If you’ve ever gone to a conference, you’re surely familiar with swag. You know—that free, branded stuff that they hand out to attendees.

Swag may be free for attendees, but it’s no small industry. The promotional product industry is estimated to be a $23 billion industry. Companies spend piles and piles of cash to give away products for free.
Well, there are two reasons.

  1. Branding – When a company gives away 1,000 lanyards, that’s 1,000 advertisements for their company floating around the ether. Measuring exactly how much impact a piece of swag has on your brand awareness is nearly impossible, but it’s undeniable that the more people who wear or use your branded product, the more your brand will be seen.
  2. Good will – If you came over to my house and left with a free shirt, do you think you’d come back the next time I invited you? You probably would, assuming everything else during the visit went alright. When you give people free stuff, you buy goodwill to a certain extent. It doesn’t mean you’ll get unconditional love in return, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

If you host or sponsor a conference and don’t give away a little swag, attendees won’t be incensed. You probably won’t lose all your customers, but it’ll hurt you on the margins. It’ll chip away at your reputation just a bit. So, better just to throw some swag at your guests than hold out.
The question is, what kind of swag is best at a conference. Well, as you might expect there’s no one right answer, but there are a lot of good options out there. So, we’re going to go through 16 of the best conference swag ideas. Let’s get to it.

Here are 16 conference swag ideas:

  • Branded apparel
  • Screen cleaner
  • Extended free trials
  • Gift cards
  • Books
  • Water bottles
  • Portable coffee mugs
  • Bluetooth anything
  • Bags
  • Portable charger
  • Notebook
  • Snacks
  • Sunglasses
  • Popsocket
  • Toiletries
  • Industry-related items

1. Branded apparel

This one is fairly obvious. Shirts, hats, jackets, they all work. Slap your logo on it and give it away to any takers. This is a great option because it’s safe and it accomplishes exactly what you want it to.
First of all, nobody is going to be upset if you give them a free tee-shirt. Sure, a certain percentage of the shirts will go to the back of the closet only to reappear when it’s spring cleaning time and a shirt that can double as a rag is needed, but anytime somebody wears that shirt out, you’ve got yourself a walking billboard. Apparel is a great way to spread your brand and goodwill.

2. Screen cleaner

Nearly every screen these days is a touch screen, and touch screens mean people putting their grimy mitts all over that black mirror. Yet, when’s the last time you’ve seen somebody with a screen cleaner on them? I’m guessing it’s been awhile.
Screen cleaners should be like handkerchiefs were in the days of the horse and buggy. Screen cleaners make for nice swag not only because it’s pretty easy to get them in bulk and branded, but also because they’re not so common. Since most people don’t already have one, they are likely to hold on to the one you give them.

3. Extended free trials

This one doesn’t work for every business, but if your business is a subscription business, this might be a good option for you. Most subscription-based businesses already offer a free trial, but why not double the length of it for conference attendees?
Once somebody signs up for a free trial, they’re much more likely to convert to a regular customer. It’s like Jackie Chiles always says, “If you give it away, they will pay” (I don’t think he ever said this, but it sure sounds like something he would say).

4. Gift cards

Gift cards aren’t always the most popular gift. They’re impersonal and show a lack of effort, but guess what? They also let people get what they want, not what you think they want. Every Christmas, I get gifts from my family and sometimes they hit and sometimes they miss, but every year, my grandpa gets me a $50 Visa gift card, and guess what, I love it.
You can leave your sentimentality at the door as far as I’m concerned. There’s no better swag gift than a gift card because it lets me decide I want. The drawback with gift cards is, unless you make it for your store or business, it really limits the opportunity to spread brand awareness.

5. Books

Here’s another swag idea that is good, but, like gift cards, doesn’t present a great opportunity to spread your brand. With this one, you’re really banking on creating goodwill with attendees.
The good news is, people love getting free books. They can either read them or put them on their bookshelf so that they can pretend they read. And, the only thing better than reading a satisfying book it is other people knowing you read it.

6. Water bottles

Water bottles. Ahh. We’re back to the high brand awareness swag ideas. Plastic water bottles have fallen out of favor, and most people are happy to receive and use reusable water bottles. So, give the people what they want and smack your brand on the thing.
People will take your branded water bottles to the gym, on hikes, everywhere for everyone to see.

7. Portable coffee mugs

See above, except coffee or tea instead of water.

8. Bluetooth anything

Remember the days of cords? Can you believe we, as a society, ever had to shoulder the burden of plugging things in? I sure can’t.
People like bluetooth, and there are plenty of cheap bluetooth devices out there that you can get for your conference. Bluetooth headphones are probably the safest bet as you can’t have too many pairs of headphones.

9. Bags

Maybe it’s a duffel bag, maybe it’s a backpack. It doesn’t matter. Just make sure it’s unisex, and people will appreciate it. It’s not hard to get your hands on bags from a wholesaler that you can plop your logo right onto it.
The other great thing about bags is they’re an easy gift to receive, meaning they’re easy to transport. You can fold them up and put them in with the rest of your luggage, you can use it to carry some of your luggage. Nobody is throwing away a backpack because it’s too unwieldy.

10. Portable charger

You might want to give this one out at the very beginning of the event. Trust me, it will be appreciated. Walk down a hallway at any event and I guarantee you’ll see several people sitting on the floor next to their charging phone. Everybody who gets a portable charger is going to appreciate it, and it’s probably the most usable piece of swag you can find.

11. Notebook

Anachronistic note-taking device of the past or practical place to keep your thoughts and ideas? Maybe both. Either way, people still use notebooks, and they make for a great piece of swag.
Notebooks are easy to carry, take up hardly any space in your bag, and they are easily branded. What are covers for, right?

12. Snacks

Maybe not the most obvious bit of swag, but snacks can really curry favor with your guests. Conferences are long. People are on their feet all day or listening to other people talk. This can really sap one’s energy.
Snacks can serve as the energy boost to get your attendees through the day. Sure, trail mix isn’t the most exciting gift in the world, but when it’s three o’clock, and people still have three hours till dinner, they’ll be celebrating when they remember that snack they stuck in their bag in the morning.

13. Sunglasses

The cheap plastic-framed sunglasses have become ubiquitous as a piece of conference swag, but they’re still not a horrible idea. People like them and they provide a good opportunity for branding.
But if you’re willing to spend a bit more on glasses that are polarized you’ll surely win the hearts and eyes of your attendees. These are worth the investment, too. If people receive better quality, they’re going to wear them.

14. Popsocket

What’s a popsocket? One of these.

Stick them on the back of your phone and use it for anything from a handle to a stand. They combine function and fashion and provide a nice opportunity to boost your brand awareness.

15. Toiletries

Do you need swag for a conference that has a lot of out-of-towners? If so, toiletries are a sneaky great piece of swag. Anything from soaps to toothbrushes work, and you can guarantee that your attendees will actually use this swag. After all, how many times have you gotten to a hotel room only to find you’ve forgotten your toothpaste?

16. Industry-related items

So, this one isn’t specific because the piece of swag itself will depend on what industry your conference is serving. When you get something industry-specific, you know that your attendees will be interested in the item. For example, if the conference is for outdoor retailers, maybe a branded water filter is the option. If it’s a conference for beer brewers, maybe give away some free hops.
I can’t tell you what the item will be, but I can tell you that if you get it right, it will be a hit.