We all receive it, and as marketing professionals we all conceive it, but is ‘marketing swag’ really an effective spend of our marketing budget?
When you study marketing at university level (well at least where I studied marketing) it is always emphasized that you must never assume you know what the customer or client want. You have to analyze data, study consumer behavior and generally have some qualitative or quantitative evidence to ensure your strategic planning is on track.
Maybe it is reassurance for management, some kind of proof that you are not wasting your budget, or just a way that marketing can justify its existence in the modern world of business.
Whatever the case, when it comes to ‘marketing swag,’ I don’t care. I don’t have justification for my opinions and that’s just fine with me. People talk about marketing being half science and half art, well my ‘gut’ feeling has to come into that mix somewhere. And, honestly I don’t care if it doesn’t. Here are my thoughts anyway …
When I first heard the term ‘marketing swag’ I looked quickly around the room to see if any faces gave me an idea of what the expression meant. Coming from rural Australia,’swag’ is a rugged canvas sleeping mat and bedding. It is rolled up to be portable and very popular on the Bachelor and Spinster Ball circuit (but that is a story for another time).
Naturally I gained nothing from looking around the room, as I am sure most of us were pretending we knew what yet another modern marketing phrase or acronym meant. Or is that just me? I seriously can’t keep up with all the new terms in the marketing world. Sometimes I feel like they are deliberately initiated by the next generation to make some of us feel old and decrepit and step aside.
I am sure anyone reading this blog is highly intelligent and marketing savvy, but for those of you that are politely nodding and pretending you also know what the term means, this is for you! ‘Swag’ in a marketing sense, is basically promotional merchandise nicknamed ‘swag’ or ‘schwag’ depending on how pretentious your company wants to be.
The products are often branded with a logo or slogan and are given away to promote a company; usually at an event, trade shows or conferences. You know, the type that fills up your canvas tote or bag? Just to be clear, I am not speaking of Oscars ‘swag’ here people. I am talking about your regular conference ‘swag’ that you and I receive every time we enter a sponsored event.
So this brings me to my ‘gut’ feeling. I’m just going to put it out there. Who actually likes this stuff? Who grabs a branded stress ball out of their bag and eyes it off with glee? Digs deep to find the fidget spinner they have been dreaming about? Or pulls out a pen with a website and company logo printed on it and thinks that will be a great reference when they are next searching online for that company? Anyone?
I know this is bold, as I haven’t done any market research, but I think NOT! If you are me, you rat through the bag wondering what pamphlets and booklets you can throw before you exit the conference and what ‘swag’ you can give to your three year old daughter to destroy (and potentially keep quiet for five minutes) at your next coffee date with a friend.
Again, this could be controversial, but I don’t think I am alone in my thoughts. I have been given miniature branded teddy bears, stress balls and fridge magnet clips by work colleagues so I can take them home to my daughter too. If these promotional products were so helpful and intrinsic to our promotional strategies would we be fighting over who keeps what in the workplace?
This stuff is not cheap, yet companies invest heavily in these products so consumers are aware of branding, websites and up and coming events. But who actually finds this material effective? Maybe I am hard to impress (and I have got to admit, I’m a practical person), but I feel like the money spent on this exercise is futile at best.
I actually think the amount some companies spend on ‘swag’ would be better invested in a local charity, as the PR they receive would be more beneficial. But maybe that’s just me. My case study is artfully manifested from the opinion of one (me!) and I don’t dare tell my daughter she won’t be getting any more ‘goodies’ when I go to my next conference.
When you think back through your career to bosses that were amazing, how many come to mind? Do you struggle to remember two from years of job opportunities or do several come to mind straight away? Is just me, or are we facing an epidemic of chronically bad management in the workplace? I have a resume of positions in different states, countries and industries yet I am quiet disheartened by the fact that I can only celebrate the traits of four bosses that I have encountered along the way.
I am not yet 40 (by the skin of my teeth) but I have had over 25 paid jobs in my school, university and professional career. That is literally an average of one job per year since I was thirteen years old! Needless to say, I thrive on change and I certainly don’t put up with workplaces and management that treat me (and others) unfairly. I am no workplace analyst or expert, but I do claim to have seen my fair share of bosses!
Of the 26 jobs I have held in my lifetime, 17 have been professional jobs in my career and industry of choice. In defense of my extensive resume of ‘job jumps’ I did actually go back to Uni (University for all the non-Aussies reading this) in my late 20’s and enjoy a career change, so that definitely has had an impact.
If I am honest, I feel like it comes down to the fact that I am easily bored and flourish with fresh challenges. I love forming new relationships, moving around workplaces, throughout different industries, states and countries. Ultimately, I feel like the perspective and skills I have gathered on this journey are largely thanks to the diversity of jobs and management (good and bad) that I have encountered.
Needless to say, bosses have had a huge impact on my career choices and confidence. From the boss that screamed at everyone in the office, drastically undermining office confidence, to the boss that micro-managed to the point that no work could be done if he was out of the office, I feel like I have “been there, seen that” when it comes to workplace leadership.
I am absolutely not claiming to be the best employee in the world, but regardless of my behavior and arguably short tenure in many of these positions, I have observed a spectrum of employee behavior in my time.
Sadly, this leadership has mostly been dismal, but I have been ‘lucky’ enough to encounter four amazing bosses in the last 20 years that have bolstered my career and shown me how to lead and manage a happy workplace. I say ‘lucky’ because sadly this does not seem to be the ‘norm.’
Am I wrong? Is this only a reflection of my career path and objectives? Or am I just a hard taskmaster who has very high expectations? I know when my Dad asked me last year who were my most memorable and amazing schoolteachers I was stumped. I eventually claimed a Grade 4 and 6 teacher who both inspired me to pursue acting and art.
You always hear that bosses need to be inspiring, visionaries, create a team environment and be motivational, but to me the traits are way simpler. They are personal traits that ultimately lead to an awesome team environment where staff feels valued and supported and productivity is strengthened in the process.
Here are the top ten traits of the four bosses that have shaped my career:
Unfortunately I am all too familiar with the bad traits of leadership, so I hope by spreading some of the good (as obvious as they may be to some), these positive characteristics can ‘rub off’ on some future leaders out there. Please let them become my next boss!
I have spent most of my adult career telling myself this is not a gender issue. But unfortunately, it seems to be a consistent theme I have noticed in the workplace, and on campus teaching students. The gender confidence gap is real and it doesn't look to be disappearing any time soon.
I teach at a local university. I love the interaction with students that are passionate about marketing. I thrive on their creative thoughts, energy and fresh perspective.
Most recently I have been teaching a class about “Consumer Behavior.” I have walked and talked the students though segmentation, psychographics, positioning, promotional strategies, cultural ‘norms’ and ultimately what we determine as ethical approaches to marketing.
Being on the other side of the fence as a teacher, is always a challenge. Making learning at the university level (or probably at any level for that matter) interesting and thought-provoking is an exciting everyday demand.
I recently had a female student (let’s call her "Kate") approach me to give me a business card of a realtor who was in need of a marketing executive to handle his social media advertising and sales funnel. She informed me that she had met the man at Starbucks while working on her final consumer behavior assignment. He had overheard her making phone calls regarding segmentation, brand awareness and marketing strategies and liked her knowledge of the subjects.
He had asked her to work on his social media and advertising strategies. He would provide all the necessary data and she could provide the knowhow.
Kate froze on the spot. She had just accepted an unpaid internship in a social media department, as she was interested in pursuing a career in the field. But she turned to the man and said, “No, I am sorry. I don’t have the skills you are looking for, but I will pass your business card on to my Professor to see if she can do your work, or match you with a student that can help.”
When she was telling me the story, I nodded in agreement. I completely understood she was scared of the unknown and did not want to take on the project without the complete skillset at her disposal.
I went home, opened my class emails and sent a group email asking any students interested in the work to respond to the realtor directly.
My husband came home from work and I told him proudly about my student and her knowledge that had so impressed a fellow coffee drinker at Starbucks.
Then it hit me. What had I done? Why had I let that student walk away from me without convincing her to take the job? She was taking her internship in social media for goodness sake. She was interested in a career in that field. And why then had I done the exact same thing myself when asked if I wanted the job? “Oh no,” I thought to myself. “I don’t have those exact skills either. I can’t possibly take on that job.”
Instead five male students in my class had contacted the realtor and expressed interest in the contract. Two students even confided in me that they had no idea what they were doing. One would sub-contract the job out if he received the contract, the other would work it out by utilizing You Tube and talking to friends.
It was a big wake up call. Why do women struggle to market themselves? Kate had the job. She was offered it on the spot. She said no because she didn’t have the confidence to try something new and learn from the experience. She couldn’t back herself because she felt she didn’t have 100% of the skills for the job. She didn’t realize that the skills she had were completely adequate. The only thing she was missing was the confidence to take on the project.
Kate was a 20 something year-old student. I understood her predicament. But was the lack of confidence so imbedded in the female gene that I too had passed off the job with the lame excuse that I didn’t "like" real estate? I am nearly 40 years old and I have been in the marketing profession for nearly 20 years! I teach marketing! I had no excuse. I had the majority of the skills. What I lacked in knowledge, I knew how to find. But ultimately I was still lacking the confidence to take on something I wasn’t 100% sure I could “knock out of the ball park.”
At the end of the day, I am not surprised by my own lack of confidence. I was brought up in an era of male dominated career role models and women that were "kick-arse" but still did not have the confidence to back themselves when it came to business.
But a millennial? I thought somehow miraculously that between my generation and hers things had changed. I thought women could reach for the sky and have it all. I thought millennial females exuded confidence like their male counterparts. I thought wrong.
I talked to Kate at our next class. I wanted to make her aware of what she and I had both done. I wanted to make her think before she potentially went to refuse the next job opening that she was offered. I wanted to give her a chance to become the confident woman she needed to be in the business world. She was not surprised by my comments. She said outwardly she appeared to be confident, but that was not how she felt on the inside.
She was really thankful I took the time to talk to her and promised next time she would be more aware of what she was doing. That night I promised myself I would never let another female (that asked my opinion or talked to me about this dilemma) doubt her skill level again. I also promised myself I would rise to the challenge to be the role model the next generation need!
A self-confessed "jack of all trades" marketing professional based in the beautiful West Palm Beach, Florida. I am passionate about the growth of my industry, and love to share my thoughts on the holistic world of modern marketing!