Friday, November 20, 2015

The Science of Swag: 5 Guiding Principles for B2B Gift-Giving

A special preview of this post appeared on October 23rd on LinkedIn.

If you're reading this now ... Congratulations!

You are thinking ahead and setting the groundwork for a successful gift-giving program in the months ahead. You see, we often don't hear from companies about gift-giving until it's almost too late -- and we get it. There's never enough time to get a jump on projects like this.

But, whether you're well-prepared months in advance, or scrambling to launch your customer gift-giving before it's too late, the basics are the same. These are the five principles we emphasize that will help ensure your gift-giving plans are meaningful and effective.

#1 - To Gift or Not to Gift.

It is better to give, than to cheap out. Because, simply put, you either appreciate your customers or you don't. When budget is a serious constraint or you're really stumped for a meaningful gift, send an [old-fashioned] greeting card that is:
Relevant to your brand (vs. over-branded -- more on that later),
Signed by at least one human, and
Expresses your honest sentiments in words that sound a little bit like you.

#2 - There's no rule that requires every client/customer receive exactly the same gift.

You might consider giving long-term, reliable customers and major accounts something more appropriate to their relationship with your firm. Think of it like you do your own friends and acquaintances. You probably exchange actual gifts with your closer friends and send cards to most of the others, right? The same can apply to your customer list. And don't be put off by pundits who insist they might talk to each other and compare what you gave them. The reality is that, unless you gave a few of your favorite customers new cars, it probably won't be top-of-mind.

#3 - The Most Common No-No: "Over-branding."

Nobody wants to eat, drink, wear or carry around somebody else's billboard in lieu of a gift -- unless it's the t-shirt you autographed for them at your last sold-out concert. Wine that is private-labeled with your company logo, apparel in your corporate color pallet boldly emblazoned with your logo, mouse pads in the shape of your logo, and food items wrapped in your logo and bearing your tagline are fine for getting your name in front of prospects at trade shows and conferences, but none of these tchotchkes take the customer into account when it comes to gift giving.

#4 - When Is a Gift Not a Gift?

When it's a discount. Or a BOGO. Or a coupon.

Let's face it, nobody is fooled by this. In fact, if you think about it, it's a little crass. By giving a discount instead of a gift, you are actually telling your customer that they don't get a present unless they spend more money with you.

The only time a discount or coupon is acceptable is if it accompanies something that conveys your appreciation with no strings attached. An example would be enclosing or attaching a discount code or coupon with an old-fashioned,well-selected card (see above) or other unpretentious memento that in some way conveys your sentiment of appreciation -- vs. your tagline -- and will be enjoyed by the customer.

#5 - This is important: Know your customers and apply that knowledge to your gift-giving.

Think about what your customer(s) would really enjoy or appreciate when you select your gift. It's not about advertising, it's about gratitude and giving.

Be sensitive to customers who do not observe the same holidays you do. While most would understand, some might take offense at your disregard of their beliefs and customs. There will be many other times you can flex your gift-giving muscles and show your appreciation for these customers, including company milestones such as anniversaries, promotions, and opening a new office.

It is essential that you are aware of any restrictions your customers may have on accepting gifts from vendors and service providers. The most obvious examples of these customers are state, local and federal government employees. Your well-meaning gesture of appreciation could end up putting him/her in an extremely uncomfortable position, and that's the last thing you want.

We love new ideas, so here's something to think about: What was the coolest, most enjoyable gift you have ever received from a vendor or service provider? Let us know in the comments and happy gifting!