Monday, September 28 The Greatest Swag in the World: Choosing the Best Marketing Collateral for Your Startup -

The Greatest Swag in the World: Choosing the Best Marketing Collateral for Your Startup

With great brands come great responsibility. If you are at the stage where you need to advertise your startup’s existence to the world at conferences, events and in living rooms across the world, then you are in the fortunate position to think about purchasing SWAG!

“Swag” are freebies that you give away. Swag = Stuff We All Get. Popular swag items are T-shirts, notebooks, pens, pencils, stickers…the list goes on. Enterprise software companies clearly have a difficult time making swag; I see trade shows filled with pens and stress balls all around.Why? Lots of people don’t think critically about the type of swag they give away.

In reality you can give anything away, but they need to be things people like, things that last and something that relates to your product and bottom line. Here are my three rules about swag:

1) people should keep great swag forever, so don’t buy stuff that breaks

If you’re going to invest in swag or marketing collateral, make sure it is high quality. There is nothing worse than swag that falls apart. This is most important for apparel giveaways, pens and backpacks and travel materials. Comfortable clothing and well-made utility items are something everyone wants. Give me a good pen, and I’ll use it forever, even if it is some old school “myspace” pen (okay, maybe I would use it for other reasons as well, but you catch my drift).

Stickers are a cheap and easy swag item that everyone loves, but make sure your stickers can last forever. No one likes a worn out sticker on their laptop. StickerMule makes great, custom high-quality stickers that last.

Now for t-shirts, those are expensive, but as Pete Curley of HipChat said so well in his blog post about t-shirts: “I’d rather make 10 awesome shirts that will actually get worn than 1,000 shirts that will end up at the bottom of the closet”. You might need to spend $3 extra per t-shirt to get American Apparel or another high quality brand, but that will ensure your biggest fans can wear your t-shirts comfortably and for a longer period of time. There is an entire blog post devoted to t-shirt politics in tech by Adam Nash that’s worth a read.

2) great swag = stuff people like all the time.

This goes along with point #1: your swag should be stuff people want to keep forever and show to the world. If you’re going to invest money in swag, make sure you are giving away stuff that people can integrate into their everyday lives.

Giving away a boomerang, for example, is a non-sustainable swag item. It might be a hit at a conference when all the dudes get rambunctious and throw them at one another, but after the conference ends they are done. Water bottles, awesome USB sticks and cool backpacks, now those are stuff that people will want to keep forever. I printed some MongoDB Oyster Card holders for our fans in London, and it’s amazing how much people love them. They worked because it was a specific localized product that people need and use everyday.

3) great swag will help people use your product better and more effectively

This is something not discussed enough. Your swag should have some relationship to your product. I’ve seen a lot of our partners make awesome swag, but it doesn’t make a connection between the product and its value. Don’t give away a boomerang if you’re trying to sell databases–that doesn’t make any sense! (FYI None of our competitors, as far as I know, have made boomerangs as their swag item).

MongoLab’s Document-Oriented Notebooks

MongoDB cloud hosting provider MongoLab put together what is called the “Document Oriented Notebook”, a pocket-sized guide to MongoDB schema design and queries in different langauges, along with some free space for writing down notes. Great idea and props to Ben Wen, MongoLab’s VP of Marketing and Sales, who is always full of fresh ideas.

At 10gen, our community team made some awesome swag decisions, one of those is the Little MongoDB Book. This was a free, creative commons licensed e-book authored by Karl Seguin–one of our MongoDB Masters–that Meghan and the rest of the community team decided to print and give out at conferences. It’s now our most popular swag item. This past week, someone at EuroPython approached me to thank me for the Little Book: “I get all these fliers and postcards that I can’t use, but this book actually helped me learn something.”

Swag can engage customers in your product, so think about how you can do that in the right way. If your product is difficult to use, then why not use your swag to help your customers? Your t-shirts could double as installation guides (nerds would go crazy for those). Get creative, because it is sometimes difficult to make tangible items for web and tech companies. It might involve a little more thinking, but it could go a long way!

I’m also putting together a blog post about awesome case studies in SWAG. If you think your swag is awesome then send it my way!