Recently, a client of mine asked me if I had any experience in how to optimize how they send swag out to people. The scenario was a common one: the company made T-shirts, stickers, mugs, and other merchandise that they wanted to ship to deserving community members, but actually getting it there was turning out to be a massive pain in the rear-end.
I have a little bit of experience here, so I thought I would share eight lessons I've learned for doing swag right. Well, as right as I have discovered thus far... I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments!
1. Shipping sucks
To start with, it is important to know that shipping swag is a pain. While the production of the materials is often not that problematic, shipping to an international audience can be difficult. Rates can be expensive, some countries require documentation for accepting materials (otherwise the reciever may have to pay for it), and some countries shipping systems are just not that reliable.
As such, you should expect your first few months of shipping are going to be painful (and likely more expensive than you think) as you learn these lessons. Before long though you will have figured out how to efficiently ship.
2. Define who gets what when
Giving out swag can be an expensive proposition. When you give swag to some but not others it can sometimes cause a little jealousy to set in. People often treat swag as a badge of honor in a community so you want to ensure that observers can clearly connect the dots when it comes to why someone got swag.
I recommend you sit down and come up with a clear set of 'metrics' that define when someone should be sent swag. This will help to reduce anyone in your community feeling upset when they don't get the good stuff too.
3. Women wear shirts too
We all come in different sizes and shapes, and with different bits attached. When making swag you should try to support as many different folks as possible. For stickers, cups, and pens this is simple, but for clothes, it gets more difficult.
As a minimum, I recommend you always produce men's and women's shirts. Those of you new to swag may not realize that there is a very real difference in men's and women's cut shirts, and many women are frustrated when the only option is a shirt cut for men. In terms of sizes, there are a huge range of sizes and it can be difficult to support all of them, particularly if you are buying in bulk. I usually try to provide S, M, L, XL, and XXL in both men's and women's shirts. While there will be some smaller and bigger people who won't get to play, you should be able to cover most people in your community with those sizes.
4. The big three
There are many different types of swag that you can give out. T-shirts, hoodies, mugs, stickers, branded gadgets... the list goes on.
You should optimize your swag production for what is the cheapest to produce, gets you the most exposure, and is simple to produce and manage.
As an example, stickers are simple and effective to produce and get great exposure. Shirts/hoodies are more complicated due to sizes, but get great exposure. Branded gadgets are a thrill to recieve, but are often expensive to produce and get limited exposure.
I always recommend communities mainly focus on stickers and T-shirts to begin with then maybe expand to caps and other wearables.
5. Bulk, baby
Where possible, produce in bulk. Swag often gets dramatically cheaper the more you buy, but think carefully about what your audience will care about. For example, stickers are cheap, simple to produce, come in one size, usually don't change much, are great advertising, and easy to give out. They make sense to produce in large quantities.
It gets more complicated with items that need a size, such as shirts or hoodies. I recommend you buy in bulk still, but order more of the most common sizes (which is often L and XL in both men's and women's garments.)
6. Keep it local even if you're global
For those of you with a truly global audience, shipping can be ridiculously expensive. In many cases the cost of shipping an item can vastly exceed the value of the item inside the package.
One solution to this is to create your digital source material for the swag (e.g. artwork/designs) and then dispatch them to be produced and shipped locally. As an example, some communities set up shipping bases in the USA, Europe, and Asia. To do this you will need to ensure you have (1) a place you can produce the swag in that area (2) people/volunteers who can recieve the swag and ship it out, and (3) a means of placing swag orders that these local volunteers can tend to. Fortunately, a Google Form and some friends can often provide this.
Now, I will warn you, you want to ensure you find people who are willing to commit to shipping this material out. For most people, shipping out swag is not that much fun, but there are some kind souls in the world who often step up to volunteer. Just make sure they are in it for the long-haul and don't get bored after a few weeks.
7. The standard size box is your friend
Two things make shipping expensive: dimensions and weight. We want to provide as much predictability as possible in our shipping to ensure we can keep costs low. This gets complicated for a global audience as shipping rates vary dramatically.
Fortunately, various shipping companies are able to offer cheaper shipping rates if you use a standard set of shipping boxes and weights. This can be a helpful way of reducing costs—just ensure that your swag is able to fit into one of these boxes.
8. DIY swag
Another option is that you provide the digital artwork and other material available so your communities can make their own swag themselves. This approach can significantly reduce costs as people can make their own materials at their own cost.
If you take this approach I recommend you firstly ensure you have a crisp trademark policy. You want to ensure that this community production still represents the quality and interests of your community. Including in your trademark policy provisions for how the logo is used, how it can't be used, and other guidance is always helpful here.
To make this as simple as possible you should also provide simple guidelines for how people can create high-quality swag. For example, tell them which shirts to buy, provide some example vendors they can use to get them printed, provide the high-quality design/artwork that is sized to the right shirts, and other guidance. You want to boil these instructions down to easy to follow steps that result in good quality results.
So, there you have it. I hope this provides some helpful food for thought in producing swag and celebrating the great work of your community around the world. Be sure to share other tips and tricks in the comments!