The forgotten art of giving gifts to customers

Ross Hall

April 12, 2021
(Updated on June 17, 2021)

A selection of gift cards on a display

A couple of weeks ago I bought a car. Long story short, after hitting my head on the way out of a Suzuki Alto, I now own a Hustler. I’m happy with both it and the dealer who sold it to me.

After walking through all the safety features, how to turn the thing on, where the cup holders are and getting a new battery for the door remote, the general manager presented my wife with a bouquet. Though they’re starting to fade, they’re still holding on. Regular water changes and a prime spot in a south facing window are no doubt helping.

As we’ve put together our new lives in Japan, we’ve collected a few gifts from suppliers. None were expected and all are appreciated. They’ve varied from small packets of tissues to snacks to reusable water bottles. None of these have heavy branding. Instead we have a pleasing memory when they’re used that’s surely more powerful than a keyring with a supplier’s logo.

Connections > Branding

Yet it was more than “the things” that formed this connection. They weren’t shoved casually into a bag as an afterthought. They were handed to us as a deliberate gesture of thanks, one that prompted an acknowledgement. In the process it reinforced a sense we’d had a “good experience” and created a strong and positive memory.

Gift giving doesn’t work at every level. In retail it can be a nuisance and rob you of much needed profit margins. Too cheap, too expensive, not the right quality, the presentation to the customer. These are all factors that can turn a well-meaning gesture into a gimmick.

Ban branded pens and key-rings

There’s also a tension in Western marketing between a gift as a gesture and the desire to brand. I lost count of the number of branded pens, post-it notes and key-rings I’ve been given over the years. They accumulate in drawers and boxes until time comes to throw them away. Instead of creating a valued connection, they become a half-forgotten nuisance.

Rather than aim for cheap, brand-points scoring, I suggest thinking about the deeper connection a gift can bring. Offer something mundane yet useful. Avoid overt branding in favour of a focus on how you present the gift. Don’t cheapen it by hiding it in the customer’s back or leaving it unannounced in their packaging. Explicitly offer it in genuine thanks for their custom.

Gift giving seems to be an art the West has forgotten. As you look to build lasting, profitable relationships, maybe it’s time to bring it back.

I'm Ross, a digital editorial designer and content creator from the UK now living in Japan. I help growing companies plan, source, produce and promote a range of content. Find out more

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