In this guest post, Bonfire CMO Kevin Penney
draws on his experience in the world of custom apparel to lay out
proven strategies for effective event merchandising.
Whatever sort of events you host, maximizing revenue is likely
one of your biggest objectives. Annual B2B events, B2C events,
nonprofit fundraisers, and community-organized events must strike
the perfect balance of increasing engagement while staying on
Event merchandising, while a classic technique for boosting
brand engagement at events, can easily waver between being a net
plus or a liability for the final balance of your event. That is,
it can be difficult to gauge whether or not your event merch will
help to increase the event’s total revenue or lose you money in
the long run.
meetings and events industry is constantly
changing, and maximizing merch ROI can be tricky, particularly for
more inexperienced teams or smaller events. The
Global Meetings and Events Forecast reports
that the average B2B event, for instance, operates on this budget
- 43% marketing and promotion
- 32% speakers and talent
- 29% printed materials
- 18% venues
When your budget’s already tight, it can be difficult to know
exactly where merchandise fits in — especially if you’re
already creating event
SWAG. When developed, designed, and produced in
smarter ways, however, merchandise serves as a powerful marketing
and promotional tool, engagement booster, and supplemental source
of revenue — all in one.
In this post, we’ll cover some best practices that apply to
practically any type of custom event merchandise, so you can adapt
them to the specifics of your event.
B2B events spend 43% of their budgets on marketing and
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1. Focus on (and update!) the design of your event merchandise.
Many organizations and businesses rely heavily on merchandise
designs that worked beautifully at past events to engage audiences
and boost sales. Unless you’re working with an ultra-recognizable
brand or iconic vintage design, though, updating your look is the
For events, we recommend creating an event-specific t-shirt
design that highlights the title and year, visually conveys its
purpose, and doesn’t rely too heavily on text. There are a few
t-shirt design trends we’ve been following over the past year
that are particularly popular:
- Eye-catching minimalist linework, especially containing
mystical or folksy elements
- Simple typography with geometric outlines like boxes and
- Bold, iconographic designs, typically making a statement
- Hand-drawn styles for simple illustrations and phrases
Starting with t-shirt templates
that incorporate these trends can make it even easier for
fundraisers and event planners to have the peace of mind that their
merch will be appealing.
Of course, the recognizability and prominence of your branded
visual elements are still a priority for event merchandise design.
Offering something new can boost sales, but make sure your shirts
still serve their marketing and awareness-raising purposes,
2. Offer freedom of choice.
This best practice relates closely to the first. Just as you
should periodically refresh your merch designs to reflect changing
trends (and event calendars), you should make sure your attendees
get to choose between those multiple designs.
For most types of events, two or three different designs should
do the trick, and you should also offer two or three colors of each
design whenever possible. Each design will likely focus on one of
these typical subjects:
- The specific event or its theme
- Your overarching campaign or mission
- Your organization’s or company’s brand
Industry trends or current events
Simply offering an additional choice to guests can significantly
boost sales. Merchandise is often an impulse purchase; if a guest
feels motivated to buy a shirt but isn’t interested in the one
design you offer, you’ve lost that sale. For smaller events, an
event-specific design and a simpler branded offering can
effectively cover your bases.
3. Make sure your merch booth is in the right place.
Now we’re talking about the physical layout of your event. Of
course, this will vary greatly depending on the nature of your
event and the venue you’ve chosen, but the main point remains
constant: Think carefully about how the placement of your merch
booth might impact sales.
Thoughtful layouts are important for any type of organized
event, but merch placement is particularly crucial when
planning fundraising events.
That’s because galas, auctions, street fairs, and similar
events offer a range of free and more structured elements; the
event follows a schedule, but guests are encouraged to mingle and
wander among the auction displays, for instance. A poorly-placed
merchandise booth can not only result in fewer sales, but it can
also lead to decreased bids and guest satisfaction.
Think about it:
- A prominent but unpopular booth creates an empty vacuum, and
thus leaves a poor impression of the event.
- A merch booth that’s prominent and too popular will clog the
space with lines of customers.
- A booth that’s in an unintuitive, out-of-the-way or hidden
location probably won’t generate sales.
Look for free
event planning software that can help you visualize
and diagram the space you’re working with. Understanding and
anticipating traffic flows will help you ensure that your merch
booths are easy to find but also unobtrusive.
A 3D diagram of an event created using Social Tables event
4. Create early access perks.
For any ticketed event, your strategies for
offering and promoting tickets should always
contribute to your overarching financial and engagement goals.
Tiered ticketing options are a classic example. By offering
different packages of tickets and bonuses for different prices, you
can boost revenue and generate more engagement in particular
elements of your event.
Use early access perks to directly increase engagement with your
merchandise. The main idea is to offer free or discounted
merchandise to early registrants. This will boost sales by
increasing visibility and engagement with your t-shirts. This is a
straightforward and reliable strategy because everyone loves a
Depending on the nature of your event, there are a number of
ways you might market with early access to perks. Get creative to
determine the best way to offer early access merch to your
Early access can be a viable strategy for non-ticketed events,
too! For a large-scale public fundraising event, for instance, you
can launch a related t-shirt crowdfunding campaign in the month
leading up to it, and then send each donor their shirt prior to the
5. Ask for User-Generated Content
Here’s another way to ensure your event merchandising efforts
hit the mark; get your guests involved in creating and promoting
User-generated content, or UGC, has become a
staple of large-scale event promotion because it generates new
digital material for marketing purposes and boosts engagement. Why?
Because guests directly contribute their images, videos, and other
submissions. Many companies and organizations have already
recognized the power of featuring customer- and
constituent-generated content on their Facebook and Instagram
For example, Bonfire uses the unique hashtag #Wearbonfire to
collect photos from our community to post to Twitter or on our Instagram
feed. Every time someone uses the hashtag, it’s
essentially a testimonial — and people are more likely to believe
a peer than they are a promoter.
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campaign that directly benefits the less fortunate worldwide and in
local communities. One-hundred percent of the proceeds will go
directly to charities & mission trips. Read more & buy a
— Chloe McAlpin | The Simple Joy Of Being (@chloe_mcalpin)
May 7, 2018
There are two particularly effective UGC strategies for boosting
attendee engagement with merch:
- Ask for t-shirt design submissions ahead of your event, then
either choose a winner or allow members to vote on their favorite
to then print and offer for sale.
- Ask guests to submit photos of themselves wearing your branded
shirts using an event-specific hashtag, then feature their photos
on a scrolling display in a prominent space at the venue.
Both of these strategies can significantly boost awareness and
interest in your event merchandise, leading to increased sales.
Focus on your design contest or
photo hashtag in your promotional messaging for
6. Offer intuitive buying options.
This merchandising best practice goes hand-in-hand with the
previous one. To offer early-access merch, you’ll almost
certainly rely on an online t-shirt platform or your own eCommerce
Make sure to offer plenty of intuitive ways to purchase merch
throughout the entirety of your event, from registration to the
event itself. For example, you might:
- Create bundled ticketing packages that include merch discounts
- Offer easy merch add-on options during the online registration
- Set up a simple online store for registrants to order or
reserve their merchandise.
- Set up and staff a traditional merchandise booth throughout the
If you’re already familiar with the world of eCommerce,
consider the common problem of shopping cart abandonment. According
to a guide from Swoop, cart
abandonment derives mainly from the fact that
unintuitive processes cause customers to pause and rethink their
Remember, event attendees very often buy merchandise like
t-shirts on impulse! Creating more purchase options and ensuring
each method is fully streamlined will ultimately make it easier for
them to decide to purchase your merch.
Event merchandising can feel like a gamble at times. For more
inexperienced teams or smaller events, it can be difficult to know
what kind of
attendee engagement to expect. However, high-quality
merchandise boosts your revenue and guest satisfaction if done
right and shouldn’t be overlooked. Elevate the impact of your
event merchandise by following these simple tips and best
Published December 5, 2018
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6 Steps to Creating Event Merchandise That Your Attendees Actually Want