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two pairs of hands, one transparent, handing gifts forward against a yellow background

6 Ways Marketers Can Win High-Value Attention with Gifts

Hal Conick

two pairs of hands, one transparent, handing gifts forward against a yellow background

Most customers don’t like the gifts they receive from businesses, but a well-given offering can help marketers win the battle for attention

When TimeTrade wanted to win over a new client, it sent gifts. The appointment-scheduling software company sent golf balls to the target company’s sales operation team and a putting mat to the sales leader. TimeTrade told the potential client that if they accepted a call, they’d receive a Callaway putter to complete the in-office golf set.

“That was a creative campaign,” says Daniel Gaugler, CMO of PFL, a marketing and printing company that specializes in tactile marketing—which others might simply call gift-giving. “It allowed them to get all the decision-makers that they want on that initial call to understand the whole problem. … They saw a 20[-time] return on their investment on that program, which slayed anything they were doing previously.”

People typically think of promotional gifts as swag bags, T-shirts or promotional stress balls handed out at trade shows. But Gaugler says that a well-timed gift to a potential client—particularly in B2B marketing or high-value sales—can nudge companies into doing business with you. At the very least, it goads the company into briefly paying attention to the gift-giver.

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In one campaign led by PFL, a company sent a potential client’s executive decision-maker an autographed football from former NFL quarterback Steve Young. The rest of the decision-maker’s team received replicas of that football. PFL says that its client saw a 15-time increase in ROI compared with its usual campaign.

Jignesh Shah, CEO of digital gifting company Rybbon, says that gifting works because it helps companies win the battle for attention, which he believes is half the battle in marketing. Gaugler agrees: The value of gifting isn’t the gift, it’s using a different channel than usual to capture attention. Where Shah differs is the medium—he believes that a well-timed gift sent via email can make people pay attention.

“There’s always two or three messages in my inbox on some webinar,” Shah says. “If there’s a coffee or gift attached, that makes me stop and pay attention.”

Companies won’t do business with you simply because you bought them something­—regardless of how useful or fancy it is.

But the problem with corporate gifts is that the recipient often wants something completely different. Alyce, an AI-powered gifting service, released a survey on corporate gifting in 2016 and found that 88% of people would trade in a corporate gift for something else. And while 70% of people said that thoughtful, uniquely selected gifts would encourage them to do business with a company, 11% said that the traditional promotional items might dissuade them.

Here are six tips for companies looking to send gifts and win high-value attention from potential clients.

blue wrapped gift

1. Combine Physical Gifts with Digital Tracking

Both Shah and Gaugler’s companies tie their services to CRM programs, as does most every corporate gifting company. Gaugler says tying a gifting campaign to CRM allows companies to see when the gift was sent, when it was received and what happened after the client received it. They can then tie the physical act of sending a gift to digital marketing. Marketers can track the success of what is essentially a direct-mail campaign through a digital dashboard.

Shah says that his company’s gift-sending process is entirely automated. For example, if a company wants to send out a survey, it automates sending a digital gift certificate to people who completed the survey. As soon as survey-takers are finished, they receive their gift card and the surveyor’s CRM system tracks that the survey had been completed. These tracking systems also let the company know when someone hasn’t taken a gift, Shah says, which is important—15–20% of digital gifts are never claimed. These unclaimed gifts can be reclaimed in his company’s system, Shah says.

blue wrapped gift

2. Make Your Value Proposition Clear

Don’t make your gifts too cute, Gaugler says. Potential customers shouldn’t have to connect the dots when they receive a gift. Instead, the message must be clear and direct, the value proposition easily understood. The benefit of gifts is creating a moment of attention and selling clients on doing business with you—not forcing them to complete a puzzle.

“The gift can be a hook that’s going to provide a connection,” Gaugler says. “It gives you a little bit of incentive—the putter to do the call. But more importantly, the company sending this gift delivers their value proposition [when they send the gift].”

blue wrapped gift

3. Avoid Overspending on Gifts

In creating a moment for potential clients to understand your value, remember that the value isn’t in the gift itself. Companies won’t do business with you simply because you bought them something—regardless of how useful or fancy it is—so there’s little reason to spend a large portion of your marketing budget on gifts.

Gaugler has seen expensive mistakes, such as sending Google Homes to cold prospects or sending items to people who no longer work at the target company. The gift’s purpose is less about its monetary value and more about the value of your proposition.

“We see a lot of people who want to send a name brand,” Gaugler says, noting that many companies want to send prospective clients YETI mugs, which can be expensive. “But a mug that is almost the same and costs a fraction of the price can improve your return on investment.”

Instead, Gaugler suggests spending enough to make your target stop and take a moment to briefly consider how your company might solve one of their problems.

blue wrapped gift

4. Give People a Choice

Shah says that a benefit of digital gifts is choice. Rather than sending an unwanted physical gift to offices, he says that giving digital gifts allows people to choose what they want. Do they want a Starbucks gift card or one from Target? Would they prefer to donate their gift card to charity? Shah says that these small choices allow the gift to be more engaging and suited to the recipient.

blue wrapped gift

5. Match Gifts to Your Sales Funnel

Gaugler says that high in the funnel, companies tend to stick with less expensive gifts or high-value marketing collateral. The number of people to whom they send these will be greater, the success rate lower. Sending out Google Homes at this stage would likely be a money pit.

As potential customers move down the sales funnel, Gaugler says that companies will send higher-value items to ensure executive and organizational buy-in. This would be akin to TimeTrade sending golf balls to the sales team and leader. Often, a personalized message is included in this stage, letting the new gift recipient know that you’ve been speaking with others on their team, then informing the latest recipients of your value proposition. Gaugler says that this brings more people into the sales cycle, accelerating the deal. This stage is akin to a political candidate stumping for votes.

Toward the bottom of the funnel, Gaugler says that it becomes important to get more buy-in across the company, to turn the tide of opinion in your favor. Proofpoint, a PFL client, sent its clients a kit that included a pen, journal and nameplate. Gaugler says that other people at the company saw the personalized gear and asked how they could get their own.

After a sale is completed, Gaugler says gifts can be used as a way to say “thank you”—this may be where higher-value gifts work well—and an opportunity to celebrate milestones. Done well, this stage can help foster a stronger relationship.

blue wrapped gift

6. Know Your Audience

Golf balls and a putter are easy and inoffensive, Gaugler says; very few will be upset by TimeTrade’s gifts. But sending beef jerky to a vegetarian—a mistake Gaugler has seen—is never a good idea.

“If you do miss,” Gaugler says, “you actually take away from—rather than add to—the conversation.”

Hal Conick is a freelance writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at halconick@gmail.com or on Twitter at @HalConick.