On May 4th 2020, also known as Star Wars Day, the biggest convention in the name of the space-opera franchise was a little different.
Chewbaccas and Stormtroopers went to a galaxy far, far away from the comfort of their living rooms thanks to the COVID pandemic.
Now, your business probably isn’t made up of Ewoks or beeping robots, but the fact is this:
Reed Pop, the organiser of this event, went above and beyond to not only create a fantastic event but foster that engagement.
If your business is in a similar position - planning on hosting an event - its success will be determined by that engagement level. No shows, people who are zoning in and out, and those that leave in frustration are only going to lower your ROI. So it’s up to you, the event organiser, to foster as much engagement as possible.
And the traditional conference swag bag is a great way to do just that.
Of course, it has to be adapted to fit the virtual era, thanks to COVID, but that’s precisely what we’re going to dissect in this article.
You’ll also see:
- How to create a virtual goodie bag
- What to put inside of one
- How ‘swag bags’ can boost attendee engagement
Let’s dive in by getting everyone on the same page.
What’s a ‘swag bag’?
In this context, swag is an acronym for ‘Stuff We All Get’. At physical events (remember them?!), it was a bag that event organisers or stalls would give out to passers-by as a way to increase brand awareness or boost engagement amongst participants.
The traditional swag bag for events
The traditional swag bag at physical events contained - well, just about anything and everything.
Lanyards, branded water, snacks, power banks, notepads and pens. Just about anything that you can brand with a company logo is fodder for an event swag bag.
The trick that makes swag bags effective is that amongst all the free stuff is usually marketing or advertising material.
The goodies deliver the engagement, while the flyers push the product or brand.
But with so many events being pushed online thanks to COVID, how does that concept work now?
The virtual swag bag
Without the physical connection of giving someone a bag full of merch, it’s hard to foster engagement. Take your event onto the online realm, and yeah, sure, the event’s content is there, too, but not the connection.
That’s where the virtual swag or goodie bag comes into play. That same customised merch from the physical event can create that physical, tangible, touching experience that’s removed from the virtual event. It creates a connection between the audience and brands as viewers sit at home, taking it all in. A physical goodie bag for a virtual event helps viewers engage more.
But it’s not as simple as taking those same goodies and sending them out to people.
While getting your registrations to give you their physical postal address might be a bit tricky, it’s a hurdle that’s certainly worth taking on.
The results of putting physical merch in the hands of virtual event attendees speak for themselves.
The trick: create a connection
Want to make people feel like they’re a part of something when they’re sitting at home alone?
Get them to do the same thing at the same time.
In this example, Packhelp sent out branded sweaters to participants in an end-of-year webinar about Christmas marketing.
Not only was the no-show rate down to a mere 2% from an industry average of 38%, but feedback from participants said that they felt much more connected to the brand compared to other virtual events.
But you don’t need to send embroidered sweaters to all your sign-ups just to get them to show up. There are many different ways that you can leverage physical goods to create a better virtual event.
Rather than just sending the same thing to everyone, get creative.
Complete a quiz
When traffic starts registering for your event, they’ll need to provide you with some details - email address, for starters. But if these leads are to be qualified, you’ll need to get more information about them and the business they’re representing. Make your registrants aware that you’re going to send them something and insert a few ‘extra’ questions to indicate the branded products this person will most likely use and be interested in.
For example, ‘How stressful do you find cold calling?’
If they mark this as ‘high’, include some calming tea or a stress ball in their goodie bag. If cold calling is relatively stress-free for them, throw in a branded notebook to take notes as they’re cold calling.
‘Build your own’
Take another approach during the registration process, and tell your applicants that you’re going to send them something special - that they build themselves.
‘Creating your own swag bag’ for a virtual event means that the participant is already more invested in the event; it’s yet another personalisation strategy that keeps people invested. Brand the product with the event name or your company name, and make the products actually useful for participants.
If your event will be more laid back, throw in a branded whiskey glass or cocktail shaker.
If your event is about health and wellness, throw in a diffuser or something to help the participant create a ‘mood’ in their home during the event. Just let the participants pick which scents they want!
Putting work-related goods into a physical goodie bag is a safe bet for two reasons:
- Everyone has a use for a notepad, pends or a power bank
- People who attend your conference as part of their job are assured to need these items.
Work-related items are probably the best possible products for those in the second category.
An event about marketing, branding, business development or something of the like - those types of people are guaranteed to need simple office supplies - so why not give it to them with your brand name on them?
Ideas for branded work-related goodies:
- Webcam cover
- Powerbanks (bonus if they’re wireless)
- Notebooks & pens
As mentioned earlier, these ideas are safe. Your swag bag doesn’t have to be just these types of goods but try mixing it up with some other ‘innovative office-related goodies.
- Fidget spinners (remember them?!) for those who are zoning out
- Earplugs and face masks to get a good night sleep after a hard days work
- Desk plants. We all need company when we work.
- USB gadgets like fans, cup warmers, vacuums, paper shredders
Nifty home goods
There’s every chance that your event is now virtual because of COVID, which means many of us are home, even during working hours.
While one of the best remote work habits is to still get dressed for work every day, after a year of remote work, well, let’s just say that everyone loves sweatpants.
So send your attendees a pair of branded sweat pants.
Branded clothing turns your attendee into a walking billboard, even if it just becomes a ‘sleep shirt’.
Socks, beanies and sweaters all do the same, especially if they’re good quality. Everyone knows the difference between a good pair of socks and a bad pair of socks. Put your brand’s name on a good pair of socks - you’ll be remembered for all the right reasons.
Jokes aside, if you’re struggling with ideas, think ‘luxury’. In the world of e-commerce, many entrepreneurs come up with an idea to sell something by focusing on the ‘luxury’ segment.
Products that people indulge in are often products that people attach more value to.
It doesn’t have to be a Cartier watch or keys to a Lambo - A nice wooden laptop stand as you see above, or a leather-bound notebook.
Find a product like this, and put your brand name on it. Not only is it unexpected, but you’ll also be gifting something truly valuable and something your attendees will undoubtedly engage with.
Are you really struggling?
A physical gift card is always appreciated. A physical gift card has more of a tangible value compared to a discount code for your next Amazon purchase that’s sent straight to an inbox.
Goods relevant to your audience
You read earlier about the difference between those attending your event for work and those attending for pleasure.
If your event is focused on a topic that’s less to do with work and more to do with play, let that influence the goodie bag you send.
If your online event is an introduction to yoga for beginners, sending out branded power banks to your attendees is...well, a little off-brand.
Are you sending each participant a branded water bottle or towel? That’s much more on brand.
Unboxing & packaging
What’s the best way to make a great first impression on your attendees?
By gifting them conference goodies and an unboxing experience around it.
The unboxing experience is a phenomenon that e-commerce brands employ to do a series of things:
- Add value to their product
- Make a better first impression
- Create a more detailed and comprehensive branding experience
These are the same reasons that you should create an unboxing experience around your event goodies.
It might be something as simple as small gift boxes with a sticker on top and a handwritten thank you note, or an entirely customised box with internal print, with your goodness wrapped in elegant tissue paper. Add your conference’s hashtags and brandings to inserts so people can share the unboxing experience with other attendees.
It’s also great marketing as your event progresses.
However you design your unboxing experience, it’s a great way to set the stage for your event and give your attendees a taste of what’s to come.
Tight budget? Limit the goodie bags
This entire article has been about giving stuff away for free. It’s been about more, adding more and spending more.
But for most brands, well, all brands, budgets aren’t endless, especially when virtual events are usually part of a more significant marketing strategy. If your budget is somewhat limited, or you’d like to test the effectiveness of goodie bags for virtual conferences, consider limiting the number of goodies bags. On landing pages and in your marketing material to get attendees to sign up, mention these limited gift bags as an incentive to sign up.
Get your partners involved
Virtual events present an opportunity for you to engage with your brand’s followers and strengthen your relationship with partners. Whether they’re affiliates, co-marketing partners, investors, or just brands you’d like to work with, getting them to be a part of your event can have benefits for all parties involved.
Take the relationship one step further by offering them to add some branded goodies into your goodie bag. This same concept can be applied to sponsors of your event. They can provide some extra content for your kit, and their name gets its place on the outside of your mailer box.
Digital fatigue is real, and it’s an absolute terror. So many of us have daily, weekly or monthly syncs, standups, get-togethers - and it’s all using a screen.
Truth be told, your event marketing team will be fighting an uphill battle to get attendees to sign up for ‘yet another’ online event. As we’ve just discussed, a goodie bag that’s sent before the event can limit the number of no-shows, but a follow-up goody bag after the event can do just as much. A care package to fight digital fatigue, combined with a simple sign of gratitude for attending, can make your attendees feel like they were part of something special.
Final thought: Digital Swag
Do you know what complements physical swag? Digital swag.
- Gift cards
- Creative assets
- Event information
This is all stuff that’s pretty essential to your virtual event and doesn’t have to be created in the physical realm. It can, however, work alongside your physical goodie bag.
Print the URL of a landing page containing all of the assets mentioned above on the inside of your box. That way, your attendees can get what they need when they need it. You’ll also be able to keep track of who's received their packs and who’s followed the instructions - an excellent way to measure customer engagement ahead of time and then plan accordingly. You could even use a QR code in your goodie bag to link to your digital assets and to track online engagement seamlessly.
The old trade show goodie bag is still alive and well in times of a pandemic. As trade shows evolve to being online affairs thanks to ‘the new normal, we’re sure to see more of them.
Engagement and connection will always be a struggle.
A small token of gratitude for signing up can send attendance soaring and really help you get more out of the effort you’ve put in.
What’s more, you’ll show attendees that you’ve gone out of your way to creating something special for them, and they’ll reward you accordingly.
About the author:
Phil is a bearded Australian living and working in Poland. When he’s not taking Packhelp’s fancy boxes to the world, he can be found trying not to kill his plants, pretending to be a stormtrooper, or hanging out with his dog.