It’s one of the most debated questions in event planning right now: Do you have to give away gifts to attendees at events? In a word, yes. Even if you’ve hosted the perfect event, complete with everything your attendees asked for and more, event gifts are still a meaningful way to thank your guests for their attendance. They’re also essential to business networking because they make a lasting emotional impact on them. Incorporating gift-giving into networking events is a cost-effective way to generate leads, attract niche audiences, and incentivize attendees to become loyal customers.
Even if your event is not primarily a networking event, every event is a networking opportunity and should be optimized as such. Giving away event swag is also a great way to win over prospective clients or build meaningful relationships with current ones.
That said, it’s important to do event gifts the right way. We’ve all seen companies hand out low-quality, “personalized” gifts such engraved pens with employees’ names on them. Sure, it’s a nice gesture, but how much value does an engraved name really give a miscellaneous object? (That was a rhetorical question). In order to be of value to attendees, they need to be two things: useful and meaningful.
It’s not enough to simply slap a logo on post-event gifts. Your event swag should be packed with uniqueness and experiential value. Depending on your audience, it should either be useful on a daily basis or novel enough that your attendees brag about it post-event. Ideally, event swag should give your attendees a taste of what your brand is all about- and make them want more. Here’s how to make sure your event gifts keep on giving!
Be the Cream of the Crop
Do some pre-event research about the particular kind of gift you’re giving away. For example, let’s say you’re a tech company, and you plan to give away technologically useful items at your next event. If it’s an everyday item, such as a Bluetooth speaker, make yours a unique design. An interesting one we’ve seen came in the shape of a Rubix cube. You can add some novelty to wireless phone chargers by modeling them to look like fun objects like lollipops or flowers- or if you have a logo animal, you can make phone chargers in the image of them. We recently came across branded Bluetooth speaker insulated bottles that keep beverages at just the right temperature- and 33-foot Bluetooth range.
Factor gifts into your pre-event budget. If your funds are limited and you do go with a standard, commonplace gift, there are ways to put your brand’s own special touch on them. Let’s use mugs, for example. Rather than ordering them with a garden variety print of a beach scene or sunrise, have them printed with a meaningful message containing your logo. If you’re going with candles, make them handcrafted with an ornate design. We knew a wedding planner whose trademark was a single rose, and she gifted each of her clients with a rose-scented candle in the shape of a crimson bloom.
Yes, you’ll have to spend a little more money to customize your gifts this way, but doing so adds a lot more personal value- and shows your attendees that you really care about your relationship with them.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Practicality
Although novelty gifts can really wow your attendees, never underestimate the value of practical gifts that can be used in everyday life. Consider your attendees. Are they busy people who work from sunup to sundown? If so, what could make their lives easier by saving them time? As pretty as a potted plant looks on a windowsill, it wouldn’t be the most practical gift to give busy career people who aren’t at home during the day.
You might also gift them with a “daily survival kit” of must-have items for busy days. Think mini-planners, notepads, pens, earphones, and even a scratch-and-win lottery ticket that might make it their lucky day.
Recently, Hetal Vasavada, the author of a culturally inspired cookbook called Milk and Cardamom, gave away signed copies of her book at a Bay Area book signing and pop-up shop. If you or one of your keynote speakers have written a successful book, this event gift idea can work for you, too. But even if there are no featured authors at your event, books are still a novel event swag ideal (bad pun intended).
Just invest in books that are relevant to the theme of your event. If your event was a professional development conference in which guests learned how to use new technology, choose a how-to book on that technology. This way, your guests can not only learn more but reference the book in future instances. A recent study showed that we forget 90 percent of what we learned at conferences and workshops within the first week of learning it. Even though the 10 percent we do retain is valuable, that’s a lot of information to lose! Any gift that helps attendees retain information is ideal for conferences and workshops.
Infuse Your Event Swag with Culture
The event planning world is becoming more diverse by the year. Therefore, event planners are challenged to incorporate cultural diversity into their events authentically. One fun way to incorporate diversity is to give culturally-inspired event gifts. If your event had a decided cultural theme, you could give away authentic, non-perishable delicacies, such as candy bags or boxes. But even if you want to keep it local, why not give away a book that acts as a “tour guide” to all the best attractions in your region? Even better, you might include a guide to all the “hidden gems” in your area, especially if you live in or near a big city.
Because of its diversity, cultural richness, and historic charm, the Bay Area is rich with iconic and obscure tourist destinations that delight locals as well. A cursory glance at Bay Area news or www.sftravel.com yields hundreds of new ways for even the most seasoned locals to discover the beauty of their city and region. The same is true for other major cities like New York or Chicago, but many quaint, smaller towns have their own special tourist appeal. Did you know that Mitchell, South Dakota boasts its very own “Corn Palace,” made entirely of corn, grains, straw, and wheat? Yeah, neither do most people. But the point is that every area has its trademark appeal, and it can be really fun to incorporate local culture into your event swag.
Give the Gift of Giving
Here’s a novel idea: Instead of giving gifts to your attendees, give them an opportunity to give to a cause they care about. In order to pull this off, you’ve got to really know who your attendees are and what they care about. (If you’re branding yourself optimally and using experiential marketing to the best of your advantage, then we’re sure you’re already forging meaningful relationships with your attendees). If you give away an opportunity to support a cause, make sure it’s one that reflects your values as a business and is close to your attendees’ hearts. Millennials, in particular, have expressed that they feel more connected to the world around them when they’re contributing to it in a positive way.
If you live in the Bay Area, there’s a good chance that many of your attendees care about preserving their beautiful, historic community- and the environment in general. Why not contact your local conservation group and ask about gift-giving ways to help protect endangered species and their natural environments? If you own a gym, yoga studio, or sell health products, there are any number of health-related causes to choose from. The Bay Area, in particular, is passionate about supporting their local community and improving the quality of the environment. In fact, any environmentally friendly gift would be perfect for a Bay Area event. Many Bay Area people also have a vested interest in self-improvement and changing the healthcare industry for the better. Think progressive charities, which there is no shortage in this region.
Not sure where to start? Once you’ve identified a cause, your attendees care about, local government offices, convention centers, or visitor bureaus might have a list of local charities. Many times, charities have fundraising items already on sale. Or check out Global Giving, a versatile resource that lets purchase gift cards and decide which charity the proceeds go to.
If your business is linked to fashion, it should be fairly easy to find a brand which has partnered with a charitable organization. You can purchase gift cards for which the proceeds go to a designated charity. In going this route, you’ve allowed your attendees to support a cause they feel passionately about while buying fashionable items they love. We can’t think of a better gift op.
By supporting a cause that your business and attendees care about, you’re fulfilling two needs: the need to indulge oneself for pleasure, and the need to contribute to society in a meaningful way. It’s the ultimate gift that keeps on giving.
Get Up Close and Personal
Obviously, this option works best for small occasions or meetings with individual clients. But it’s worth mentioning for event planning and other businesses that do, in fact, provide services to individual clients. If we listen closely, people reveal a lot about themselves in daily conversations. For example, wedding planning can be quite a personal endeavor. Thus, wedding planners learn a lot about the tastes, hobbies, and favorite foods of their clients just by working with them. However, even people who work in the least personal, most corporatized industries share small but important details about themselves at business-related events.
Perhaps one of your attendees told a humorous anecdote about how much he loves to play an instrument- much to the dismay of his family, as he’s not very good at it. Speaking of family, it’s a good idea to consider your attendees’ loved ones when giving event gifts. Did one of your clients recently confide how much his wife loves a particular store? If so, the gift card idea basically sells itself.
People tend to dismiss gift cards as standard and impersonal, but that’s not always the case. Gift cards can make a great gift for a client who has already told you he or a family member loves Barnes and Noble or Starbucks. (Who doesn’t love Starbucks? In this case, its general appeal makes it the perfect go-to for a large event with many attendees. It also works for a client you really just don’t know that well). Or you can support local communities or small businesses by giving out gift cards from a sustainable, environmentally-friendly restaurant or coffee shop.
Let’s face it- sometimes it’s hard to please everyone at larger events. The populations at such events usually represent multiple niche audiences. Although it’s still totally possible to identify shared interests across the board, you can also take the path of least resistance. (If this is your first event, this idea might especially appeal to you). In this case, gift cards to a popular local favorite are a way to please just about everyone.