By Allison Rice

No comprehensive marketing strategy for your business can be complete without utilizing strategic gift giving. Nothing creates loyalty within your customer base more than a unique, thoughtful gift.

But corporate gifting can be tricky and has the potential to cause the very problems you are trying to avoid. An inappropriate gift, whether it be in cost or sentiment, can end a client relationship instead of strengthening it. Following a few basic guidelines can help you navigate the corporate gifting world and maximize your marketing strategy.

Rule #1: Be aware of giving guidelines

If you are giving a gift to someone at another company, check the company’s corporate gift policies. Some companies limit the price of gifts that you can give, and you don’t want to be in that awkward situation where the recipient has to return your gift. Ask the company’s Human Resources Department for the policy if you have any questions.

Rule #2: Know your clients/customers

Who is buying your product/using your service? Is it young professionals or retirees? Crafting a gift for maximum impact is entirely dependent on understanding what your clients value. The more you know about your customers, the more appropriate your gift will be.

Rule #3: Make it personal

This rule is a follow-up to the previous rule. If you have developed a personal relationship with a client, try to find a gift that is specific to them. It shows that you listen and that you care.

A great way to make your gift personal is to attach a handwritten note along with the gift. Never underestimate the power of a thoughtful note.

Rule #4: Don’t just give a gift at the holidays

During the holiday season people are inundated with gifts and the ones from businesses usually get tossed aside and forgotten. One way to make your gift standout is to give gifts at a different time of the year. Celebrating the anniversary of the start of your business is a great time to give a gift to all your customers. Set a goal for your business, advertise it, and when you reach that goal, celebrate with a thank you gift to your customers.

Rule #5: Think of different ways to give a gift

Gifts come in many different forms. If you have a good understanding of your client base, it might be more effective to have a party instead of giving a gift. Be careful though — you need to make sure that the kind of party you’re planning is the right fit for your clients. Don’t throw a party at a bar if your clients don’t drink. If your clients have families, consider throwing a family picnic at a park.

Rule #6: Don’t be cheap

Remember, your gift represents your business. Giving a cheap gift sends the wrong message and can backfire. It is important to budget for your gifts. Don’t sacrifice quality for price.

Rule #7: Respect cultural differences

Each culture has their own rules in gift giving so it is important that you are aware of these differences. For example, giving alcohol to people of the Muslim faith is a perfect example of not being aware of and respecting your customer’s culture and religion.

Rule #8: Be careful with humorous gifts

Giving a humorous gift can be risky. What is funny to you might not be funny to your client. Furthermore, your client might be offended by your attempt at humor. On the other hand, a witty gift that makes your client laugh out loud can help separate you from the crowd and make your gift unique. Before you give that funny gift, get advice from other people to make sure your gift hits the right note.

Corporate gifting is all about separating your business from the crowd and creating a personal relationship between you and your client. What other rules and guidelines do you have in giving gifts to clients?