Is merchandise an afterthought or an integral part of the exhibition plan?

Since my last blog I had the privilege of being invited by a client to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to see for myself how the merchandise I supplied for them was being used. I took this as a great opportunity to see what other branded merchandise was being given away at this high profile event.

After extensive walking of the aisles my feet were pretty sore, and with the exception (as biased as I am) of the merchandise I supplied for the event, I was on the whole unimpressed by the selection of giveaways, which got me thinking. Is merchandise an afterthought or an integral part of the campaign?

For the purpose of this blog we will focus on merchandise for exhibitions, however the themes and questions are equally important for other uses of merchandise.

Motivations for buying branded items can be very different, however they should have 2 common criteria

  • The items should need to reflect you as a business
  • They should be value for money

There really is no need to spend more than necessary to achieve your intended goal, and this is where working with a merchandise partner can really pay dividends. They should understand your business and the objectives, and deliver you best in class product for your budget.

How can you ensure merchandise is not forgotten?

I have been working in this industry for many years, and still get the last minute requests for merchandise to giveaway at a conference or event. Luckily it doesn’t happen so frequently now, but when it does how can we ensure that the merchandise is as important to the conference as the stand design?

Aside from the critical questions of lead time, quantity and price point it is useful to ask the following questions to shape the brief.

  • Who is your target audience for the merchandise?
  • What is the message you’re trying to convey, and how do you want the recipient to feel?

By connecting the brand to the merchandise, the items now have a purpose, they can’t be seen as cheap or low value, they need to be engaging and help tell the story. Taking time at this stage can make the difference between a good and great event.

Grade the gift

It makes good sense to grade the gift according to the visitor who comes to the stand. Take for example Mobile World Congress. With a footfall totalling over 100,000 people you need to be mindful of your merchandise, and how many and to whom you’re giving away.

Apparent at this exhibition as with others, was the ‘under the counter’ merchandise, the unspoken rule of merchandising, the better the prospect the higher grade merchandise would be touted.  Remember this next time you’re given the plastic pen rather than the shiny Bluetooth speaker!

My pen is better than your pen!

I saw lots of pens at MWC, to be honest I lost count of how many. Now I am a fan of a good quality pen, there are plenty of options to choose, however when you are at a big event like MWC, the quality of the pen can be the only thing to set you apart from the pens on the neighbouring stand. So if you are striving to differentiate your message and brand, stay away from the everyday items.

Need some ideas?

Based on my own experience of walking the aisles with my feet in both camps (and please excuse the pun!), a thoughtful low cost gift that would raise a smile and would be instantly appreciated would be a pair of branded gel party feet or maybe a soothing foot spray. How about a energiser kit, or a phone kit for those of us who forget our phone charger, ear buds etc?

For the ‘qualified’ lead maybe something more prestigious such as powerbank, an aluminium bottle, or Moleskine notebook.

Depending on the theme of the event think about the packaging too.  Exposure to your brand/company doesn’t end the minute your visitor leaves the stand. Choosing a highly visible laminate bag, or tote, or similar is a walking advertisement and gives longevity to your message on site and off site.

Was MWC a good event for our client?

“So MWC for us – is be there or be forgotten. We try as much as possible to match our ‘giveaways’ to us as a company…  thinking about 2017 where our presence was about being smarter, more efficient, being seen!!  Our merchandise has to be transportable, easy to use and be smart – our logo has to be positioned and visible. 

We want our contacts to ‘use’ the items… I actually had a major prospect come back to the stand and ask for a couple more webcam sliders – an absolute hit!”

An item I believe should serve as a reminder of you – ie you, the company promoting your message to your prospective client, or as a reminder to your equally important staff.

Granted, there will be some occasions where flooding the market with very low cost items works for you.  Maybe a radio station trying to reach as wide an audience as possible, or a consumer campaign which may have a more random approach with the purpose of getting your ‘name’ out to as many people as possible.


Just remember to ask what does the merchandise say about you?

If you have trade shows and events in the calendar and you are unsure what merchandise would work best, then get in touch, and we can help you stand out from the competition.