How to create great swag.

I just bought (!) a tote bag from ¿Por Que No?, which means I conducted a self-experiment on why people want or don’t want your swag. The result of this (very enjoyable) experiment are three rules for creating promo items that send the right message:

1. Make it look bomb.

My rad new tote bag is bright red with a sketch of a parakeet on it. Perfect for the target audience: Portland can always use one more splash of color, and we’re into art that sometimes borders the amateurish but never holds back with creativity and outlandishness. Two bonus points here! (The rumor is that people around here also just like to put birds on things.)

On the other end of the spectrum, have you ever flipped through one of those catalogs that show all the cheap crap you can have your logo printed on? Flimsy pens, plastic yoyos, and, maybe worst of all, generic, half-transparent t-shirts with no consideration for fit or comfort? And if you have, did you ever find yourself thinking wow, I want one of these?

The problem here is that this kind of swag treats people as if any small shiny object could charm them into giving you their money and their loyalty. But your people aren’t lemmings, so don’t let anyone tell you that “people love that stuff.” Create something you would love to wear, even if it wasn’t your studio/practice/business/project.

2. Make it quality.

Yes, that makes the whole project more expensive, but investing $500 into something that actually works is so much better than throwing out $50 for nothing. If you’re on a low budget, opt for ordering a smaller number rather than compromising on quality.

The quality of your swag also says something about you and your business: Do you respect your people’s sense of style? Do you value quality, fair trade, sustainability, and beauty? Your swag is part of your brand. Let it send a consistent message to the world.

3. Make it a conversation piece.

Rather than just slapping on your name and logo, make your swag a conversation piece. The best thing that can happen to you is when someone asks your lovely client where she got that awesome t-shirt and what she loves about that place. Get creative!

Final words:

Lucky you! You already have the main ingredient for great swag: an offering that people are genuinely happy to accept and to pass on. Wellbeing, joy, community – let that message shine through in everything you put out there.

Simple rules, part 2: Writing.


“Be yourself. Above all, let who you are, what you are, what you believe, shine through every sentence you write, every piece you finish.” ~John Jakes~

Unless you completely outsource your marketing, sooner or later you’ll have you write something. An article for your email newsletter. A brochure. Your mission statement. So, here are the simple rules that work for me (and since you’re on my blog, you be the judge).

Number 1: Start with something to say. If you’re drawing a blank here, go get some inspiration first. It’s OK (and actually better) if that newsletter goes out later, but with more substance. Chances are people aren’t desperately longing for it in front of their inboxes. Daydream about all the awesome things you want to bring to this world. Read your way across some blogs on diverse topics. Revisit your business plan, your journal, and your last couple of emails from the people you work with.

When you found something good, rule number 2 kicks in: Write badly first. Don’t self-censor yourself in the first round – just get it out. It’s so much easier to improve something crappy you have right in front of you than to pull something perfect out of thin air.

Now take a break. Nap, brew some chai, go for a run, fold laundry, or do something else completely unrelated to your writing project.

Finally, come back to that mess (or hey, maybe it really isn’t that bad…) you just wrote, and rework it. I have two more rules for that part: Use your own voice. Simpler is better. When you take both of them together, you leave enough space for your personality to shine through.

{Photo by Mullenkedheim on Flickr}