Every trade show is overrun with free giveaways and tchotchkes – and has been for decades. We all look forward to winning the newest tablet, and we’ve all come home from the big conference in Vegas or Houston with a bag full of engraved pens and stress balls with logos emblazoned across the front. After all, you can never have too many packs of corporate branded mints, right?

Giving away branded promotional items at events is such standard practice, do we even have a reason for doing it beyond, “it’s a good way to get our name out there?”

A lot has changed in the marketing world since the inception of event giveaways, so what should we be changing about our event promotion strategy?

Let’s first take a look at why giveaways hold such a warm place in marketers hearts:

  1. Low Cost Advertisement
  2. Collecting Leads
  3. Getting Return Customers
  4. Creating Product Awareness

Low Cost Advertisement

Promotional items go viral at trade shows in the same way that videos go viral on YouTube: once someone finds out that you have a killer giveaway, the whole event will come clamoring to your booth to get their own. Your logo winds up places you never even planned for it to go, and the brand recognition can mean a lot for your credibility when you call new prospects after the show. You get instant brand awareness, and for a lot less cash than glossy print ads and expensive TV campaigns. Promotional items also require minimal effort on your part to distribute. To duplicate the effect of a high cost and hard to create advertising campaign with promotional giveaways, you put in maybe 1% of the effort you’d put into creating a complex marketing campaign.

To make giveaways even sweeter, you can essentially enlist influential promoters to advertise your brand for minimal cost. Most companies today handpick winners of big giveaway items – such as TVs and getaway trips – so they can ensure an influencer with inside access to their target market wins. When people win prizes or receive great tchotchkes, they talk about it online. When people talk about your giveaways, they talk about your brand, and you get instant free advertising.

Lead Collection

Every field in a lead capture form adds a new obstacle through which prospects have to pass before you get their information. Every additional field also increases the risk that prospects will drop off, which means you don’t get their information. At events, however, it’s much easier to get a prospects information. Most organizations ask for a scan of your badge or a business card in exchange for a tchotchke or entrance to win a giveaway. This makes it a lot easier for you to gather their information.

Renewal Business

Every business needs to do everything in its power to retain its existing clients, and giveaways offer a good way to keep your existing customers engaged, or better yet, re-engage them. How do you engage customers with shot glasses that have your company’s logo on them? The allure of giveaways often give customers an extra reason to visit you at an event. If you market free giveaways online, your brand might come across your customers’ paths when they least expect it and in turn spur a conversation that ends in additional business.

Product Awareness

When launching a new product or service, you need as many ways as possible to let your potential customers know of its existence. Giving away samples of these products is one of the methods you can use to introduce your product to the market. You can also give away promotional items with a tie in to your new products. For example, if you launch a mobile product, you could generate awareness for your product by giving away branded iPhone cases at an event or by sending them to a few top customers and partners.

When you sum up the benefits, tchotchkes and giveaways sound like a wonderful idea. However, they present one giant problem: the poor quality of the leads you get from giveaways often undermine all the benefits. Your sales team doesn’t need 700 ill-fitting leads clogging up their pipeline, and you don’t want to miss good conversations at events because you’re busy engaging people that just want free pens.

The marketers of yesterday enjoyed the lead boost giveaways would bring because their follow up strategy simply involved cold calls. Today’s marketers want qualified leads so sales reps don’t have to do a lot of legwork to enrich leads. We’ve yet to find a correlation between likelihood to buy and desire for free USB cards, so we rely on lead nurturing.

Giveaways and tchotchkes cater to the volume play. The volume play works well for marketers that do lead nurturing well. The volume play also assumes that at some point, every lead will be a hot prospect, and you want them in your system whether or not that point is now or two years down the road. If you have the right sales intelligence in place, and an effective email nurture program. you should be confident that every name in your database is valuable. The giveaway hound who visits your booth with a backpack to collect toys for his kids may work for one of your target companies, and he may work directly under the VP you’ve been trying to reach for three months. Your giveaway may help you get the in you need, but you’d never know it without the right sales intelligence.

Giveaways, then, are a double edged sword. If you’re confident your marketing department is equipped to enrich even the vaguest leads and nurture them to a close.