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The 3 Golden Rules of Great Swag

Source | LinkedIn | Ryan HolmesRyan Holmes is an influencer | CEO at Hootsuite

If you’ve worked in the corporate world, you know free t-shirts are a dime a dozen. At conferences and trade shows, you’re usually lucky if you can give them away. Same goes for scarves, buttons, USB drives, pens, notepads, mouse pads, iPhone cases and the endless array of cheesy swag circulated by most companies. I’m willing to bet most of this stuff ends up discarded before it’s ever used. 

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Most company shirts, for example, are an afterthought. The materials are cheap. The colors clash. There’s always a big, garish logo wrapped across the sleeve or pocket. And they’re either way too small or way too big. It’s no wonder so much swag goes direct from trade show to goodwill bin. 

But there’s a deeper missed opportunity here. Everything you produce is, like it or not, an expression of your company’s values. A free shirt might seem insignificant, but consumers and employees alike are judging it and, by extension, your business. Leveraged wisely, something as simple as swag can represent a real differentiator and way to build loyalty. All too often, however, that free t-shirt or ball cap is actually a liability — a cheap marketing ploy casting an ugly shadow over your otherwise solid product. 

That’s why it was such a big deal when my company recently updated our t-shirts. More than 10 years ago, when we were just starting out, I posed a challenge to our marketing team: create a shirt that you would wear even if you didn’t work here. The resulting design was super minimalist — no words, no aggressive branding. But we couldn’t order them fast enough. Employees were taking them home to family members. And customers were asking for more.

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