Guest Column - September/October 2011

'Tis the Season for Corporate Gifting

By Sarah Rohlfing

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." — Maya Angelou

While we can be confident that American poet Maya Angelou wasn't thinking of the incentive industry when she crafted this sentiment, it certainly speaks to the impact and lasting effect of rewards and recognition. And, there's no better time of year than around the holidays to recognize loyalty and show appreciation for a relationship with tangible tokens of thanks through corporate gift-giving.

The term "corporate gifting" can relate to both clients and employees, but for the purpose of this conversation, let's focus on corporate gifting—or business gifts—in relation to customer loyalty.

A Golden Opportunity

While the practice of recognizing valued clients should be a year-round effort, corporate gifting historically gains momentum across the country as we approach the holiday season. In fact, in many cases it is now customary or even expected by customers. However, this shouldn't be viewed as a negative, since it provides a golden opportunity to reconnect with clients, strengthen ties and further personalize a business relationship.

Staying on Trend

The past few years the shift in the economy affected how organizations approach holiday gifts. Some companies have cut back, some have reinvested in the practice, and others have gotten creative with ways to make the greatest impact despite the size of the budget, but in all instances, the goal of showing appreciation in a memorable way remained a constant. In the process, there's been a transition from edibles and gift cards back to brand-name merchandise with trophy value that will serve as a lasting reminder of the relationship.

As budgets rebound, the trend of gifting with trophy value and shelf life in mind is expected to continue. According to the 2010 American Express Open Small Business Holiday Monitor, 44 percent of managers surveyed said they intended to send clients gifts, with the average budget for these gifts jumping to $740, up from $455 in 2009 and $457 in 2008.

The survey showed a shift toward so-called unique gifts—which were expected to be given by 12 percent of the managers surveyed, up from 7 percent in 2009—while the number of managers giving a card or calendar tapered off to a mere 6 percent.

It is essential to remember that regardless of how convenient they may be, cash equivalents should rarely, if ever, be considered as gifts to employees and never be given to customers or vendors, where it may suggest something less than savory was intended.