A Necessary Evil: SWAG

A 2012 Silicon Halton CEO Peer2Peer monthly meeting was kicked off with an interesting opener-topic, SWAG. You know, the often flimsy, cheap paraphernalia that we hope will shine a positive light on your company or products, but too often goes straight from the tradeshow bag into the garbage bag.

The CEO Peer2Peer (P2P) members are relentlessly focused on topics of business value. So why even spend time discussing the merits of swag, which is generally viewed as a necessary evil? The purpose of this opener was to learn from peers what their experience with swag is, what works (if any) and what doesn’t (likely all?). Perhaps we’d learn to abandon swag all together.

What is SWAG’s business purpose?

SWAG purpose is to extend your brand and assist in unaided recall of your company, products or service.

CEO’s report that swag that “sticks around” is what works best. Items that function in a prospects or customers business or personal life, or has a fun-component, will continue carrying your brand and assist in unaided recall. The more useful or more entertaining the swag, the more likely client will remember you on their own.

SWAG is commonly dispensed in two ways: at trade shows or while conducting normal business.

The Trade Show

I think most businesses realize their booth is a mystery novel to the vast majority of tradeshow attendees. Unless you have a new Telsa parked in your booth, how do you lure prospective new clients to your booth? The answer, Swag.

There is a certain expectation within the attendee population at tradeshows that swag can and will be had.

From the vendor’s perspective, for swag to be effective it must pass these 4 events we purchasers make before buying:

  • Be findable – The attendee first must become aware of its existence
  • Interesting – Now that the attendee is aware of your swag, are they interested in it?
  • Desired – As their interest increases, is the swag deemed a prize-worthy such that the attendee feels s/he must have it. We’ve all seen swag that is interesting, but we don’t want it.
  • I must have it – Lastly, interest grows sufficiently to compel the attendee into action. They need to have your swag and therefore make an unplanned stop at your booth. This achieves SWAGs mission.

The other 364 days of the year

Outside of the trade show, as procurers of product and services, it’s nice to receive small tokens of appreciation from our vendor. Resellers or ambassadors for a vendor also like receiving small tokens of appreciation of their efforts. This makes them feel good. They associate feeling good with the company that made them feel good.

The Best Swag

CEO’s shared examples of swag that is reasonably priced, is desired, and allowed them to realize a business advantage. Each of the items would have your company name and/or logo on them:

  1. Tee-shirts / Golf shirts
  2. Making custom swag with 3D printers, for example, memory sticks with the attendee’s company logo embossed on it.
  3. Pens
  4. Portfolio
  5. Silly Putty
  6. Business card holders
  7. Hand sanitizers (works particularly great at trade shows).
  8. Post-it notes
  9. Cell phone speaker
  10. Small screw driver set (ideal for engineers)
  11. Backpack
  12. Water bottles
  13. Items that can be thrown (football, soft frisbees)
  14. Lip-balm

Goes without saying all the above items have your company name and/or logo on them.

If you send me a picture of your best + unique swag, I’ll add it to this post.


Crazy things U of T Students say

Last month I was a seminar Leader to 20 first-year University of Toronto’s students from the “Engineering Strategies and Practice I” program.  My theme was “Is Web 2.0 eroding the need for engineers?”  From this theme, I developed 6 sub-topics, in which each student presented their opinion to their peers on one of the topics. 

The Q&A section following each presentation was at times lively and interesting.  However, it was around three of the topics that I was most impressed by the insightfulness and freshness of their questions, and at times, the naiveté of their comments.  These questions and comments were interesting to share:

On the Topic “Is Talent a limited resource?”, some students had some noteworthy opinions:

“Talent is limited per generation.”
“Talent can be learned.”
“Talent is an innate ability you’re born with”

“Do people have the opportunity to be exposed to their talent?”
“Is it better to work on your weaknesses as well as your strengths?”

The topic “Is there a difference anymore between Professional vs. Amateur?” generated many excellent comments and questions:

“Professionals get paid, amateurs don’t”
“Professionals have a certificate to prove their credibility”
“Professionals (are recognized by) achieve(ing) a certain level of experience and knowledge”
“Amateurs can’t guarantee quality of information”
“Would you hire a Professionals or amateur?”
“Would you buy a car in which an amateur built, or a professional? A: “I want a professional with experience to build my car.”

And lastly, blending this topic and the Talent topic, two interesting questions were made, “Do all professionals have talent?” and “Does it take a certain amount of passion to be a professional?”

The topics “What is the risk of having so much open content? “ and “Is there a problem? Why be concerned?” (regarding the theme of the seminar) tended to blend together in my mind, drew many comments and questions about Wikipedia (probably because I raised Wikipedia during week 1).

Students discussed if internet sourced content could/should be trusted because it could/does contain misinformation, politically oriented, unknowingly wrong by the author, or in some instances, actually correct.

“Encyclopedias only provide basic information”
“Wikipedia is the largest collection of human knowledge”
“(Wikipedia) has so much more content (than encyclopedias)”
“Wikipedia can replace encyclopedias”
“Do we know less about more subjects?”
“Wikipedia’s in-house editors will correct errors or vandalism.”
“Wikipedia (consists) of opinion on facts, vs factual”
“How long will Wikipedia last?”
“Wikipedia is free, therefore no cost barrier “
“(The internet) has a lack of regulation and standards”
“If it is written on the net, people will believe it’s truthful.”
“People can’t discern truth from fiction.”
“The internet’s strength is also its weakness”
“People giving credibility to unknown (people)”
“Misinformation is powerful and influential”
“Is Wikileaks good or bad? In response: more important to share knowledge than censor”
“Is there a solution (to identifying) false information on the internet?”
“Can we create a program to verify incorrect facts on the internet?”
“How do we know Wikipedia information is reliable?”

Lastly, on the topic “Why can/can’t ‘1,000’ 1st-year engineering students have more collective knowledge than a single P.Eng?” came these noteworthy responses:

“Society has leaders and followers.”
“First-year students last professionalism for teamwork”

U of T – Seminar Leader for ESP1

In November I’m having the privilege again to be a Seminar Leader at the University of Toronto’s “Engineering Strategies and Practice I” class, consisting of twenty 1st-year U of T Engineering students.

Students are introduced to communication as an integral component of engineering practice. The class is a vehicle for understanding problem solving and developing communications skills. Each student will give a presentation within the discussion group.

Following the provided loose course framework, I selected a topic that would challenge students to examine engineering activities within the broader constraints that are being presented in their lectures.

For my class, I created the theme “Is Web 2.0 eroding the need for engineers?” I led the students in discussions and debate surrounding the technical, social, economical, legal, ethical, political, and human factors issues associated with Web 2.0’s impact on Engineers. Namely, and blatantly, are engineers still required?

As an ice breaker, I lead by opening with “tell us three things about yourself; 2 truths + 1 false”. The intent is to guess the false. Interesting, one student had climbed a significant mountain (name escapes me) and another had driven a Ferrari. While those two could also have been falsehoods, now that it’s written down here, it must be true, right? Web 2.0 never lies, right?

Loosely following the Open Space format, I created six sub-topics (below) to my theme and had the class break-out into smaller groups, each group focused on one of these six topics.

  1. Is there a problem? Why be concerned?
  2. Is talent is a limited resource?
  3. Why can/can’t “1,000” 1st-year engineering students have more collective knowledge than a single P.Eng?
  4. Collaborative Engineering in the 2010’s, 2020’s and beyond.
  5. Is there a difference anymore between Professional vs. Amateur
  6. What is the risk of having so much open content?

Excellent points were captured from each of the respective break-out groups – captured below. Over the next two weeks, each student will give the class their 5min presentation on their topic.

  • Next week (week #2, Nov 22), students with the even numbered topics will present.
  • During the last and final class (Nov 29), students with odd numbered topic will present.
  • Each week students will also be providing anonymous written feedback to their peer’s presentations.

I’m looking forward to the presentations.


I know what you read last night

Recently I discovered of a number of privacy issues with the Oakville Public Library (OPL) web site:

  1. Your book borrowing history is publicly available on the OPL web site.
  2. Your book borrowing history is publicly available on many other North American Library web sites. 
  3. OPL patrons could be “following” my book borrowing history.  I cannot stop this, opt out, or determine who is following me or prevent them from messaging me.
  4. Posting a book review is cross- posted on other library sites without informing me.
  5. Viewing any particular title via OPL website allows me to see who else has borrowed that title.  The “who else” could be me.
  6. While viewing a title from seemingly any North American on-line Library (which uses the same library book-lending software as OPL), you can see who, from any other library branch (including OPL) has borrowed that title.   

In today’s heightened awareness on personal privacy, it was surprising to discover that my loved local public and well regarded institution is slammed the book on privacy.

Let’s start by declaring that Libraries are great institutions that played a significant role in educating the nation in the early 20th century by making hugely diverse plethora of books freely available to the masses.  Our society is now reaping the benefits.  While that early mandate has been accomplished, the library’s primary role in removing barriers to printed material is still very valuable to Canada.  In a world of 7×24 access to information and Google Books, Libraries still freely provide a huge inventory of books at your disposal.  However, in our “instant access to everything” world, do you want your potential or current employer, your parents, or the government, to have open access to your borrowing history?  Isn’t your book borrowing history private?

I know what you read last night

1st Recently a Google Alert uncovered some of my book borrowing history from my local library, the Oakville Public Library (OPL), is freely available on the OPL web site.   Of the 58 books in my private Recently Returned page, only a portion of that list is publicly listed.  It’s possible that my whole book borrowing history is openly available online and that I simply haven’t uncovered it.  For example, I easily found fellow OPL patron and Oakvillian ttomasino borrowing history of 208 books, Randalljay 123 items or Kmancuso 245 items (note you can also see when they checked out the item).

You can uncover your book borrowing history by Googling
     “<username> site:bibliocommons.com” or
     “<Name> site:bibliocommons.com”.
You can determine your username or Name from your OPL Account Settings page.
After digging deeper, I discovered numerous other incidents of privacy concerns… 

2nd I found my borrowing history is also freely available on many other library sites in Canada and USA, library web sites were I don’t have a library card nor have ever visited.  For example, Googling “kmancuso site:bibliocommons.com” uncovered 5,410 hits from across many diferent librarys of books OPL patron kmancuso has borrowed.

Examples of non-OPL library sites openly exposing my book borrowing history (click to enlarge):

Evidently, these libraries are using the same software vendor’s back-end social discovery library software.

3rd I can “follow” fellow library patrons, presumably to follow their book borrowing history, or conversely, for them to follow my book borrowing history.  Do I want others following my book borrowing history? Do I know who is following me?  Can I opt out? No. The library’s policy states “…who you choose to follow is private to you. They won’t know, unless you send them a message to tell them what you think!”  Similarly, I can send a message to other OPL patrons simply because I found which book they borrowed.  “Hi, I see you checked out Sex, Sex, and more Sex.  Did you like it?”

4th While I expected a posted book review to be public, I was surprised to learn that my book review posts are not contained to the Oakville Library public site in which it was posted, but are cross-posted on other Canadian & USA library sites, for example California’s Santa Clara County library here or Ottawa’s Library there.  I assumed (yes, I know what that means) the book reviews I was reading were from trusted resources, my fellow Oakvillians.  With the advent of social library tools, our community library has lost its “community” aspect.

5th While viewing any particular title, you can see who else has borrowed that title.  That “who else” could be you.

6th Patrons of other libraries viewing any particular title on their library site, can see if you in Oakville borrowed that book.  For example, while searching Outlier’s on the Santa Clara Community Library in California, I found I’ve read this book.

The Smoking Gun
The most probable source of the privacy holes are with OPL software vendor who provides social discovery software for libraries such as OPL and many others.  The default privacy setting for the book borrowing history may be enabled (no privacy) or that exposing a users’ borrowing history is a configuration item available to OPL IT staff, and therefore a training issue.   Lastly, the library patron has some or complete control over this by disabling the “Enable Recently Returned” setting found in a users Privacy Settings.  I haven’t yet experimented with disabling this to determine if all the privacy volitions are rectified.

The back-end system hosting the library’s book reservation on-line web application is used by approximately 35 other libraries in Canada, USA and Australia.   For a list of libraries where your book borrowing history is potentially exposed see here, then select the library from the drop-down list.