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Conference Success Series: Hey buddy, can you spare a comb?

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Editor’s Note: We’re ramping up into conference season in market research, and there are more and more choices for speakers, sponsors, exhibitors and attendees to pick from (although why anyone would attend any other event but IIeX, I just don’t know!). We decided to ask Annie Pettit, who arguably attends more industry events than anyone else in the industry (and who always provides useful critiques of them) to distill what she has learned about making conferences a success into a series of posts. Here is the second one. Enjoy!

By Annie Pettit

Dear conference vendors,

Thank you very much for the squishy eggs and the pads of paper. Thank you for the crazy pens, the chocolate bars, the huge water bottles, the beer cozies, and the funny lapel buttons. I don’t recall which companies I got these things from because I recycled the chocolate bar wrapper before I left the vendor hall, and I left the
water bottles in my hotel room because while 36 feels right, owning 37 water bottles feels a bit excessive. And let’s not discuss the shirt that is really a florescent billboard that doesn’t match anything I own.

Are conference freebies a bad thing? Are they a waste of money? Well, if your goal is to make people happy, then mission accomplished. Chocolate will always do the trick, especially if you don’t enforce the unwritten rule of first talking to the booth person. But if you want people to repeatedly see your logo and remember you a few months from now, it isn’t going to cut it. Cheap and neato isn’t going to cut it.

I understand that logos are a must. If you don’t print or stick a logo on the item, you won’t get any recall. But, people will not keep or use items with blatant or obnoxious branding. Giant used-car-salesperson fonts or your odd brand colours will relegate most items to homes that need no research services. (My teenage nieces thank you for their painting shirts.)

Your logo can NOT come first. Logos must be discrete, in neutral pic 2colours, and not the point of interest on the item. This is especially true for t-shirts. Your brand and logo are terrifically unique and memorable and loveable… and that’s your opinion. If you want me to advertise your brand wear your shirt (or a Fruit of the Loom country club sweatsuit), put a discrete logo on the sleeve or back of the shirt and then be creatively researchy on the front – cute sayings, funny memes, silly jokes, stats quotes, bad charts. And no, your tag line isn’t funny nor is the unique play on words of your tag line.

So what is a good freebie? It is indeed simple. A good freebie is something people carry with them all the time. For instance, I have a reusable shopping bag that I always carry with me because more and more stores around the world are ditching one-use plastic bags. (Yay!) It’s a black nylon bag that folds into an attached pouch which can be clipped onto a belt loop. The bag has a discreet logo for Millward Brown on it. Yes, I know the brand name on the bag. I love that bag. When I go on bakery walks (10 bakeries in one day is my record), that bag is extremely useful.

What else would be a good freebie? Well, let’s take a look at every item in my travel bag.

The Entire Contents of My Travel Bag

Reusable shopping bag – Millward Brown pic 3
Notebook – Research Now
Spork – unbranded (I eat out of grocery stores when I travel)
Glasses wipe – M3 Global Research
Business card case – unbranded
Bottle opener – GFK (I LOVE local rootbeers)
2 different pens – Research Now
Chapstick – L&E research (more in my luggage)
Mints – Focus Forward
iPhone cord – Unbranded
USB plug – GMI (in the wall, not in the picture)
Multiple tip cord – L&E research
Earbuds – GFK
USA wallet – Research Now
First aid kit – Research Now
USB stick – American institute for Research
Fitbit cord
iPad and keyboard
Seashell from AMSRS
1.06 change in Euros from ESOMAR
and in my luggage, a good quality, light blue t-shirt from Jibunu that speaks to my nerdiness

If you’re astonished at all the branded items I had in one little bag, you can imagine my astonishment upon discovering I’d kept so much! Do you see the huge opportunity staring you in the face? Who will create a small fun coloured solid plastic comb? The race starts now.

In need of a branded comb,


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