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Trade Shows and Conference Bags that People Won't Toss

Updated: Jan 19

Most people seem to have at least a dozen conference bags stuffed in the back of their closets. Conference event swag bags should be more than holes with handles. Over $20 billion worth of business is generated worldwide by conference gifts and corporate goodie bags.

Making a strong first impression with a functional, stylish conference bag is essential. There's nothing wrong with wanting cool stuff, right? An ugly swag bag that has been filled with a bunch of useless and lame items will end up in a trash can.

Here are a few suggestions for swag bags that attendees will find useful, desirable, and memorable.

Throw it Away or Keep it?

Years ago, I requested the trash from 20 attendee rooms at a venue hotel. Despite its revealing nature, it was also depressing. These trash bins had been filled with $100 demo products, promotional items, workshop materials, and conference bags.

I learned from this that there is a massive difference between taking something based on an impulse and deciding to take it home and use it.

Here are a few ideas that can help you decide what is worth your money and time.

Take the Bag

The main question that most show attendees will ask is if they want or need something. And when offering your swag, it is your job to help them see themselves using it. Below are some top things that people tend to take home and keep.

  • Things for children (keep but short use)

  • Attractive clothing (keep and long use)

  • Bags (keep and long use)

  • Electronics (keep, medium use but tends to be hidden)

  • Attendee specific information (will not keep and very minimal use)

  • Everything else (depends on target market but wearable and bags will give you by far the most ROI

Throw It Away

Here is the reject pile. Some items are just meant to be in the trash. You could notice that it has traditional and apparent items. Attendees tend to see these things all the time. Think about it this way, how many pens, ball caps, coffee mugs, and water bottles does a person need?

Here are some of the top items that get thrown away:

  • Low-quality, cheap items

  • Super-branded items

  • Anything that can't pass airport security

  • Printed things

To make the right decision, you must think it through.

Even though there are some gold-standard conference gifts that almost any attendee would love to receive, the perfect conference gift will depend mainly on the event type.

The first gift you give an attendee should be a quality conference bag.

Set aside a limited number of luxury swag bags with high-end items like gift cards, tech products, and tickets to concerts or sporting events.

You can then give away these exclusive conference bags to the first 100-500 people who register or offer them as a random-draw prize to those who complete a survey before the event. The conference bags encourage early registration and participation and convey the perception that they are valuable even before the event begins.

What example events would they be suitable for?

Significant events with substantial budgets should use luxury gift bags. The cost of these events can be offset–or even fully funded–by sponsorship. Keep in mind that f you are only expecting 200 attendees, it makes no sense to offer 100 luxury early-bird bags.

Helpful Tip:

It is important that the branding be elegant and classy so that all the attendees feel comfortable enough to use the gifts every day.

Is there anything you need to keep in mind?

Avoid products that can be difficult to take on an airplane if you expect many guests from out of town. Large items and bottles of wine might cause problems.

You may not know it, but airport security issues are significant. For example, a sponsor gave out small souvenir hot sauce bottles. They were custom labeled and funny and had been produced by a company that was used as a business example in a general session. These bottles of hot sauce went fast. The next day, at the airport, these hot sauce bottles had been thrown away as they were 2 oz over the limit for carry-on fluids.

Functional conference Bags

Conference bags don't have to be cumbersome to carry around the expo hall. Adding the utility conference-goers will appreciate is one of the easiest things you can do.

Everyday toiletry bag items

Most people appreciate the convenience of simple items such as kleenex, breath mints, or chapstick. Take a moment to think about the items you always keep in your purse, briefcase, or glove compartment. Your attendees may forget to bring the products you take for granted.

They need to want to keep it!

The attendee should want to keep even the bag itself. Although you may dismiss it as merely a disposable container for all the products you're giving away, it can enhance your campaigns.

Moreover, there are plenty of options to choose from. A wide range of prices and options are available. Here are some quick exercises you can do before you choose one. Choose three or four clients or attendees who are typically your top customers.

  • Are they interested in the bag you're considering?

  • Is there a reason they would want to take it home after the event?

If you are considering other factors, such as budget and CSR (corporate social responsibility), let the answers to those questions be your guiding principle.

What to Look for When Choosing a Conference Bag

Multiple color and print options should be available. You can print beautiful bags at an affordable price thanks to new technology. When people can choose the bags they like best, you have a better chance of getting them to keep using the bag. With a registration process should allow people to select their design or theme in advance.

When choosing colors, keep your demographic in mind. Making sure your attendees have a variety of thoughtfully-selected colors will help you avoid making assumptions about their preferences. The only option for women registering for a conference might be a pink bag, but some might be offended if it's the only one.

Use the exterior color or design to create themed bag categories. For example, a tourism company could select bright blue bags that are filled with beach items while using deep green for mountain-themed items. There is also the option to use vegan or hypoallergenic products with unique colors.

You shouldn't mark it with a date if it's not worth remembering. A timestamp might be suitable for souvenirs from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding, but for most other events, it just makes your giveaways look out of date afterward.

Style comes first, and marketing comes second. You should choose appealing colors, exciting fabrics or papers, and a stylish design. If your attendee reuses the item, your initial investment will have a much longer marketing life.

Make sure your bag's logo is integrated into its design if it has one. Ensure that your logo doesn't look afterthought. Consider hiring a professional designer for a custom bag design if you have a large corporate budget.

Instead of the exterior, place your logo on the lining. A mid-sized event can benefit from the price point. Your brand will be on attendees' minds every time they use the bag, but they won't feel like walking billboards.

Instead of a large printed logo, use a small embroidered logo design. It is sometimes better to keep things simple. Adding this minor tweak to a small or medium event will add a touch of class at an even more affordable price than the customized lining.

The handles of your bags can be branded with the logos of multiple sponsors if your event has multiple sponsors.

The bag will more likely be reused if the branding is removable, and you can promote multiple brands simultaneously.

Ergonomic design is vital. No rule says bigger is better. Remember, you can keep the bags on the smaller side, and you can add goodies that are lightweight. They have to be carried around all day by attendees, so it is best that they are on the lighter side.

Attendees will find backpacks useful for a long time. If your budget is large enough, it may be worth investing in a sturdy, tastefully branded backpack for your event. What is the average age of your attendees? Many of them, if not all, will have school-age children. Is there any child who does not need a backpack?

It might even be helpful to a teenager if you make it stylish enough! Teenagers might even want to use it if it's stylish enough to go. The event may be an attractive option for fitness events and tech conferences, which tend to attract a younger crowd. Laptop cases aren't the only thing they're interested in. It has been shown that backpacks are popular with millennials.

Upcycled tote bags are the best way to maximize CSR. In today's world, upcycling has become the new recycling. Even though cotton bags don't contribute much to landfills, the resources needed to produce them have a much more significant impact on the environment. Organic cotton consumes more than twice the amount of water for the exact yield of conventional cotton, which uses more pesticides. By upcycling discarded fabric, new materials can be reduced, and discarded fabric can be repurposed. The needs of small-to-medium-sized events may be met by a craftsperson specializing in upcycling. Several products are available from retailers like Hipcycle for events that operate on a large scale.

Offering boutique upcycled bags combines luxury with CSR. Looptworks, for instance, makes high-end bags, tablet cases, and wallets out of discarded textiles, such as upcycled airplane seat covers. The company hires staff with barriers to employment as an added benefit. Even though VIP attendees at exclusive events may only use this luxury product, it is an impressive way to make an impression!

You can get started with this list of ideas. You can use your imagination to create anything, so don't be afraid to get creative.

The Moral of the Story

Make Your Conference Event Bag a Value-Packed One

Is there anyone who does not enjoy receiving gifts? Although creating a practical conference swag bag should be easy, it isn't easy.

In my teens, I received well-meaning gifts from my grandparents with the word "Florida" emblazoned across them, but what was fun to them wasn't my style.

Chances are you won't be able to salvage your conference gift bags for sentimental reasons compared to these presents.

Choose Conference Gifts that Have a Practical Purpose as a Priority

If you want to please attendees with successful conference gifts, you have to consider all the factors that are important to them.

Registrants don't always need items in their gift bags related to their field of work. It's possible that people working in the same niche professions already have all the tools of their trade and are more apt to receive generic crowd-pleasers.

Attendees may experience a common problem that a swag bag item can solve, or a need they anticipate during the event may be satisfied by a swag bag item. The likelihood of it being thrown out is much lower if it fulfills a useful purpose.

Filling your swag bag with meaningful, functional, and relevant products is essential. To determine if an item is likely to be taken or thrown out, ask yourself: who is likely to take it?

Influence the marketing bag ideas of sponsors and exhibitors by sharing your strategy

Remember that all sponsors and exhibitors will have to provide their own promotional items and bags.

The conference bag strategy you use can be shared with them. There are different objectives for each of them. Swag items are used by the best brands to attract booth traffic and engage them right away in conversations. They will appreciate anything that makes them feel like they are part of the bigger picture by helping them stay on message. While you can't control what sponsors and exhibitors give away, you can influence them.

Final Remarks

It matters not what you put in the conference bag but what you put on it. Attendees receive the conference bag as their first gift. The experience becomes more personal. So make it so good that it can't be thrown away. What if the attendees loved your bags and considered them full of valuable, exclusive, and unique items that would increase your conference's impact and your organization's reputation?

Consider your attendees' perspective to ensure you haven't missed a worthy gift bag idea. If you were a guest at the event, what would you want or need? Or, what might you resent having to carry around all day?

Many people are unable to resist a freebie, and it does not matter if it is something that we would never purchase. You have to remember that many attendees will have limited luggage space since they will be traveling. If they have packed clothing in their backpack, a pen could leak all over. Make sure your reusable water bottles are free of lead, phthalates, and other harmful chemicals if you decide to include them.

To determine whether an item should be included, it is helpful to ask yourself whether you would bother repacking a bag of luggage to make it fit if you had to do that.

The bag you want is the one you must get it into your luggage, not the garbage bin.


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