The Swag Revolution

I recently read an article from Inc.com on how to create company swag you’ll actually want to wear. The author, Ryan, points to a mission greater than just giving out free shirts or cheesy swag. He suggests that there’s a deeper missed opportunity here. Everything you produce is, like it or not, an expression of your company’s values. A free shirt or promotional product might seem insignificant, but consumers and employees are judging it and, by extension, your business. “Leveraged wisely, something as simple as swag can represent a real differentiator and way to build loyalty.”

His first test was to challenge his marketing team to create a shirt they would wear even if they didn’t work at that company. The resulting design was super minimalistic – no words, no aggressive branding, but, “we couldn’t order them fast enough!” After years of observing the “art of swag”, one might call it, he learned to embrace these three “golden rules of swag”.

It has to be something you’d actually wear

“Attractive swag is a cue to customers that you get it.” You understand aesthetics and design. It’s not just in this t-shirt or scarf or temporary tattoo, but in your product itself. “A well-made piece of swag shows that creativity and careful execution are the hallmarks of your business.” Give away items that are unlike anything other companies are putting out there. Ryan noticed that it INSTANTLY helped them stand out at trade shows.

Good swag is like a secret handshake

This is something that brands as diverse as Apple, Gucci and Armani got a long time ago. “People don’t buy or use things for utility alone. They do so to belong to a club, and all the better if it’s an exclusive one.” The product itself is a badge of membership in this club, speaking to a lifestyle, set of attitudes and world view. Humans crave being part of something exclusive and bigger than themselves. This is how companies level up to build brand movements and brand loyalty rather than just brand awareness.

Ditch the huge logo…and the hard sell

Slapping a huge logo on a t-shirt might seem like marketing 101. (You’ll gain awareness, build visibility, etc.) but is it a product people will wear and continue using after the event? If you’re asking people to be a walking billboard for your company, don’t give the sense that everything is transactional. Build the feeling of wanting to be part of what your company is building, selling and the voice/culture it’s creating.

“I don’t want to make it sound like cool swag is the secret to scaling a successful company. But investing time and care into the stuff we gave away helped us stand out in a crowded marketplace.”

What Ryan is trying to draw awareness it is that swag is a reflection and extension of your business and brand. Original, well designed brand wear and promotional products can foster an early sense of community among your customers and employees creating a message and brand voice that goes beyond that t-shirt, pen, notepad, sticker or button.

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