At conferences and trade shows happening all across the world right now, attendees are loading up on bags filled with free notepads, pens, flash drives, and key chains. And most of it will be thrown away and forgotten moments after everyone gets home, unpacks and asks themselves how they could possibly end up with so many lanyards. Swag is a mainstay of event branding, and has the potential to really make a company's name visible, or consign it to oblivion.

The best swag is more than just a mass-printed item with a logo stuck on it. It offers value to the attendee – it's what keeps him from throwing it out, of course – and ideally, it evokes some kind of synergy with the brand that promotes awareness.

Stuff we all get
Hubspot pointed out some of the most successful items of swag. The source specifically mentioned notebooks: with good paper stock and aesthetically pleasing design, a branded notebook can end up being used for quite some time, and the brand becomes associated with the notes from that book.

When designing swag, think of the kinds of things that someone would actually find useful and are relevant to the brand. Nobody sends postcards anymore, but sticky notes are always appreciated. Conversely, pens are a necessity that people never seem to have enough of, but nobody in the history of the world has ever read the side of a pen to see what brand it's from. 

Think about the kinds of brands and how they'd work with the product being distributed. A company that sells office chairs wouldn't want to distribute water bottles: what do water bottles have to do with furniture? But a vendor of time management software might want to give trade show attendees calendars.  

Everyone feels like a winner
People love to feel like they're being treated. So make swag that reflects that. If you can make personalized swag for attendees, do that – seeing one's name on something is a powerful motivator to keep an item long past when the last booth closes up.

Contests are a great way to distribute memorable merchandise. Tee shirts are a loved-or-hated item, but winning one resonates far more in the mind of the winner. And because custom orders come in bulk, frequent contests can give dozens of people that feeling.

Custom branded swag is a great way to increase audience engagement and spread brand awareness at a convention or trade show. Try distributing free sticky notes or notebooks with your brand on them at appearances – it might just pay off.