The hype of swag is one of the many that stroked Silicon Valley. T-shirts, backpacks, and, of course, stickers with companies’ names and logos can be spotted anywhere. It seems that giving away some swags is a must for a startup to exist, almost as if there is a championship among large corporations for the coolest swags (the Patagonia jacket seems to be the trend in the last couple of years). Although they became something natural, that employees and customers already expect from the organizations, few people question the reasoning behind corporate swags. What do companies expect by giving them away? I’ve heard so many different answers to this question, and I can list the most common ones below.
As mentioned above, many people believe that swags’ purpose is to show that the company exists, as a corporation certificate. The swags might provide a sense of credibility, which is especially important for new companies. This reminded me of when I heard from one of my first mentors that if I wanted to start a venture, the first thing I had to do is get a shirt with the startup’s name.
A different answer is to show off its logo, a simple brand awareness strategy.
I’ve also heard that swags create a sense of belonging: they make people feel they are part of a family (this for employees). One person even laughed saying “Imagine not giving anything when new employees are onboarding” like it was hilarious.
I don’t want to rain in anybody’s parade, but I cannot stop questioning all these answers. First, when having a t-shirt with your logo started being synonymous with credibility? To get these corporate swags, one has to manage multiple vendors, find storage, track expenses, among other things. For a company that is just starting, this seems very painful. Entrepreneurs have so many things to do; they struggle to define what needs to be prioritized. Should managing swags be one of those things? I can’t help but think that this might be best if done by a third party. Large companies, on the other hand, should not need to create credibility through something outside their work. If this is a must, maybe something is wrong.
Using swags as brand awareness is such an old strategy, mostly used by companies attending conferences. Although it might work in some industries, I usually see most of the swags in the trash at the end of events. I was surprised to learn that this also happens with corporate swags for employees. Sizing is tricky, people wear different styles, and you just can’t let anyone without it. One thing does not fit all, and those who don’t like it will throw it away. I believe there are better, cheaper and more sustainable ways to create awareness.
Trying to create a bond with employees with swags is fragile. It’s proven that simple gifts make no impact on productivity or motivation, as sharing values do. Even when giving away a USD 200-Patagonia-jacket, the price tag is not a factor when creating belongingness. What is the message organization wants to send to its employees? If it is about creating intrinsic motivation and showing appreciation, a water bottle might not do the trick.
I believe that it is time to reframe the meaning of swags and tailor them into what truly matters for employees while considering their culture and mission. Shouldn’t swags be a Welcome Baby Kit for parents expecting a child or a babysitter voucher for those with homeschooling kids? More than just giving away what employees need, in this way, companies will avoid producing tons of swags that would end up in the trash. Isn’t sustainability a value? If companies really want to know and value their employees, they need to start showing them differently. What do you think?