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How to pick the right promo item for trade show?

Swire Ho #thepromoguy guest on Trade Show UniversityI recently had a conversation with Jim Cermak at Trades Show University. We talked about the best practice to choosing promo items for trade show. As in person events, tradeshows are slowing happening, business owners and marketing professionals are gearing up for the usual summer trade show season. How has the pandemic changed promo items for trade shows? Is there a promotional item strategy in tradeshow marketing? 

A Safe Trade Show Experience

hand sanitizer spray pen
hand sanitizer spray pen

While many in-person events and tradeshows went virtual last year, people will need to slowly adjust live marketing events. Keeping attendees feel safe will be one of the key strategies to success. Stocking the booth with branded PPE items such as hand sanitizers, face masks will be a priority. Partitions, floor decals reinforcing social distancing rules are helpful in case it gets busy. 

uv sanitizer
UV sanitizer & wireless charger

UV sanitizers are both functional and popular as promo items this year. Use them strategically for potential clients, mail them as part of an invitation gift set to visit the booth, or run a raffle giveaway to drum up interest on site. 

A Fun Comeback

individually wrapped cookie
bottled water
Moscow Mule Cocktail Kit

Celebrate with partners, clients after more than a year of virtual events with a few fun twists at your in person trade show. Set up an area with backdrops and selfie kits for photo-op opportunities. Individually packed branded treats such as cookies, candy or water to give attendees a well-deserved break. At the end of the day, cocktail kits are sure to brighten up faces for the start of happy hour. 

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (00:00):

Really excited to have you swear. Welcome to Trade Show university, say hello to all our trade show warriors out there.

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (00:07):

Hello everyone. Thank you for having me on your show Absolutely

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (00:10):

So excited that you’re here because it’s an exciting time. It’s an exciting time. There’s so much happening right now. A lot of people are out there really getting ready to plan for their next upcoming event. And most like that’s a live event as, as things are happening, which is exciting, but also, you know, they might still be planning for, for some virtual events and, and hope to get your perspective on some of those things. But the world has changed and people might be thinking, maybe I should do something different. Maybe I shouldn’t have the same, same pens that I gave away last time or whatever that item is, how can they best choose the right promo item for their audience?

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (00:49):

I think, especially for your audience, Jim, they listened to your podcast. They know that they need to do some co-selling right. And they also need to do planning and also have two A’s on the execution. Do you have a good Trade show experience, but then normally where I get as the very end of it, right? They plan for everything going to a trade show. Maybe we should give up something, right? So there’s this, this buy me a bunch of path, you know, but then I would challenge them to, if you qualify, leads and capture the leads for the customer, really interested in your product or services, then use promotional product as a guide. Or if you’re trying to bring brand awareness to your booth or try to invite people to visit your your booth during the show, you can also use a promotional product to bring awareness. And then at the end, once you connect with a client and you want to thank them, promotional product, in my opinion is one of the best tools that you can connect with people after the show. I

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (01:49):

Agree with you a hundred percent, having something with your logo on that you you’re getting back in front of that customer. They have something great in their hands that that reminds them of you. And, and maybe a conversation you had is it was really powerful, but yeah, promotional products, that’s a huge, huge breast array of items. And I mean, how many, how many different items or categories do you offer at Garuda?

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (02:13):

Right now? I would say 5,000. If we go to the custom route, it’s unlimited. So we have done some unusual things along the year, but then really we can get access to a lot of different products, but then by the clients sharing to us what their goals are, who are they targeting? And what is the purpose of the trade show? Are you trying to impress people? Are you trying to just build a brand awareness at the show, then I can have access to different product that works for different demographics. Maybe they’re a millennial, maybe they’re an older population. Maybe there are a sportspeople, you know, there something different for each group. So a pen do works, but then a item that is more focused on your clientele is even better.

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (03:00):

That’s great. So do you have any, any tips for people to really figure out and hone in on that, that right item? Because you said, you know, maybe there’s something that you hand out at the show, but maybe there’s something else that you hand out to someone maybe you’ve set an appointment with or after the show, you, you send them to any tips for fights finding that right item for their customer.

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (03:21):

Well, let’s break it into three parts. Shall we? So the first was the pre trade show, right? You know, you want it to drive people to your booth. Maybe you’re trying to invite some prospect who might be interested in your product. You know, we’re going to be here doing a trade show with everyone, or the product will be here. And then it’s nice to tell people, if you come to our booth, we might, if you that this special t-shirt or limited coffee mark, or product that are related to what they want to do, then people will want to come to your booth. Because, you know, to be honest, people like nice item that they like to take home with them at the end of the day. And at the trade show itself, one of the must have, I would encourage my client to get his spin the wheel.

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (04:03):

Imagine if you’re in a busy trade show, you know, hundreds of exhibitor, when you hear that spin the wheel, I look right away and I go to that booth first and what you’re trying to do with the spinning wheel, it, because it takes anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds, right? For it to spin and you pick your item, you’re creating a line in front of your booth. When I visit a trade show, I like to go to a booth that has a lot of people. I don’t want to go to a booth with people just sitting there across the aisle, looking mad. I want to engage with people at the booth. So when people are lining up to do to spin the wheel, if you have a nice execution, then you have one of your representative to capture the information. You know, what kind of product or services would you like?

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (04:50):

How can we help you then? Not only that you can capture their information, then you can talk to them for a little bit. Then you can qualify your client. And I would always point out and people sometime having a difficult concept to do, you don’t have to give them promotional product. Everyone. If you’re only giving it to your qualified leads, that’s fine too. Maybe we only have a certain budget. So pick the right item for the right client and only give it to the right client. Because giving an industry term people call, you know, what? They get a trade show swag, which actually stand for stuff. We all, yeah, you don’t have that stuff that we can all get. You know, if you’re feeling generous, you can do that. But then what if you only give the promo item to customer really interested in product, you only give it to the people who matters of your product and services. And then another great idea will be maybe you’re selling a higher ticket item item, or maybe your services is spirited. Compacts. Can you pack it into your promotional product that kind of give them like a taste of the actual experience? How would that, and help your process for that? So these are something that I would ask and guide my client to come up the right promotional product for the event. So

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (06:07):

Many great tips, so many great questions for people to consider an ask, ask themselves, okay, what do I, what was the image I want to portray? And I love the spin the wheel. That is such a great way. Like you said, you, you draw that line of people. All of a sudden you’ve got 2, 3, 4 or five, or maybe depending on what’s going on at your booth, I’ve seen booths. And I’m sure you have too, where you probably have 20, 30 people in line waiting to spin that wheel, maybe to win a night, a really great prize, or maybe it’s that custom t-shirt or that really that nicer quality item that they th they’re just excited for and drawing that, drawing that line, all of a sudden, you’re creating a lot of energy, a lot of energy. So, oh my gosh, that is great. And, and swag stuff we all get. I’ve never heard that

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (06:59):

Before. Yeah. The photo center where people know the acronym, but then you know, that that’s exactly what I stand for stuff

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (07:05):

We all get. And that’s the thing is if you, like Swire said, you don’t have to give something to everybody. You can be selective and make that person that you just had a great conversation with. You’ve set that follow-up appointment, or maybe you, you know, depending on your industry, maybe you made a sale right there at the show. You give them that, that select nicer piece of swag, which is not really a sweat because not everyone got it. But given that, that great promo item, that’s really going to make their face light up as they, as you hand it to them. And as they leave the the booths just really cementing a great, great experience for them. Great. Oh my gosh. That’s some great stuff.

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (07:47):

Yeah. And I wanted to add one more because we all know the power of social media. And then we always encourage people to post something for our company. And we can do that really. And then some company will actually pay an influencer. So a lot of money to post what their item, you can actually do that at a trade show. What about if you set up like a backdrop in front of your booth or some kind of a red carpet with your logo on it, and then in order for them to get the nice item that you have at a booth, they have to post in front of that backdrop tech, your company, or whatever, a hashtag that you have posted on all the social media that you want them to post. And then they in return, they got that gift. It’s a win-win situation.

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (08:29):

But what you’re trying to do did your treating meany brand ambassador for, for the show show, you get people 20, 50, or even hundreds to posting on your social media that day. And then their friends are going to see their friends posting on your and it proves your brand awareness. And all it takes is the cost for thinking about the campaign and a little bit off of, from resources for, for the item. But then think about if you like the social media aspect of it. This is exactly how you can achieve that. Using promotional products,

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (09:02):

Using social media, create that buzz, create that, that trending on, on social media, the background. Wow. What a great way to, not just once or twice, but possibly like twice, you said hundreds of times to have your brand out there on social media. And it’s going to start just rising and rising really, really great stuff there.

Speaker 3 (09:25):

Now, if I want

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (09:26):

People to really stop at my booth, say, I don’t have this spinning wheel, but how did what a great items that are going to make people stop and notice? Is there something new that you’re seeing are you you’re, you’re right there on the forefront, you have all these suppliers and all these products. What are some new things that are, people are really excited about?

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (09:47):

I think technology gifts are always a nice thing to have. You know, I, I call myself the promo guy, right? So I like to look for unusual things that people normally wouldn’t have the idea to think about an. What it will be to bring stock is what are some of the items that my prospect will need, but then they don’t hurt, already have part for themselves. So for example, if you are talking to people who sit behind a desk every day, maybe a wireless charger, you know, maybe as simple as a webcam cover, we all consume all day. And you know, we care about privacy, welcome, cover something that we’ll see the logo everyday. And then one of the best I’ve seen from my client in real estate is they target their escrow company. They’re targeting realtors. So all he does is he give out calendar that people need.

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (10:38):

In the beginning of the year, he gave it out at a trade show in October. So people don’t already have a calendar, but then they’re looking for a calendar. I know I do. So he actually printed all their, the calendar for the realtors at the show. And then he also think about the important days in terms of real estate. He printed there. So then you all the realtors are going after their calendar. So think about your audience. What are something that they could need throughout their daily life? And then if you put your logo on it, they were still happy to use it.

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (11:10):

These are great. They’re great. I love the, I love that idea and all the warriors out there, you’re listening, you’re hearing a theme here and he’s mentioned it a few times. Know your audience, know your customers, what is their work life like? What are their interests? Like? What is the industry what’s important to them and pick items that are going to resonate with them that are going to get them excited or that they’re going to see every day. If they’re constantly on the road, then maybe they’re not sitting in front of their laptop. So a laptop, a camera cover might not be the best item, but if you’re, if your audience is at home and they’re, they’re doing a lot of this remote and a lot of the zooming, that might be a perfect item, but know your so important to do your research, do your homework and understand your audience. So you can pick those right protein items as can get them. Not only get them excited, but it’s going to build your brand really, really great. Have you seen something? And obviously this goes right back again to the the, to the audience, but the, the right product, is it make something more effective than others?

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (12:19):

I think it’s not about really the product. You know, there are a lot of new products that come out that suppliers, you know, would want it to advise. Think about season though, right now we’re going to summer. So, you know, beach towel are, have a long backlog because you know, we are preparing for the summer or sometime, you know, even throw it out there. People like a bargain sometime, you know, buy something that is off season right now is a great time to buy jackets. Right? So if you know that you need something, let’s say for a Christmas holiday show that you do by now, you know, if you buy things at season, you’re going to pray the season price, but then if you buy off season, if you like to drive a bargain. So that’s another thing that I will suggest. So, you know, like how you coach your climb, you plan out, maybe you do a few shows throughout the year, then plan it in events. So you don’t wait for the last minute. And then that’s when you hit with all the rush fees overnight shipping, you don’t want to do that. So do you plan for a half for the event? And then you save money. I love

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (13:24):

That buying off season, save yourself some money. And then it just takes some advanced planning, which, which brings up the question, what is like the, the right amount of time that people should be considering. Okay. I need to make sure I place my order for my promo items by, you know, how far ahead of the, the show would you recommend?

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (13:45):

Well, it depends on the item, but I would really challenge if they are planning, obviously their plan, maybe three, four months ahead. Then you should also include in the plan with your marketing, how are you going to execute? Right. Obviously you’re going to determine the number of people who will be Manning the booth, right? So I think even at that time, you want to think about a promotional product. When we talk about promotional product, we can also talk about, maybe you want a brand, a tent. Maybe you want a brand backdrop. How does that gonna look? Because you want it to make sure that when people walk into your group, it’s all color coordinated. Maybe your color is brat and your color is blue or whatever color will be, make sure that they match it. So when people walk out, when you see that color, when we see a John Deere item, we know that they have a certain green. When we see a Coca-Cola, then you expect the same red color, wherever you go. So make it consistent. And it does take planning. So doing more planning, and the more you have to write down to goals to, you know, if you set goals, but you didn’t write them down and you didn’t set goals. So I would even suggest to you that listen to her to make that into your initial plan. When you have the mindset for going to exhibit at a show,

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (14:59):

Yeah, your branding, the promo items can just enhance your brand, just can continue to answer your brand and not just at the show, but far after the show, if you pick the right items, that’s going to stay in the hands and on the desks or wherever of the, of your customer. It’s just going to help make that even better with the return of live shows. Are you seeing a lot of people now scrambling to place orders or they are, they, are, are they looking down the road a bit and starting to place their orders? Because I can imagine that there probably are a lot of companies that have a lot of promotional items that they’ve been sitting on or that they have in store because of, because of the pandemic and all the other live events being shut down. So what are you seeing right now?

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (15:47):

Well, you know, people would like to call it a hybrid method. So I do appreciate it. One, the in-person meeting and come back, but, you know, from talking to some of our clients, they, they, they liked the, actually the virtual format, because now you don’t have to sometimes travel across the country or across the world sometime to attend the tuition. Now with the right execution, you can get people to attend your virtual seminar or virtual trade show. But then sometime as you know, we got assumed out, you know, I don’t know how many PSU meetings everyone had every day, but then sometime at the end of the day, you know, you got to go to a meeting, but then you kind of tune out and you start checking, checking your email or checking Facebook, then you kind of lose the client. So we actually, if you already have promotional product, right, we actually helping some of our clients to sent out what we call it, drop ship kits.

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (16:35):

So if you know who the attendees are and you know, their shipping address, we actually present them a gift box. So when they have hop onto the virtual event, they actually have a box with a printed material, sometime a little promotional product, or if they are giving out samples, the sample are going to be there. And sometime we even mix them with drinks and people who can have fun and you can actually mix a margarita virtually right now. So you actually give them all the ingredients, send them the alcohol, and then you have a good time. And then you go into your actual presentation from the feedback that we have received from our client this drive engagement because fingered, when we having virtual meetings, it’s like my kids, you know, when they are listening to the teacher for 15, 20 minutes, the teacher will ask them to go stand up, jump around, and then, you know, go back to the lecture, kind of create a dose like that. You know, you got to maybe give them like a breakout room, maybe mix them some drinks, let them have some fun play with something that you present them in the box. And then you go, go on with your presentation. We found that, that you will keep people engaged longer and that the focus for your information will be better doing it this way. I hope

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (17:48):

All of who are, who are participating in virtual events and have virtual events coming up are taking notes because wire is bringing some great ideas about how to make your events more interactive on how to use, use promotional items as part of your virtual events, to make them more engaging, to make them more exciting. And the more people are engaged, the more they’re going to retain the information, the more they’re going to be to more tuned into you as a presenter as well. So some great stuff, and even give us ideas about margaritas and, and drinks. So you can have that after hours mixer, if you wanted to, you could still do that in a virtual event, maybe at the end, or even mix it in during the day too, to for something really unique, great stuff there. So as, as we start to wrap up here, what is, what are, what would be your, what top one or two takeaways you want people to really get from our discussion today?

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (18:52):

I think we can predict the future, but then we all know that throughout the pandemic, we do want the engagement. You know, we want it to follow the brand that we like, you know, why not let your brand be something that people talk about. Even for a virtual event, you can still get people to talk about you, but then, you know, promotional product is always a good thing for prompt. People who remember you, or remember the compensation or in a virtual event, you can still drive engagement using the right item. Imagine someone sending you something that is so huge. So resonate with you. What I’m going to do is if someone sent me something like that, I’m going to take a picture and I’m going to share it to all my social media. It’s just how we work. We all are mini reporters and let your client do your reporter. Let them be your bloggers. Let them be your mini advocates. And all you have to do is send them a gift that they like and there’s tie into your brand. And then you will get all this people. How big, how small they are to talk about you. And that’s what you want for January, a good awareness for your bath.

Speaker 3 (20:00):

That is awesome.

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (20:02):

Create those, those bloggers for you, those advocates for you, those brand ambassadors for you by sending something that is going to resonate with them. And this once again, reinforces what we’ve been talking about is know your customer, know your audience, the more you know them, the more you’re going to be able to effectively pick out the right item. That’s going to resonate with them. So wire, this is fantastic stuff. You are really giving people a lot to think about and ways that they’re going to be able to make their both virtual events and live events, even more effective. So thank you for all of that. Now I know, and you know, there’s a lot, a lot of promotional product companies out there. And, but there’s obviously something that makes Garuda promo because I was on your website. I thought the list of clients that you’ve worked with, and these are not clients that anybody can just get is I saw Disney, Netflix, the LA Kings hockey team United airlines, and the list went on and on. So you just don’t just get these for sheer luck. What makes Garuda promo special?

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (21:09):

I think it’s our willingness to understand the product because you know, we are in a commodity space, right? I could just be transactional. This is how you pants. I a t-shirt, whatever that you call me for, I could be done with it’s easy, right, transactional. But then what we like to find out is why is our client buying that? I asked the question, why, how, and can I be of service? Because my ultimate goal is to lead them to the road to success. If they have a good experience, if they have a good event, they look good, right? They gain more clients and then they’ll remember us. Then when they come back, they’re going to have a bigger order. Hopefully. So then, you know, we wanted to look at our clients as a longterm partner. I wanted to be their advisor. If they choose and not just be a vendor that they go out and shop for three quotes, you know, get the cheapest pen and that’s it. I want it to help them to success. And then we just asked a lot of questions that, you know, get them thinking sometimes. So

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (22:08):

You now know that you have a choice between just a seller and an advisor to help you get to those, those right. Promo items. So thank you so much, ad what is the best way for people to reach out to you and find out more?

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (22:22):

Sure. Thank you, Jim. You can Google my name, Swire whole hashtag the promo guy. You will learn a little bit more about what I do and also come to the business website at Garuda, promo.com and I love networking. So find me on LinkedIn, shoot me crushing and love to find out why and how you do what you do. Awesome.

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (22:40):

Awesome. I will drop all the links to sweaters, all his social media accounts, as well as a link to the Greta promo website. And so please be sure to check out all of that and connect with him. Like you said, he likes to network and Swire. Thank you so much for all the great value brought to us today and really, really appreciate everything

Swire Ho #thepromoguy  (23:03):

Is honored to be on the show, Jim

Jim Cermak. Host of Trade Show University (23:05):

And everybody. Thank you so much for tuning in and get ready for your upcoming events, whether it’s live or virtual, get the right promo items into your portfolio, into your arsenal to make sure that those get into the hands of your customers and resonate with them. So make sure you’re picking the right things and continue learning. Continue getting better and better at, at your shows and events. And can do that by continuing to come back here to campus at trade show university, wasn’t that a great interview. If you liked it, please leave me a rating and review. I would greatly appreciate it. Love reading these reviews and don’t forget to subscribe wherever you’re listening to your podcasts. And finally, if you want my top 52 trade show tips, get over to trade show you dad, business trade show and letter U dot BIC right there on the homepage. Sign up for the email newsletter. Get over there now.

About the Author

Swire Ho

Swire migrated to Los Angeles in 1996. He is a proud Chinese American who speaks Cantonese, Mandarin and English. He trained as a sound engineer, working at recording studios and entertainment agencies before starting his own firm, Hellman Production, Inc, 2003 in Los Angeles. Swire and his team successfully produced attractive, personalized DVD and CD cases and custom merchandise like T-shirts, earning a Score award in 2009, for small business success. His business eventually grew so popular, he decided to sell Hellman Production in 2013 to focus exclusively on the promotional product industry.

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