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Giving Great Business Gifts

By Joshua Rhett Miller

Thank-you gifts can be as typical or elaborate as you choose. The real key, however, is to try to make them as memorable as possible. That may sound like an oversimplification, but never underestimate how effective a creative thank-you gift can be.

If you're in business, chances are you've sent out a thank-you gift to your customers at some point. Maybe it was just a "little something" to let them know you were thinking of them, or perhaps you sent some holiday cheer in the form of a personalized gift basket, popcorn tin, engraved writing instrument or such. The promotional possibilities are endless.

However, it's important to remember that whatever you send and whenever you send it is an expression of your company that can stay around a recipient's office or home indefinitely. It's a crucial decision, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Business bonds are often strengthened by a personal expression of thanks. That's why it's vital to never overlook the importance of thank-you gifts. Send something bland and chances are your client will place it deep into a seldom-used drawer or, worse, toss it. So think it through and give a creative, thoughtful gift and your name will be fondly associated with it for months and years to come.

Wish I Had a Wish List
When does gift-giving get tricky? Almost immediately; seconds after you decide to send something at all - unless, of course, you send the same thing year after year.

"Thank-you gifts have to have a reflection of what you do and where your strong points are," says counselor Paula Grundleger. "And it's got to speak to your image. You can't just send any old gift. It has to have a high perceived value, speak to whatever point you're trying to make and be imprinted."

But although Grundleger feels gift selection is a high priority, she believes how it's given can matter even more. "Presentation is key," she says. "You can take a very inexpensive item and, through packaging, raise the perceived value 10- or 20-fold. It takes an everyday item and turns it into a gift - always spring for upgraded packaging as well." Whatever you decide, Grundleger says, thinking outside the box is vital. "You have to be creative," she says. "Not only is this a business gift, it's a vehicle of communicating your message to your client - which is to utilize your services."

'Tis Better to Give…
Let's face it. Business can sometimes be cold, devoid of truly personal relationships or feelings. Whether you believe it or not, thank-you gifts - even yours - can go unnoticed, or worse, unappreciated. So if you haven't received any heartfelt gratitude from your business gifts, keep in mind it does happen. Just ask counselor Bill Peck, who created a gift for clients out of something he initially gave them himself.

"A couple years back," he recalls, "something was delivered to me in a crate and I thought, 'Hey, I could use that.' So I decorated it, filled it with candy and a few of our coffee mugs, and when I brought it to the client they were flabbergasted. They were really impressed by it and even made room to put it in the center of a table, which I thought was really neat. When other people would come by, they would see that sticking out among all the other gifts."

Peck also received a surprising thank-you call: "I got a call from the entire staff on the speakerphone because of the gift I sent them. So the message definitely gets across that you care, that you're thinking of them, that they must be an important customer." He has since developed the same crate idea for several of his clients.

Peck suggests the giver always consider the people or business when selecting a gift. For example, a few years ago, a cleaning service was sent a giant wash bucket stuffed with various imprinted items related to cleaning such as squeegees, soap, brushes and much more. Another firm, a laundromat, received flashlights. "Since it does all kinds of cleaning and the people are out all night long, I thought of flashlights for them, which were really well accepted," says Peck. "It was just an inexpensive flashlight with a logo on it, but they loved it."

The Cash Equation
Especially in today's economy, what thank-you gifts cost - the ever-present bottom line - is invariably a key factor when spreading thanks. Questions like "Is that enough?" or "Is that too much?" always seem to hover regardless of the giver or receiver. Rest assured you're not alone; most firms have the same hurdles to clear.

"When you send corporate gifts, it's very tough," says promotional consultant Lee Asemota. "You have to be careful what you present. It's all about quality. That's how they'll remember you. If you give someone a cheap gift, they might think you're cheap. But if it's good, someone else might give a compliment and ask where they got it"

Great Gift Ideas
As your counselor will tell you, the best thank-you gift ideas can often stem from other successful campaigns that have already proven cost-effective, efficient, and eye-catching. After all, isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Remember, too, that a thank-you gift can be for a highly specific reason, or for no reason at all other than to express thanks.

Consider Exodus, an event-planning firm. For those who took part in a corporate golf tournament it sponsored, its marketing department developed the idea to take pictures of the participants and send them out in imprinted frames. Since Exodus' clientele is predominately professional football players and their management, the frames needed to scream high value. The answer was a logoed brushed-aluminum frame that cost under $10.

A phonecard producer used a camping theme. It mailed out black blankets with a magenta, yellow, and white logo; small artificial pine branches; pine cones; and a box of ready-made s'mores candy. "It was a way to say thank you, kind of bring them back to either their childhood or good memories that they had," says a company spokesperson.

Macy's West, the Pacific arm of the department store chain, wanted to thank its customers during the holiday season a few years ago. "We wanted to come up with something that would reward people who shopped at Macy's - something they wouldn't be able to buy," says counselor Steve Stewart. Eventually, eight local hotels teamed up and placed ads in the San Francisco Examiner and Los Angeles Times that touted special weekend rates and a coupon for 10% to 20% off various items at Macy's. The ads also informed Macy's shoppers that those spending more than $250 would receive a special thank-you gift - a silver-plated key tag with a steel cable loop. The gift was an instant hit.

Still not sure what to send your clients? Here are a few suggestions, courtesy of some counselors:
  • Popcorn. Alone, maybe popcorn tins don't evoke huge piles of creativity, but when coupled with other items, people appreciate it. "Popcorn tins really catch the eye," says Peck, who suggests, as an example, stuffing a tin in a tote bag filled with golf towels and plenty of tees. "It's eye-popping and under $50," he says.

  • Everyday items are usually a good way to help ensure effective, long-lasting exposure to advertising. Consider a product your clients will use two or three times a week - or even daily. Forego easy options. Rather, be unique with products like silver- or gold-plated checkbook covers.

  • Gift baskets certainly work. But remember, you're trying to think outside the box. If baskets are your preference, consider filling them with other types of goodies. Coffee, for example. Woven baskets filled with an assortment of coffees, cappuccinos and cocoas can definitely help Mondays go a little smoother.

  • Wellness programs are hot right now, so go with the flow. Gift packages filled with herbal teas, magnetic bracelets, colloidal silver, zinc lozenges, etc., send a clear message: Be well and stay well.

  • Candles. Almost everyone burns candles from time to time, so think about high-end vanilla, pine, hazelnut, cinnamon or other subtly-scented candles. Add some classy candleholders/sticks (wrought iron, crystal, pottery, wood) and you've got a very nice thank-you kit.

  • Books. For many busy professionals, digging into a good book is an excellent way to unwind after a grueling 10-hour day. While it's almost impossible to keep up with everyone's reading tastes, you might consider picking up a relatively innocuous best-seller and presenting it with a pair of attractive bookends - stone gargoyles, miniature globes, polished rocks, shaped metal, etc.

  • Serenity. Far Eastern culture has been around for centuries, but only recently has it begun to catch on in corporate America - particularly those techniques designed to enhance calmness and inner peace. Try gifts like relaxation fountains, Asian-themed ceramic plates and vases, sand gardens, wind chimes and bonsai plants. The bonus: They all have a high-perceived value.

  • The Net. With so many people using the Web each day, consider PC-related merchandise - but geared for home rather than office use. Good examples include silk wrist rests, cordless infrared mice, ergonomic keyboards, leather mousepads, hands-free phone receivers and more.
Creativity Still Wins
Whether you throw flashlights or footballs at your clients, be sure the gift fits the recipient, portrays at least a modicum of thought and gets your ad message across.

Creativity should reign supreme, of course. Counselor Mark Onesti says: "Don't send them something they deal with every day. You want to send 'em something a bit different."

Midwest counselor Travis Stewart adds, "You're typically going to get a lot of business solely on what you're perceived as." He explains: If a thank-you gift doesn't seem like you put any real insight or caring into it, there's almost no point in giving it.

In today's "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?" marketplace, that should be incentive enough.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Joshua Rhett Miller is assistant editor of Imprint

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