Startup Swag Ideas + 3 Mistakes to Avoid Making

Giving away branded apparel and promotional products (aka swag) to potential customers and early adopters is a cost-effective way to promote a growing startup or small business.

Startup swag can be used to achieve key marketing objectives such as acquiring new customers, introducing a brand, or increasing customer loyalty and retention. Because promotional products are preferred by consumers to other forms of advertising, they are a valuable tool for B2C marketing.

However, branded swag like apparel and tech accessories is also useful in B2B marketing. Swag giveaways are an effective way to drive more traffic to an industry trade show or conference booth.

Startup swag giveaways are also frequently used to gain followers on social media and generate qualified leads online.

To help startups and small businesses learn how to get the most out of their swag budget, we put together a guide to startup swag ideas and examples from startups that have mastered the art of swag as they move from Seed Funding to Series C to IPO. We’ve included a list of some common swag mistakes that every startup and small business should avoid making for the best return on investment.

The Most Popular & Effective Swag Items for Startups

Startups typically purchase useful swag, featuring their logo and other brand identity elements, to promote their business and raise brand awareness.

Useful startup and small business swag items that provide great ROI include custom t-shirts, hats, travel tumblers, branded ear buds, laptop stickers, wireless chargers, tech cleaning kits, and swag packs.

Additional startup swag ideas that can influence consumers to do business with your company include branded polo shirts, performance wear, bags, and outerwear like hooded sweatshirts or jackets. Sustainably made promotional apparel is especially popular with American consumers right now.

The best swag items for your startup ultimately depends on target audience, budget, brand voice, and marketing goals.

How Startups Use Swag to Achieve Their Marketing Goals

Some of the many ways that startups can use swag to achieve different marketing goals include:

Drive booth traffic & raise brand awareness with classic trade show giveaways

Notable tech startups like StackBlitz use branded t-shirts as part of their events marketing strategy. Not only can trade show and conference swag attract more visitors to your booth, they can help with lead generation before and after the event.

Make sure to use t-shirt designs that clearly display your brand logo and a slogan that succinctly describes your business or product.

Generate more leads online & create social media buzz with unique swag

Unique swag giveaways are a tried-and-true viral marketing tool and a cost-effective way to generate more qualified leads online.

Klaus, a customer service quality management software startup, gives away lemon-scented socks to B2B leads at tech conferences and via a giveaway landing page on their website. Their branded socks are packaged in a cat food can that is decorated with Klaus’ adorable feline mascot logo, who is “carrier of constructive feedback and peaceful purrrrs.” Klaus’ cat food socks feature clever packaging that supports their playful, cheerful brand voice.

Use small giveaways like stickers to build customer loyalty…

Consumer goods startups often add small promotional gifts like logo stickers and pins to packages ordered by first-time customers.

Giving away freebies or inexpensive swag items to customers who engage with your brand on social media is another easy way to surprise and delight your customers without spending a lot of money.

…or send VIP customers premium branded merch that’s meant to impress

Many startups have found success with surprising early adopters, tech community members, and industry influencers with swag packs and other premium branded merchandise.

Incorporate high-quality startup swag into an internal marketing campaign

Custom swag boxes and other high-quality branded merchandise, such as name brand headphones or ear buds, can help motivate and reward hard working employees and interns at a startup or small business. They’re particularly effective when used as welcome gifts for new interns and employees.

Use custom swag packs to connect with industry influencers and micro-influencers

Influencers love free swag. Influencer gifting is a smart way for startups and small businesses to raise brand awareness among their target audience.

Sell premium, co-branded swag to raise brand profile

Selling luxury swag is a smart way for established B2C startups to raise brand profile and build brand loyalty.

During a period of rapid growth, wearable tech startup Oura teamed up with Reigning Champ to create a limited edition collection of premium branded athleisure for Oura Ring enthusiasts.

3 Common Startup Swag Mistakes to Avoid Making

Branded swag can be incredibly effective when incorporated into a sound marketing strategy and plan. A few key mistakes that many startups make when it comes to their promotional swag and branded merchandise include:

Startup Swag Mistake #1 – Buying swag too early in your company’s development.

Early-stage startups should focus on product or service development instead of spending a lot of money on swag and other promotional materials.

Startup Swag Mistake #2 – Giving away cheap and/or unattractive swag that isn’t useful to your audience.

Research indicates that quality, attractiveness, and utility are the three key attributes of promotional products that people will use and keep for a long time. Cheap, poorly designed swag that doesn’t reinforce brand identity can reflect negatively on your brand.

Startup Swag Mistake #3 – Buying too much swag (that can quickly become outdated)

Startups and small businesses often order more swag than they need for trade shows, events, and giveaway campaigns. Leftover swag can quickly become outdated and unusable after a brand refresh or rebrand. A swag management platform can help reduce waste and maintain brand consistency.

High-Impact Startup Swag Provides the Best ROI

Swag giveaways can differentiate your brand and help your company achieve various marketing goals. High-impact, cost-effective swag items that clearly display key brand identity elements (such as logo and colors) will provide the best ROI for your advertising budget.

To learn how to select the best promotional products for your target audience and business objectives, check out our guide to Why Promotional Products Work – and How to Use Them.

Or contact Metron Branding for a no obligation one-on-one consultation today: