According to numerous surveys, most business gifts are given to major clients. After that comes employees, then prospective clients. Reasons for corporate gifts giving range from thanking long-standing customers for their business to recognizing a valued employee for working on a weekend. The basic reason is the same: to affirm relationships and enhance the personal connection between giver and recipient.
Corporate Gifts differ from incentives in that they’re offered with no explicit preconditions for performance. They differ from ad specialties in that they don’t contain any blatant imprints or advertising. They differ from recognition in that they’re not part of prescribed programs.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no bottom-line benefit to be derived from corporate gift giving. For some companies, it’s an essential part of their marketing strategy. And just about everyone agrees that, done correctly, gift giving is a cost-effective way to build a sense of partnership with valued associates.
Gifts Vs. Incentives
To recognize what an effective corporate gifts strategy is, it helps to understand what it isn’t. Start by making the distinction
between corporate gifts and incentive programs. Though corporate gifts and incentive awards often involve similar types of recipients, they differ on both a strategic and practical level. Incentives are awards for achieving defined levels of activity, such as sales quotas, safety improvements, or good attendance. In contrast, corporate gifts are more or less spontaneous, not given as part of any defined arrangement between giver and recipient. The gift recipient doesn’t consciously set goals in anticipation of a reward, whereas the incentive recipient does.
It’s tempting to view corporate gifts and incentive programs in the same light. After all, you want to know that you’re getting your money’s worth from any business investment, and most givers want to motivate the recipient in one way or another. But be careful: Leaving customers or employees with the impression that they’re being bribed can do more harm than good. Instead, look at gift giving as a subtle, long-term process of relationship-building, following the basic guidelines described in this article so that they remain within tasteful and ethical bounds.
The Ethics of Giving
Before giving any corporate gifts, you should know if either the giving or receiving company has policies regarding gifts. Some companies – particularly those in the financial services, insurance, retail and medical fields – bar all corporate gifts. More commonplace are restrictions that are placed on the value of a gift or on situations in which gifts may be given. Ask the potential recipient if his or her company publishes an ethics handbook or has any policy on receiving gifts. If so, then follow it to the letter. A few more words of advice:
- Giving corporate gifts during a bidding process is a definite
- no-no, even if a holiday happens to fall during this time.
- Lavish gifts, such as cars and luxury vacations, are suspect and should be used only after careful consideration. These have become especially dangerous in this era dominated by Sarbanes-Oxley legislation requiring new levels of financial disclosure and justification for any type of expenses at most publicly-traded companies.
- Remember that the IRS now lets companies deduct a business gift valued at up to $75; for many companies this has become a useful benchmark when justifying their budgets for gifts.
- Even when there isn’t a stated restriction, be careful not to create the wrong impression with a gift. Anything that might embarrass your recipient or lead to a reprimand can sabotage a valuable relationship.
The Etiquette of Giving
Even when not committing egregious errors that may get someone fired, be sure to use finesse if you want to get the most out of your gift program. There is an art to effective giving corporate gifts, so consider the following major issues before you go shopping:
Appropriateness. Care should be taken that the corporate gifts are appropriate to the business relationship. This has less to do with the dollar value of business transacted, or even the amount of time one has been doing business with the recipient, than with the closeness of the relationship. If a client seems aloof and excessively businesslike, don’t try to loosen him or her up with baubles. It can backfire. With a new relationship, don’t get too personal or too lavish with the gift. Frequency of giving generally should be restricted to major holidays and special occasions. Again, be sure to avoid the impression that you’re bribing the recipient.
Personality. It’s great when a corporate gift has personality, but the real issue is whether the gift reflects the personality and interests of the recipient. Is she a sports car nut? Does he have an obsessive relationship with his sailboat? What’s her favorite color? Try to find out these kinds of things discreetly, because when you do (and your gift reflects it), the impression is that you care about the person and have taken the time to understand their style and taste.
Timing. The most popular times for giving corporate gifts, of course, are holidays. But the true champions of corporate gift giving know that other times of the year can have a more profound personal impact on the relationship. For instance, birthday gifts are bound to impress, since they show that you’ve bothered to learn a thing or two about the recipient. Important dates, such as the anniversary of a new job or the day you initiated a business relationship, may be good occasions for a gift. You can also mark such events as a promotion, the birth of a child, or completion of an important project. Whether you stick to established holidays and impersonal occasions or get into the personal life of the recipient depends on the nature of the relationship. It may seem slightly presumptuous, or even intrusive, to choose the wrong occasion for a corporate gift.
Presentation. The best gifts are heart-felt and show it. Special care should be taken in preparing the gift. Invest in some nice wrapping paper, and take the time to compose a personal, handwritten card. This can be as important as the gift itself, since your message to the recipient conveys your intentions and sincerity. Then there’s the issue of whether to mail it or present it in person. Mailing can reduce any feelings of obligation on the part of the recipient, and it can provide some unexpected pleasure in a routine work day. If the relationship warrants it, mailing to the person’s home may add a personal touch, particularly when the gift commemorates a personal occasion like a birthday.
Customizing. To logo or not to logo, that is a key question. For many businesses, customized corporate gifts keep the company name in the minds of recipients. When the item is a practical one that’s likely to be used every day – such as a calendar, coffee mug, or tote bag – this amounts to free daily advertising. But there’s a tackiness quotient to consider. These items may make great trade show premiums or leave-behinds, but customized items could never be considered personal, deeply heartfelt gifts. In general, avoid obvious self-promotion when giving expensive gifts or any time you want to leave the impression that the gift is coming personally from you.
What to Give
There are thousands of corporate gift possibilities – far too many to describe here – but let’s look at the pros and cons of some favorites:
- Food items are very popular as corporate gifts. They tie in well to many holidays and can be taken home and enjoyed with friends and family. But sometimes gourmet baskets take on a generic aspect. Many of them get no farther than the receptionist, to be picked apart by various office personnel passing through. If you want to win hearts and minds through the stomach, you must be creative and thoughtful. It’s all very well to consider giving those tender mail-order filet mignons; just make sure your recipient isn’t a vegetarian.
- Liquor and wine are old favorites, but hard liquor has lost some of its popularity. Despite the stigma associated with liquor in the business world, however, it’s essential to keep things in perspective. After all, if your client’s pride and joy is his wine cellar or his whiskey collection, what better gift than a fine cabernet or a single malt? Also in the sin department: cigars. A box of the right stogies can make you look impressive in the eyes of a cigar aficionado.
- Office-related items, such as pen sets and desk blotters, are safe bets that reflect practicality and good taste. Be careful, though: A good fountain pen is quite expensive, and a cheap one is tacky. Use caution when considering art prints and other decorative items because taste in office decor is a personal and, for many, strategic consideration.
- Tickets to sporting events and live entertainment often make great gifts. Scarce seats for popular shows and events provide a thrill and can make you a hero in the eyes of a client. Still, you should be sure of your client’s preferences. Just because he mumbles a response when you say, “How ‘bout them Sprinkboks!” don’t automatically assume he wants to sit through an afternoon at Wanderers Stadium. Apart from that, anyone in the financial services or medical professions should be aware of a growing number of government and industry-governed regulations and policies aimed to curtail lavish entertainment.
- Gift cards have much appeal if you want to take much of the guesswork out of giving. They’re available from a wide variety of companies, they offer the recipient freedom of choice and they can be given to all types of people. The only problem is that the dollar amount is printed on the face, which, for some people, detracts from the feeling that this is a gift with some thought behind it.
- Think hard before you buy, because corporate gifts represents the ultimate target-marketing and relationship-building strategy. Every gift idea has a potential downside, and just because you like something doesn’t mean your recipient will. If ethics or other issues bar you from giving a material gift, consider making a donation to the recipient’s favorite cause.
- Word of warning: Cash is a no-no as corporate gifts, period. It’s uncreative, raises ethical questions and looks like a bribe, no matter what.
Where to Buy
There are about as many places to shop for corporate gifts as there are gift choices. Much depends on what types of services you need and how many gifts you plan to buy. Do you need customization? Drop-shipping to recipients? Personalized packaging with letters inserted? Tracking reports? Is an online component desired? If so, work with a company that regularly performs these services.
- KTF Africa provide a good starting point for the small-scale corporate gifts, but be careful if you’re buying in bulk and need some of the services mentioned above. Many retail gift services aren’t designed for the corporate market.If you hate to shop but still want to give interesting things, shop at KTF Africa. Corporate gifts are specifically tailored to corporates, branding and logos are affordable and they have a know-how regarding the companies they service
- KTF Africa Incentive representatives. If your company operates large corporate gifts and incentive programs, it can buy brand-name items through incentive representatives of leading manufacturers in the business market. These representatives can offer high-volume customers lower prices and help them arrange for fulfillment. KTF Africa is one such representative, offering corporate gifts through South Africas biggest representative manufacturers, namely, Barron and Amrod.
- KTF Africa products distributors. Don’t let the name fool you. The company can provide a selection of corporate gifts for even the smallest customer. You may pay a little more than if you attempted to buy directly from a brand-name supplier, but a good distributor can provide turnkey services that take most of the headaches out of your program.
- KTF Africa Online store. The Internet makes it easy to send out customised corporate gifts and vouchers and online certificates. Online merchants let you send out e-mail gift certificates to recipients that they can redeem on their own. If your objective is to make a heartfelt expression, beware of any corporate gifts that smells of marketing.