Gift return: Six ways to improve your holiday client gift giving this year

With Halloween behind us and the U.S. Thanksgiving just weeks away, the holidays are upon us. For business owners, this spells a marketing opportunity that many take for granted – particularly small business owners. This year, think outside of the gift box when choosing your client gifts, and potentially keep your brand in front of potential customers all year long.

Here are six tips to help you give gifts that won’t end up as next year’s White Elephant:

1. Avoid the gimmicks. I received some astoundingly bad client gifts when I worked for a major corporation, many of which wound up at White Elephant parties or Goodwill. These were often the “hot” gift for the holidays or an attempt to show a sense of humor. The worst violators: a Chia pet and a mounted, singing fish. Both were heavily advertised on TV and both were given in an ironic, isn’t this funny manner. Both also wound up at Goodwill. (I wasn’t going to inflict either on an unsuspecting coworker, even they were potentially funny White Elephant entries.)

 2. Avoid the gender stereotypes. I have had several clients and management chains that bought two separate types of gifts: one for men, the other for women. Example: one year males received a flashlight that opened up to reveal assorted screwdrivers, while women received a set of scented candles that reeked before they were even opened. Another year, men received a deluxe grilling set while women received… I honestly don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure you can find it at Goodwill. Another popular stereotype is the plant – specifically, the dreaded poinsettia. I have received these plants as my holiday gift (and one time in lieu of a holiday bonus!) countless times, and I’ve never once taken them home. Poinsettias are dangerous for animals, and with two house cats, they will never darken my house. Also, for some reason they always seem on the verge of death by the time they arrive at my desk, leaving lots of detritus that set off my allergies.

 3. Make it functional. Look around your car, your desk, even your purse – odds are you have a pen with the name of a service or store you patronized. While that store or service may not be at the top of your mind every day, the business owner is betting that you will be reminded the next time you do a crossword in pen or, perhaps, scribble a To Do list that contains the service she provides. That level of branding reinforcement is invaluable – but a pen is hardly a great holiday client gift. (Not the plastic ones, anyway.) We’re big fans of the branded bistro mug. They are larger than the average coffee cup, have a distinctive sensual shape and can be used on a daily basis. We’ve also given branded, reusable totes that can be kept in the car for regular trips to the grocery store. For added value, consider adding a personal note and a lovely edible treat that can be enjoyed right away!

You can find numerous vendors online that offer bistro mugs with your branding. Just remember to use BOTH sides of the mugs. As a lefty, I have looked at the blank side of a mug many, many times over the years. My mom, a fellow southpaw, once had the printing done on the opposite side, creating a “lefty” mug as a holiday gift for her client base that both amused and distinguished her company from other, similar gifts.

4. Quality counts. A gift that breaks after one trip through the dishwasher. Print that fades (or worse, smudges). Gifts that just smell “cheap.” These will not win clients or provide positive brand reinforcement. Find the best quality products within your budget.

 5. Unless you’re Oprah, don’t give “favorite” things. I once had a client present me with a lovely CD wallet and a collection of his 10 favorite CDs (all removed from their cases and inserted into the wallet). Each was personalized with a private story about why it was a favorite. One CD was included simply because it included the “first dance” song from his wedding reception! I kept the wallet (functional) and took the CDs to a Half-Price store. The music was not to my taste (I’m not a soft jazz fan) and I didn’t have the emotional connection to the music that he clearly felt. Worse, he asked me what I thought of the music a few months later during a meeting. I felt terrible, but also wanted to be honest with him. I admitted the music was not my taste, but thanked him again for the CD case. I got the “women’s gift,” a bright pink scarf, a few months later. I would have rather have gotten the men’s travel mug.

Finding the right client gift can be difficult, but by following these simple guidelines, your odds of success will go up. If all else fails, consider the client gift that anyone can appreciate:

6. Offer to make a donation in your client’s name to a charity. Choose 5 charities and allow your client to pick where to send the money, or if you happen to know someone is passionate about a cause (they do walk-a-thons, are on a board of directors, etc.) consider showing that you’ve been paying attention by proactively making a donation on their behalf.

Not only will you make an impression, you will truly be giving a gift that keeps on giving.

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