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Use Swag to Market Your Language School

By Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton
Swag is an important part of the international English school’s marketing strategy. Here are some tips on how to choose swag for your ESL school and how it can help you promote your programs.

Swag is an important part of your school’s overall promotional strategy. Otherwise known as “freebies”, “goodies” or “loot”, these are the items you give away to prospective and current in the hopes that they remember your program in a positive way.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines swag as:

  1. (slang) ( a) The booty carried off by burglars, etc. (b) illicit gains
  2. (a) an ornamental festoon of flowers, etc. (b) a carved etc. representation of this
  3. (Australia & NZ) a traveller’s or miner’s bundle of personal belongings.

Marketing swag has elements of all these definitions. We hope that people will carry their swag with them in their briefcase or backpack (i.e. their “bundle of belongings”). Swag is now considered de rigueur as part of “table decor” at education fairs and recruitment trade shows. It is a necessary accessory to the adornment of any promotional booth. People love swag because it is free,  tucking it into their bags with a slight feeling of either guilt or glee, possibly both.

Recently though, I came across a definition of swag that I like even better. In a 2007 blog post, Suzette Bergeron, a marketing expert in Maine, defines swag as “Stuff We All Get”. She goes on to explain different types of swag such as promotional giveaways, prizes and business gifts. For those of you who work in with international clients and students, you know how important those business gifts can be when working with certain countries.

So rather than the traditional definition, I’m going to go with Bergeron’s. It’s easy to remember and it conveys the idea of marketing swag perfectly.

Swag for English language programs should relate to your program somehow. Remember to include your logo and program name, and if there’s space,  your website. Swag needs to reflect your purpose, your image and hopefully be useful to the recipients. Pens, pads of paper, book bags and even portfolios are all excellent swag ideas for language programs. Baseball caps, not so much. That is, unless you are offering an ESL program for baseball players.

Use caution when choosing swag items, particularly things such as breath mints, eye glasses cleaning cloths and toys, all of which I have seen at educational trade fairs. These swag items have little longevity in the hands of the recipient, once the novelty has worn off. When choosing swag, it needs to be both “cool” or eye-catching and useful. If not, it’ll be thrown away. That defeats the purpose of people holding on to it and seeing your school’s logo over and over again, each time they use it. Before you spend your money on swag ask yourself what is going to be most useful to those who receive it.

You want your prospects and current students to hold on to your swag, make it part of the bundle of things they carry with them for a long time and, most importantly, remember you by it.

Written by Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton for Tefl.NET January 2011
Author of 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program, Dr. Sarah Eaton is an expert on the management and marketing of language schools. She coaches school directors on how to manage more effectively and market more powerfully. Visit her blog at drsaraheaton.wordpress.com.
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