7 Content Marketing Lessons from Top-Notch Conference Swag

October 10, 2016

One great thing about marketing conference season is the freebies available on the exhibit floor. Call them goodies, giveaways, promotional items, or swag—everyone likes to get something for nothing.

In the best case scenario, swag is great marketing. It can put your brand on something the recipient will use every day. In the worst case, though, it’s wasted effort expended on something that’s unappreciated and ultimately discarded.

The content you produce can, like the best promotional items, help build your brand. Or it can be an undifferentiated addition to an already-overflowing circular file.

We asked some top marketing minds to tell us about their favorite, most memorable, or most useful piece of swag. Let’s take a look at their answers to see what properties of great swag make for great content marketing.

1. Justin Gray, CEO, LeadMD

“For the last seven years we have been hell bent on having the most creative and impressionable swag and squarely what opened my mind to this took place at dreamforce 2016 when I saw Marketo’s flying monkey giveaway. Prior to that swag had always been pens, USB’s, sunglasses and the like.

Here’s the influential part about Marketo’s monkey giveaway – they were everywhere and making a god awful ruckus in the keynote session. The monkeys had a purple Marketo cape and screeched when you pulled back their rubber band arms and let them fly. They were impossible to miss.

Now, here’s the real kicker – I had never heard of Marketo. It was 2006 and I was literally at Dreamforce as a VP of Sales & Marketing to sign a contract with a vendor whose VP of sales was awaiting me in a small conference room. On my way there I zig zagged through the exhibit hall, I wanted to find the company who had brought these monkeys and commend them.

Kelly Abner was working the Marketo booth and he and I had a brief discussion about their solution, which was exactly what I was looking for and seemed much easier to manage than the other vendor. Three weeks later we had vetted the MKTO platform and signed their paper. This would become the most influential purchase of the next decade of my life - all thanks to these terrible monkeys.”

Content Marketing Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to be controversial. Marketo ruffled some feathers with their offering, but the controversy made them memorable.

2. Mel Carson, Founder & Principal Strategist, Delightful Communications

“Coolest swag I received was at a PPC conference where Bing was giving away backup power bricks for your smartphone. It was four years ago just when they started becoming ubiquitous, and I just found it so much more useful than the usual stuff that gets handed out.”

Content Marketing Takeaway: Give your audience something they didn’t even know they needed.

3. Matt Heinz, President, Heinz Marketing Inc

“A key-shaped USB thumb drive.  I don’t know what it’s made of but it’s been incredibly sturdy.  I take it everywhere and it’s been a lifesaver a few times when I’m speaking and the deck gets lost.  Last minute keychain USB drive to the rescue!  It was from Hoover’s.  Love it.”

Content Marketing Takeaway: Make sure your mix includes evergreen content—resources your audience can return to again and again.

4. Carla Johnson, Marketing and Customer Experience Strategist, Type A Communications

“The coolest tradeshow swag I've picked up were light-up plastic ice cubes that you could put in your drink. Nicely, the sponsor also handed out drinks and it was fun to walk around and see people with cocktails with lit-up, multi-colored lights in them.”

Content Marketing Takeaway: Sometimes it’s enough to provide a fun experience for your reader. There’s value to be had in relaxing, being social, and being the life of the party.

5. Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz, Moz

“I got a bottle of customized 12yr old Jameson Whiskey after speaking at an event in Ireland. Had my name on the bottle and everything.”

Content Marketing Takeaway: Know your audience—not only that, offer something unique to your preferred audience that excludes other, less-relevant consumers.

6. Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder/Strategic Director, Orbit Media

“I got socks at the Uberflip experience. And my wife loves them. I’d wear them myself but they’re not my color.”

Content Marketing Takeaway: Consider your audience outside of their narrow interaction with your brand. Who else is in their social circle? Who are the hidden decision makers?

7. Pawan Deshpande, CEO, Curata

“A Seth Godin action figure.”

Content Marketing Takeaway: If you’ve got it, flaunt it: If there’s plenty of love for your brand out there, something purely promotional can be a treasure. Bonus points for providing value (the action figure includes a mini marketing book) and being playful.

As with the best marketing swag, content marketing is about making your brand memorable by making a connection with your audience. Be controversial, be useful, be playful—but always start from the audience’s perspective. What do they need that only your brand can best provide?

Don’t miss Jason Miller at MarketingProf’s B2B Marketing Forum! For more advice on content marketing, advertising, and more, subscribe to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog today.