think through the message that your giveaways are going to send, and make sure it’s saying what you want it to say about your company. For instance, not every company is the right fit for a stress ball, but if your company or product somehow relieves stress for your potential customers, then it could be a good choice.

Value: We’re not talking dollar value, we’re talking about value to the customer. Is this something they want or need? The item should either be practical – something useful that anyone would want – or it should be something so unique or unusual that it will be attractive in spite of its lack of utility. Think about the needs of the audience to determine the value of the item.

Durability: Is the item well made? Poorly made products that fall apart as soon as the show is over do not reflect well on your brand. Another issue is that items that fall apart may provide immediate brand recognition at the show, but when your potential customer is trying to remember the name of that company they visited, the giveaway itself may be the only reminder they will have. Ideally, it should be made to last.

Theme: Many companies try to enhance the impact of their trade show presence by having a themed booth. The kinds of themes you might have are pretty limitless, but whatever the theme is, your giveaways will be most impactful if they tie in with it. The theme should, of course, make sense for your brand.

Price: Of course, we have to balance all of the above against the price of the items. The cost of your giveaways needs to be figured per lead or prospect you expect to generate, as well as against the value of the customer.

5 Trade Show Giveaway ideas

There are many items that are “tried and true” for trade show giveaways: pens, mints, water bottles, and the list goes on. But if you really want to get unique, it’s good to remember that the list of giveaways you could choose from isn’t just limited to what you’ll find in a promotional catalog. Here are five unique ideas to bring attendees out of the woodwork at your next show:

1) Product Samples: In terms of brand relevance, it’s hard to think of a better giveaway than a sample of your company’s products. The downside is that not every product lends itself to being sampled out. But if yours does, this is something to consider. If your product is high value and in demand, but can’t be given to every visitor, consider an in-booth or online raffle contest.

2) Care packages: Attending trade shows can be a grind. Why not show your attendees a little love and promote your company at the same time? Your care package can include those little necessities like a packet of aspirin, a bottle of water, a granola bar, some mints or gum, a pen with your company name, a branded notepad, and maybe a flash drive with a presentation or a link to your website.

3) Food: When tummies are growling, having a food giveaway at your booth can immediately track attendees. The problem? Typically these items will not be durable, as they will be eaten before the prospect leaves the pavilion. So following up (you DID get their email address, right?) will be essential for this giveaway to have lasting value for your company.

4) Drinks: Many tradeshows have afterhours networking events, and many of these sell drink tickets. Your company can host one of these events, or buy a block of tickets from a company that is hosting one and use them as a giveaway in return for contact information, but again you need to collect names and contact information to make this giveaway have any value to your company.

5) Branded Tote bags, T-Shirts and Water Bottles – If brand awareness is part of your strategy, a branded tote bag, T-shirt or water bottle can be a great way to spread the word. And they are durable, so they will still be around after the show. The negatives are the cost and that they aren’t always the items most in demand at tradeshows (typically, booth visitors are more excited about things they can use right away). So the key is to make sure the design and colors are eye catching and cool – something people will want to wear or use right away.

It’s important to think long term about how you will develop relationships with the people that visit your booth. Will you email or call them all individually? Add them to your email newsletter list? Offer a promotion to get them to like or follow one of your social media accounts? Whatever your method of follow up, incorporating these plans into your giveaway strategy is important. What tradeshow giveaway ideas have you tried? Tell us in the comments.