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May 31, 2007
Case Study

How Simple & Inexpensive Trade Show Souvenir Got 430% ROI

SUMMARY: Marketers will try almost any gimmick to generate traffic at a trade show booth, whether it’s handing out the latest and greatest tchotchke or running a big promotion.

But in the midst of this arms race, see how one trade publisher bucked conventional wisdom for their booth souvenir at the big annual conference. With a bit of planning and a skimpy budget ($3,394), the ROI was over the top (430%).
“People don’t want to wear a T-shirt with Amgen or Pfizer or whatever company was exhibiting splashed across the front. We thought that was kind of tacky and boring, so we tried to come up with an idea of what people would want to really take home to remember the conference and the trip,” says Chris Walker, Sr. Marketing Manager, BioWorld Today.

Rather than try to compete with big exhibitors who give away Harley-Davidson motorcycles and vacations, BioWorld wanted something small and low cost that would not only attract attendees but start conversations that paid off in post-conference sales from the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s International Convention.

The BIO International Convention is held in a different city each year. So instead of giving away BioWorld-branded caps, Walker’s team decided to make hats that were a unique souvenir for each year’s event -- branding them with the conference name, year and an image representing the host city, such as the Golden Gate Bridge for San Francisco.

For the past seven years, BioWorld has made a new hat for each convention. Here’s what they did for the 2006 event in Chicago:

-> Step #1. Create the hat design

Walker’s marketing team and in-house graphic designers started planning about four months before the event (it takes two months to get the hats manufactured). The goal was to create a design that reflected that year’s conference host city and would actually be a giveaway item that attendees wanted to pick up.

From roughly 12 ideas developed in a brainstorming session, the team settled on a design that reflected Chicago’s blues music legacy: a saxophone with musical notes coming out of its horn. Because Walker knew from past experience that many attendees have children, they stuck with a kid-friendly, cartoony design.

With the conference scheduled for April -- not exactly the balmiest time of year in Chicago -- team put the design on a knit watch cap that might come in handy for ill-prepared attendees. “This conference brings in a lot of people from the West Cost and international attendees.”

-> Step #2. Pre-show email campaign

One week before the convention, Walker’s team sent an email to prospects reminding them that the magazine would cover the event, but also inviting them to stop by the booth to pick up a souvenir hat.

The top of the email featured a photograph of a young child wearing the knit hat. Body copy included a tongue-in-cheek reference to the “springtime” weather in the Windy City. A hotlink took users to a landing page that featured a slideshow of BioWorld staffers, their children and others modeling the hat and offered a way to submit name and contact information to reserve a hat.

The email sent users to a site to fill out a 10-question quiz about the conference and Chicago trivia. From entrants who answered the quiz correctly, they selected 50 winners. But unlike a formal email marketing program, Walker’s team didn’t track clickthroughs or other metrics from this mailing. Instead, they knew they would collect prospects' contact information when they stopped at the booth.

-> Step #3. Ration number to build buzz

On the exhibit floor, BioWorld staffers scanned the badge of any attendee who stopped by the booth to pick up a hat. But to ensure steady traffic for all three days of the conference, the team rationed the number of hats they distributed each day.

“We gave out a portion the first day so there were enough people walking around wearing them or going back to their booth or back to their co-workers so that by the second and third day, people were coming by asking, ‘Is this where you get the hat?’ ”

-> Step #4. Follow up on leads

After the event ended, BioWorld had three account managers follow up on all the leads collected at the booth through the hat giveaway program.


The souvenir hat giveaway is hitting all the right marks, including being one of the most enjoyable campaigns Walker has ever worked on. The 2006 hat promotion helped BioWorld collect more than 1,700 names -- triple the amount of names they used to get before the hat promotion.

Producing roughly 1,000 hats cost the company $3,394, but by tracking post-event contracts related to the promotion, Walker found that the giveaway generated $18,003 in sales, not to mention lifetime value. “Our renewal rate is over 80%, so all the subscriptions we get from this conference we’re able to do business with for a long time.”

The hat series also has helped increase business with existing customers. Many magazine subscribers buy site licenses -- and when clients come back to the booth each year to collect a new hat, Walker’s team has the chance to talk with them about their corporate growth and new needs, which often leads to increasing the number of seats in a site license.

“It’s a very non-confrontational lead-in to talk about their business. Someone can come by, get the hat, laugh at whatever the design is, then have a more casual or serious conversion about how they’re using our products.”

As they do every year, the booth team gave away their entire stock of hats. “We probably could do twice as many if we wanted, but it could get expensive if we did something like that.”

As a final tip to other marketers thinking of developing their own annual trade show souvenir program, Walker says to not take the process too seriously. This means taking creative license with the design, the email marketing and the giveaway itself. “Make it fun so people want to come and get it each year.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from BioWorld Today:

Biotechnology Industry Organization:

BioWorld Today

See Also:

Comments about this Case Study

Jun 02, 2007 - Melvin Ram of Volcanic Internet Marketing says:
Very interesting technique. I think I'll do this with our future tradeshows. I did have one question. On the creatives page for this article, there was a VIP questionaire. When did they ask people to fill this out?

Jun 05, 2007 - Emily Calvo of Freelance Creative Director says:
As a Chicagoan, I love the hat idea! Great thinking. It reminds me of a conference giveaway I did for a company that made gas generators for labs. They needed an inexpensive promo that would get attention, so we created whoopee cushions that said, "Don't blow it. Call [company name]." It was so off-the-wall, the giveaway created its own buzz and attendees were clamoring for them. They were gone in no time. The client took a risk and it paid off.

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