Guest Column - September/October 2015

A Token of Appreciation

Get a Jump on Holiday Gifting Plans

By Emily Hall

It's never too soon to start planning for the holidays. In fact, the more thought you put into your end-of-year giving plans, the more it shows. And you do want your customers and employees to understand how much you appreciate them. Even a small gift makes people feel valued and leaves a lasting impression.

For employees, that annual token of appreciation promotes a happy, productive workplace culture where people want to do their best. Whether it's a sleek new travel mug for daily coffee, an embroidered company jacket or a sweet treat shared with colleagues, these gifts have the effect of making your team more dedicated and optimistic.

The same can be true for your customers—both current and prospective. Yes, promotional products are an extremely powerful form of marketing. Each year, the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) conducts a global survey to measure the impact and reach of promotional products. Over and over, the numbers show that customer gifts yield a drastic increase in brand recall, brand loyalty and overall favorable feelings toward a company. Like all logoed items, these gifts keep on giving. Each one has the potential to rack up thousands of brand impressions as recipients use them in their daily lives.

Maybe this is the year to warm up prospective customers with a special gift. The latest study revealed that four out of 10 people feel compelled to do business with a brand for the first time after receiving a gift. It's hard to beat that kind of conversion rate! During the holidays, consumers face a constant onslaught of ads, offers and demands to spend their money here or there. Investing in a little something special to give to a new customer forges a personal connection that helps your company stand out in the crowd. Branded outerwear and shirts consistently yield the strongest impressions, and of course there are thousands of other choices available so you can give gifts that perfectly align with the needs and preferences of your audience.

Promotional products perform all year round, but their importance during the holiday season cannot be overstated. In other words, being a Scrooge doesn't pay. Even if budgets are limited, you can find plenty of great options. Showing thoughtfulness and giving thanks to the people who keep you in business is a practical expense—and not always a big one!

So it's still kind of hot outside. Why think about holiday gifts right now? Getting an early start gives you more time to explore your options and find the gifts that will be most meaningful for your clients and staff. Planning ahead is also a good way to ensure you make the most of your finite financial resources. We all know how last-minute shopping can add up. The extra costs of expedited shipping and all other side effects of procrastination can be exponential when you are buying for a large group.

It's especially important to pay close attention to the calendar if your holiday plans include giving logoed gifts. Depending on what you're purchasing, a few extra days or weeks may be required to customize your products. Tastefully logoed gifts can be a great choice during the holidays. For employees, sporting a logo is a way to show pride in their work and feel like part of a team. For customers, a logo functions as a sort of signoff—and also a lasting reminder of a great relationship.

But wait if everyone receives the same gift, how can it feel personal? Logo or no logo, the fact of the matter is that in the business world, it's usually not practical or even possible to pick out holiday items for each individual. All of your universal gifts will be appreciated if you keep these two golden rules in mind:

  1. The gifts must reflect well on your brand.
  2. The gifts must be useful or innovative products that can be enjoyed by all of your recipients.

For best results, approach business gift giving the same way you approach any marketing effort. It's all about identifying your core audience (or audiences) and giving them what they want. The better you know your audience, the easier it will be to choose gifts that create meaningful connections. Give executives and major clients top tier gifts that celebrate your partnership. Give thoughtful but modest gifts to potential clients and new associates. Here are a few examples of creative, effective business gifts.

  • For execs and high profile clients: name-brand luggage, golf and sports accessories, higher end tech gifts, premium chocolates.
  • For prospective clients: wine accessories, Bluetooth speakers, smart wallets, leatherbound notebooks, wall calendars, athletic jackets and hoodies, messenger bags, boxes of chocolate.
  • For customers and employees: wearable fitness trackers, tablet sleeves, touch screen gloves, wireless headphones, desk calendars, infuser water bottles, T-shirts, bags and backpacks.

Once you have a general idea of the direction you want to go this holiday season, do a quick gut check—and possibly a little research—to make sure your gifts are following all of the social customs and regulations that govern business gift giving. It's not as complicated as it sounds—just keep these considerations in mind:

  • Don't overspend. While you want your gifts to get noticed and appreciated, you don't want to give anything over-the-top that could send the wrong message or raise ethical concerns.
  • Check your organization's code of ethics (and your recipients') for price guidelines to make sure that your gifts follow protocol. Some companies and organizations have lenient gifting policies, while others are pretty strict (For example, most public sector employees can't accept gifts over $50 in value). If your company doesn't outline clear guidelines, the U.S. government has a commonsense guideline: Gifts up to $75 are tax-deductible. Also, keep in mind that employee gifts of more than $25 may count as taxable income.
  • If you can, give gifts to groups instead of individuals. Shareable gifts can send an inclusive, welcoming message. They're also subject to much more lenient cost restrictions. That's why holiday treats (like fruit baskets) are so popular; they can be enjoyed by an entire department or organization. Candy and coffee will always be a hit.
  • Watch your timing. If your company is in the process of bidding on or negotiating a contract, don't exchange gifts with the other parties until after it's signed. Your tastefully branded tablet sleeves or boxes of chocolate-dipped pretzels may seem like attempts to gain favor. In these situations, it's absolutely essential to avoid large or expensive gifts that could be misinterpreted as setting up an expectation.
  • If your employees customarily receive holiday gifts from clients, make sure to post your company's code of ethics and send a friendly reminder about what they can accept.
  • When it comes to giving employee appreciation gifts, remember that it isn't all about the gifts themselves. Bring your team together for a catered lunch, an office party or even one of those weirdly popular Tacky Sweater contests. There are so many ways to celebrate the holidays at work!

Emily Hall is a copywriter for Staples Promotional Products. She's been blogging for since June 2014. A former English teacher, she's a voracious reader and a huge fan of the Oxford comma. While she loves all things promo, she can never pass up a cute coffee mug—and she's amassed quite a collection!