The 6 Golden Rules of Effective Trade Show Giveaways (Plus 17 Ideas)

As English novelist William Morris once wisely wrote: Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. This is a valuable piece of advice for anyone, and yet it can be so easy to lose sight of. Especially after returning home from a trade show with a bag full of cheap, plastic, branded crap.

trade show giveaways
You know you already have way too much of this stuff in your home. Don’t bring more of it into the world.


We’ve all taken the bait and greedily grabbed handfuls of trade show giveaways that we don’t particularly like and certainly don’t need, only to feel a familiar sense of resentment later. These colorful pens, notepads, and key chains end up gathering dust, creating clutter, and eventually piling up in landfills. What’s more, most of us would be hard-pressed to name a single time a basic trade show giveaway like this has ever actually influenced us to feel positively towards a brand.


Do trade show giveaways actually work?

Alongside trade show graphics, high quality trade show giveaways can play an important and positive role in your trade show marketing strategy and can help you maximize your trade show ROI. Not only do trade show giveaways provide people with an incentive to stop by your booth and engage with your staff, but they can also give your customers something to remember your brand by.

trade show giveaway ideas
In a crowd this size, trade show giveaways need to be unique and useful to help your brand stand out.


But it’s nailing the last bit of this equation that makes creating quality trade show giveaways so difficult. It’s easy enough to print off some key chains and lanyards that will lure trade show attendees into your booth. But every other brand at the trade show is doing the same, and chances are attendees are going to throw the bulk of the redundant giveaways out when they get back to their hotels or homes.

The most effective trade show giveaways that actually contribute to conversions and brand messaging are those that people will keep, use, and feel positively about long after the trade show is over.


What goes into making excellent trade show giveaways?

If you are looking for unique and effective trade show giveaway ideas, start by thinking of what has worked on you before. Do you still have a few trade show giveaways that you’ve kept for years? What items are you always happy to receive at a trade show?

Then, think of what didn’t work. Which items are you most likely to immediately chuck after leaving a trade show? Which items are most likely to end up buried in a cluttered drawer, never to be seen or used again?

Once you have a few trade show giveaway successes and failures in your mind, consider how the following 6 rules did or did not apply:

6 Rules for Making Trade Show Giveaways (that People Will Actually Want to Take Home)

Effective trade show giveaways come in all shapes and sizes. Some are tried and true classics, others are innovative and trendy. Some are meant to be held onto for the long haul, others are single-use. But most often, the best trade show giveaways aren’t edgy or exciting. They are just simple, thoughtful, and useful.

No matter what form a trade show giveaway takes, the most effective ones always have at least a few of the following traits in common. Browse through these 17 unique trade show giveaway ideas and make these 6 rules your mantra:


1. There is no question where the item belongs.

Don’t let your brand turn into clutter whose presence in their homes and offices your customers will grow to resent. When creating trade show giveaways, consider making items who have a clear place of belonging. A sleek and attractive magnet goes on the fridge or the dry-erase board. A webcam cover goes on the laptop. A waiter’s knife and corkscrew belongs in the kitchen cutlery drawer.

Items like these find an immediate home in your customers’ lives and are therefore more likely to be held onto. Don’t make your customers ask themselves, “What am I going to do with this?”

trade show giveaways magnets
Refrigerator magnets are a classic giveaway that will quickly find a home with your customers. Photo by Quite Peculiar on Flickr.


2. The item is relevant to attendees’ current whereabouts.

In the case of many trade shows, visitors will travel from far and wide to attend. Planning ahead by prepping trade show giveaways that are relevant and useful for travelers could be a great way to create a positive brand experience.

For example, if the trade show takes place in a beachy locale, you might consider sunscreen or beach towels as a giveaway. In a cold climate? Custom hand warmers or beanies could give attendees warm thoughts about your brand. Not only will these types of trade show giveaways be of immediate use to people, but they may also serve as a nice souvenir and reminder of their trip.

trade show giveaways
Giveaways like sunscreen and beach towels will help ensure your customers are thinking about your brand during the best part of their trip.


3. The giveaway reflects your brand’s mission or lifestyle.

Picking trade show giveaways that have a concrete tie-in to your company culture and mission is a great way to solidify the mental connection for your customers. If environmentalism is an important pillar of your brand, then opt for reusable canvas grocery totes instead of plastic goods or electronics. If your brand actively promotes health and safety, then consider custom first-aid kits rather than obvious options like cups or notepads. If your company is involved in sports and athletics, perhaps branded sweatbands would be a more appropriate than tacky rubber wristbands.

trade show giveaway ideas
Clever sweatbands made by Yelp Inc.


4. The giveaway can be consumed over time and discarded guilt-free after use.

Let’s face it: trade show giveaways are not meant to become treasured family heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation. No matter how useful or well designed your trade show giveaways are, they are likely going to end up forgotten or discarded sooner or later.

Making giveaways that are useful, consumable, and easily disposable is great strategy for ensuring that your branded goods do their job without overstaying their welcome. Trade show giveaways like matchbooks, hand sanitizer, or breath mint tins are great for this purpose.

Trade Show giveaways matches
Not only are matchbooks quick and easy to brand, but they may also spark a positive brand association. Photo by Jennie O on Flickr.


5. The giveaway contains helpful information.

If a customer is going to call your business after visiting your trade show booth, they’re probably not going to dig up the branded pen with your number on it; they are going to google you. Instead of plastering your giveaways with obvious information about your business, consider giveaways that can actually be a helpful resource for trade show attendees.

A pamphlet listing some nearby sight-seeing and restaurant recommendations, or a cheat-sheet summarizing anything from what seafood is in season to common reasons your car’s check-engine light is on could really come in handy.

trade show giveaway cheat sheet
This cheat sheet to Adobe Illustrator short cuts would be a fabulous giveaway at a design or software tradeshow. Design by Inspiration DE on Flickr.


6. The item isn’t a crappier version of something most people already have.

Nobody needs a water bottle that is going to leak after a month of use or a USB stick with a pathetic amount of memory space. Most people already have one (if not more) of these things and aren’t in a hurry to replace them or expand their collection with a mass-produced knick-knack version.

Of course, since giveaways are to be handed out for free, you don’t want to invest a ton of money into branding the highest quality products available. But you can get creative and choose to brand items that not everyone has already. Rather than branding coffee mugs, a travel French press could be a unique option. Instead of a cheap screen-printed t-shirt, consider a screen-printed apron.

trade show giveaways
Everyone has too many t-shirts, but not everyone has an apron. Photo by Erasmus Student Network on Flickr.



Trade show giveaways are not the place where your brand needs to dedicate a ton of time, money, and resources into reinventing the wheel or coming up with flashy new ideas. But this also shouldn’t be something to cut corners on by going with the cheapest, most obvious and unoriginal products. Trade show giveaways are an opportunity to remind customers that your brand has them in mind and is eager to help.

You want to stand out and be unique. Think about what’s popular at trade shows at the moment. Look into some the top trade show trends and ideas to see how they influence your buyers and what they expect from you.

By considering what your customers may actually enjoy or find useful, you’ve just transformed your freebie into a thoughtful gift.