Why T-Shirts Matter [For Conferences]

April 13, 2011

in Gadgets / SWAG, Tips

T-shirts from Frontiers of Interaction '10, SXSW '11, La Red Innova '10 and PICNIC '10

I came across this interesting article (extracts below) on why T-shirts matter to high tech start-ups employees. Curiously enough, the same applies to attendees of [tech, internet and innovation oriented] conferences. From my position as both a conference organizer and an attendee I’ve often find T-shirts to be the most memorable kind of swag I want to take home… a sort of show-off that says “I was there”.

While many conferences, barcamps and other events give away T-shirts for free,  you don’t necessarily have to do so… just make them available at a reasonable price. For example SXSW sells their T-shirts (unique to each year) both during the online registration process (you’re already buying your ticket so you might as well spend those extra 20 bucks to reserve your T-shirt) and at the venue during the festival.

Follows a short extract from the original article highlighting the key reasons why T-shirts matter:

Empowerment.  In some ways, engineers delight in having found a profession where their intellect and passion for technology have enabled them to earn a great living and work at a company where – yes, you guessed it – they can wear t-shirts to work.  […]  You hire only the best, and the best can wear whatever they want.  It says you know that you value merit over appearance […]

Incentives.  Over the past decade, behavioral finance has taught us that people don’t value money rationally – it varies depending on form and context.  […] free t-shirts evoke some sort of primal response at a high tech company.  […]  You’d be shocked at what a $200 per person per year budget for t-shirts will do for employee morale comparatively.

Tribal Cohesion. […] common dress signals who is “part of the tribe” and belongs to the corporate family.  Uniforms are incompatible with the “empowerment” aspect of how people want to dress, but t-shirts can represent a form of “voluntary uniform” if produced in sufficient variety and quantity.   This effect can be had at a team level, when a t-shirt is made just to celebrate a new product, or at the company level.

Tenure Based Seniority. […]  T-Shirts, in an innocuous way, implicitly do this by almost always becoming “limited editions”.  Want the t-shirt from the 2007 company picnic?  You had to be there to get one.  […] In a socially acceptable way, t-shirts subtlely communicate a form of tenure that is warm, and yet structured.

Branding.  As discussed under “Tribal Cohesion”, people want to wear the brand of their tribe.  […] make shirts for your developers, your fans, your early adopters.  Long before they become vocal advocates for your brand, they will gladly showcase it if you let them.  […]  Of course, this assumes that you make shirts that don’t suck.

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