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How to Guarantee Success With Your Launch-Party Swag Shoddy freebies and shortages make brands look disorganized and cheap. So plan very, very carefully..

By John Ruhlin Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


When Xiaomi launched its Mi Max phone in India over the summer, it warmed up the crowd with a little gift. Event organizers handed out free T-shirts, and the swag was a hit -- until the supply ran out. Those who hadn't received shirts were irate and refused to calm down until the New Delhi police intervened.

Virgin telecom suffered similar backlash when it ran out of the free cocktail glasses it was distributing at an event. People who missed out on the freebies stole glasses from those who had them and began shattering them on the ground.

Xiaomi and Virgin had the right idea, even if their executions went south: The way to people's hearts is through gifts. Even small items can dramatically impact the way attendees perceive a conference or launch. I've seen this happen many times, as head of a gift-giving consultancy. A thoughtful, surprising gift creates brand advocates out of attendees, clients and their family members.

Related: Who, What, Where and Wine Are the 4 Keys to a Great Launch Party

But gifts achieve the desired effect only when used appropriately. Poor planning results in cheesy trinkets and shortages that make brands look disorganized and cheap.

Winning the gifting game

Companies that get gifts right make powerful impressions. Free food and booze are all well and good, but they're also standard at launch parties. A party artifact that evokes positive emotions and reminds people of how much they enjoyed the event will inspire them to connect with the brand in the future.

Here's how companies can avoid missteps like Virgin's and Xiaomi's and can use gifts to throw successful launches:

1. Include gifting in long-term planning strategies.

The No. 1 reason gifts fall flat is a lack of planning. Apple is known for its product launches because it plans ahead. No detail is left to chance, and none other than the CEO presents a carefully crafted speech (or participates in some Carpool Karaoke) about the latest offering. Approach your own company's launch strategies with the same attention to detail.

Discuss gifts at the very first planning meeting: How can the company differentiate itself in this area? Businesses often purchase attendee gifts as afterthoughts. As the launch approaches, they panic and buy anything within their limited price range, but it's impossible to buy worthwhile gifts for 10,000 people with a budget of $3.73 per person.

That's how businesses end up passing out garbage that doesn't represent their brands or their values.

Related: From a Simple Networking Dinner to a World-Class Conference, Event Planning Takes Time

2. Don't waste time on second-rate gifts.

Focusing on the in-person experience is better than giving tacky gifts, which embarrass the giver. Media are far more interested in airing how brands mess up than in promoting their products, so junky or absurd gifts are what land in the headlines. While such coverage won't permanently hurt an established company, it can cost startups significantly in terms of revenue and reputation.

Bensussen Deutsch & Associates Inc. specializes in promotional gifts, including those bobblehead dolls handed out at Major League Baseball games. But this isn't always a sure thing: Despite the company's longstanding relationship with the league, the Boston Red Sox rejected a run of bobbleheads made to look like star player David Ortiz.

The problem: The team's leadership felt that the dolls' facial features were racially offensive. The promotion was a low moment for BDA, and the Red Sox's management was right to nix it: A perceived lack of sensitivity could have hurt the team's brand. One solution for the company would have been a gift-giving expert, to help ensure the items were appropriate.

3. No gift budget? Leverage social media.

Most startups don't have the resources to throw free launch parties, let alone give attendees remarkable swag. Some companies can make the case for these expenses if they can tie them to lead and sales generation, subscribers, press mentions and social media shout-outs.

A small crowd of influencers sharing details about the thoughtful gifts they received at an event can help build a brand's appeal via their online followers.

Think about the power of those social media posts, too: Facebook is now second only to TV commercials for delivering product launch information, and Snapchat is becoming the go-to platform for debuting everything from movies to Starbucks products. Considering that 68 percent of American adults use Facebook, recognize that social media can provide buzz to help compensate for your lack of a budget.

Overall, gift strategies can be challenging, but they're also great opportunities to connect with audiences. People love to receive free items, as long as there are enough to go around!

Related Book: No B.S. Guide to Direct Response Social Media Marketing by Dan S. Kennedy and Kim Walsh-Phillips

So, incorporate the right gifts into your launch party -- and plan and budget for them -- to provide a long-lasting boost to your brand

John Ruhlin

Founder and CEO of the Ruhlin Group

John Ruhlin is the founder and CEO of the Ruhlin Group, a North Canton, Ohio-based firm that specializes in high-level gifting plans to build relationships and acquire new clients. John is a sought-after speaker on the topics of C-level selling, relationship development and strategic gifting. He is also the co-author of the book Cutting Edge Sales.

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