What was the last sponsored event you went to? I bet you saw branding everywhere, right? How were the branded materials being used?
Sometimes, promotional materials are just... present at an event. They provide a backdrop for photo ops, decorate empty tables and watch the action pass from a merchandise display in the corner. Used in this way, promotional items are simply wallflower attendees; they stand back from the action and never draw attention to themselves.
At other events I've attended, promotional materials are the focus of attention. They interact with the audience, add character and liveliness to the event's atmosphere, prompt discussion and steal the spotlight. Compared to the wallflowers described above, these promotional materials are social butterflies.
The funny thing is, the same item has the potential to be a wallflower or a butterfly. The difference is all in how you implement and distribute the materials.
As an example, let's look at how the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer uses promotional items to enhance their event series.
Annual events like the Avon Walk attract the same participants, year after year. These alumni are your loyal customers; they enjoy the experience and support your cause so much that they return annually. The Avon staff recognizes alumni with colorful buttons that are handed out for free at Event Eve, and they're always a huge hit. On the route, the buttons act as great conversation starters, enabling walkers to identify seasoned veterans. They create a big impact for minimal investment.
Educate your audience
Every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. This shocking statistic really summarizes the importance of breast cancer research, so the Avon Walk staff go to great lengths to ensure their walkers remember this factoid. Throughout the event, volunteers and crew members drape imprinted ribbons around walkers' necks at 3-minute intervals. At closing ceremonies, it's very sobering to look around the crowd and take in the number of "marked" individuals.
Play with color
Screen printed T-shirts for staff, volunteers and attendees are pretty standard at athletic events for charity. Take it a step further, and change up the shirt color for different groups. At the Avon Walk, crew members and youth crew members are easy to spot in yellow and blue tees. All walkers receive a white T-shirt when they register (to wear during training walks and fundraising events), and a colored T-shirt when they cross the finish line (as a souvenir for their hard work). The Avon Walk also distinguishes breast cancer survivors with a different colored finisher tee.
Reward exemplary fundraising
When a walker registers for the 2-Day Avon Walk, they commit to a hefty amount of fundraising- $1,800 to be exact. Although this money is used to further breast cancer research and supporting services, the Walk staff understands that it's never easy to ask friends, loved ones and local businesses to donate funds. For this reason, they really do everything they can to encourage and support their walkers throughout the process.
Branded materials come into play here too, in the form of fundraising rewards. Walkers can earn things like branded shoelaces, hats, and sports equipment by achieving and surpassing certain benchmarks. During the walk, it's quite common to spot a "Fantastic Fundraiser" proudly sporting a hard-earned hat.
Cultivate a community
Avon Walk coordinators and staff put a lot of effort into procuring colorful and memorable event materials, but they also count on walkers and supporters for further decoration. They've successfully created a culture in which participants voluntarily deck themselves from head to toe in pink accessories and witty team T-shirts. In my three years with the Avon Walk, I've seen Team Boob-Bees sporting antennae and stingers, fans of the Washington Capitals "rocking the pink" in custom tees, ladies in iridescent butterfly wings, magenta tutus and hot pink rattan hula skirts. These team costumes come at no additional expense to the Avon Walk, but they really improve the spirit of the event.
I hope these examples have given you some ideas for your next event. Focus on creative implementation and distribution to get the biggest bang for your buck.