Marketers will try almost any gimmick to generate traffic at a trade show booth, whether it’s handing out the latest and greatest tchotchke or running a big promotion.
But in the midst of this arms race, one trade show exhibitor bucked conventional wisdom for their booth souvenir at the big annual conference. With a bit of planning and a skimpy budget, the ROI was over the top at 430%.
“People don’t want to wear a T-shirt with whatever company was exhibiting splashed across the front. We thought that was kind of tacky and boring, so we tried to come up with an idea of what people would want to really take home to remember the conference and the trip,” says the Senior Marketing Manager.
Rather than try to compete with big exhibitors who gave away Harley-Davidson motorcycles and vacations, this company wanted something small and low cost that would not only attract attendees but start conversations that paid off in post-conference sales from the convention.
The convention is held in a different city each year. So instead of giving away branded caps, the marketing team decided to make hats that were a unique souvenir for each year’s event—branding them with the conference name, year and an image representing the host city, such as the Golden Gate Bridge for San Francisco.
For the past seven years, the company made a new hat for each convention. This year’s event was in Chicago.
Step #1. Create the hat design
The marketing team started planning about four months before the event. The goal was to create a design that reflected that year’s conference city and would actually be a giveaway item that attendees wanted to pick up.
The team settled on a design that reflected Chicago ‘s blues music legacy: a saxophone with musical notes coming out of the horn. Because they knew from past experience that many attendees have children, they stuck with a kid-friendly, cartoony design.
Step #2 Pre-show email campaign
One week before the convention, the marketing team sent an email to prospects reminding them that they would be at the conference and inviting them to stop by the booth and pick up a souvenir hat.
A hotlink took users to a landing page that featured a slideshow of staffers, their children and others modeling the hat and offered a way to submit name and contact information to reserve a hat.
Step #3 Ration number to build buzz
On the exhibit floor, staffers scanned the badge of any attendee who stopped by the booth to pick up a hat. But to ensure steady traffic for all three days of the conference, the team rationed the number of hats they distributed each day.
Step #4 Follow up on leads
After the event ended, three account managers followed up on all the leads collected at the booth through the hat giveaway program.
The souvenir hat giveaway is hitting all the right marks. The hat campaign collected more than 1700 names. By tracking post-event contacts related to the promotion, the company found that the giveaway generated a 430% ROI, not to mention the lifetime value of a new customer.
The hat series also has helped increase business with existing customers. When clients come back each year to collect a new hat, the team has a chance to talk with them about their needs which often leads to sales of new services.
“It’s a very non-confrontational lead-in to talk about their business. Someone can come by, get the hat, laugh at whatever the design is, then have a more casual conversation about how they are using our products,” the marketing manager says.
As they do every year, the booth team gave away their entire stock of hats.
As a final tip to other marketers thinking of developing their own annual trade show souvenir program, the company suggests not taking the process too seriously. This means taking creative license with the design, the email marketing and the giveaway itself. “Make it fun so people want to come back each year.”