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To Gift or not to Gift: A Marketers Guide to Navigating the Holiday Season

Why should my company give gifts?

The better question is, why not? You send direct mail, you post on social media, you write blogs- what compelling reason is there to not send a little token of your appreciation? Sure, budget is a factor, but a holiday favor doesn't have to break the bank. The important thing is to show that you are thinking about the person.

Aside from this, I believe there is a moral imperative to reach out during the holidays. Though largely associated with joy and festivities, a large number of Americans consider Christmas the saddest time of the year. During a time of such emotional turmoil, something as simple as a holiday card- even if it is from a company- could be just what someone needs to raise their spirits.

I thought that kind of thing was for friends, not for businesses?

People buy from the people they trust. Every brand should strive to nurture a legitimate, symbiotic relationship with their customers. If gift giving makes your business seem more like a friend, how could that possibly be a bad thing?

Couldn't it seem kind of inauthentic?

Short answer, yes, but it entirely depends on your strategy. If you send something covered with company branding, chances are it'll leave a bit of a sour taste in the receiver's mouth. The secret is to hint at an affiliation but not be too direct.

When sending out cards to my consulting clients or to Jackcrete residential customers, I don't put any company branding on the front of the envelope. On the back, I seal the envelope with a company stamp with the words "happy holidays!" around the outside. Inside the card is a handwritten paragraph wishing the person a great holiday. Yes, it's from a company. Yes, it's not entirely altruistic. To me, that doesn't matter- it's authentic, and I wholeheartedly believe that customers understand that.

So, whats an appropriate gift?

Thats going to differ from client to client. While a call or greeting card may suffice for some, others should be given something a bit pricier. Other clients shouldn't be given anything, and sometimes it could even be against the law to give a client a gift. Before making a decision, give it plenty of thought.

One-time Client, Small Quantity

Nothing big, nothing expensive. A simple handwritten card will do. Even if you don't expect them to need your services again, staying top-of-mind can help you secure more referrals and more positive reviews.

Repeat Client, Small Quantity

Let them know you appreciate the work without going overboard. A popcorn tin, pretzel set, or bag of artisan coffee will only set you back about $10-$15 and could help nurture the relationship well into the future.

Repeat Client, Large Quantity

They've done well by you, so you should do well by them. By no means should you break the bank, but a $25-$100 favor is peanuts for a high lifetime value client. Remember all that effort you put into networking? Get them a gift that shows you've been listening and you care about them as a person. A shirt/jersey of their favorite athlete or sports team, gift certificate to their favorite restaurant, or pass to their favorite hobby (skeet shooting range, golf club, etc.) are all good examples. This should be delivered in person, along with a thank you for their business and a wish for a great holiday season.

Government Client

Above all else, be careful and learn the law governing what you can and can't do.

Would anybody disagree?

Of course! According to John Rulin, the holidays (November-January) are the worst time of year for business gift giving. Instead, he recommends, wait until a less celebrated holiday and be more creative with the gift. St. Patrick's Day, Valentines Day, or any of the millions of less-known national holidays make a better option.

While I agree that there are other times of year with less competition, the opportunity to connect in the winter months should not be missed. If your business is on a tight budget and can't afford to give favors multiple times per year, perhaps consider a gift during another time of the year and a simple handwritten note around the holidays. After all, is there ever a reason not to spread a bit of Christmas cheer?

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