Let’s talk about the ubiquitous “corporate gift.” You know, “swag bags” at conferences, freebies at sporting events, or personalized return address labels accompanied by a donation request form (anyone else get those?). Whatever it is, most of us can agree that some corporate gifts are really nice, some are just ok, and some (sorry) are useless.
So, if you’re the “giver” of a corporate gift, how do you stand out above the rest? How do you give a gift that someone doesn’t immediately throw in the trash or the “take to thrift store” pile? As the person responsible for selecting, designing, and coordinating Foster Made’s gift giving endeavors, I’ve thought a lot about this subject. We’ve had a long standing tradition as a company of giving gifts—to clients, industry peers, conference attendees, each other, family, friends, and so on. And we don’t just like to give gifts, we like to give good gifts. For us, details matter. From our first client interactions, to our user experience research and custom development work, to the emails we write and the gifts we give.
Without further ado, here are 10 tips to consider to give an awesome corporate gift.
What’s something unique about your company that is fun to share with others? It could reflect the work that you do or the culture of the people who do the work. In the development world, “casual Friday” is, generally speaking, an everyday affair. Or lack of affair, ie. it’s the norm. The ability to wear shorts and a t-shirt to work is a part of our culture.
One of our gifts from the beginning of Foster Made time (including before we rebranded and became Foster Made) has been branded t-shirts. It’s not an unusual or unique gift by any means, but it’s meaningful to us because it’s a part of our company culture that we share with others. And each other. We joke that we supply 50% of the wardrobes of some of the Foster Made team.
Be aware of your own bias about what you think is “cool” and how it might be exclusive to some audiences. This can be the flip side of sharing your culture. In our case, I recognize t-shirts aren’t necessarily for everyone. We had one client decline a tee because he doesn’t wear them. But we do still try to consider the nuances of a diverse audience.
When I first started working at Foster Made in 2013, our t-shirts were of the Hanes Beefy T variety. As a 5’1” woman, this wasn’t very appealing to me. I advocated for softer tees and v-neck options while also receiving input from co-workers who advised that the shirts should not be too lightweight to be uncomfortably thin. Over time we also started to get “Lady Coder” shirts printed to specifically recognize women in technology. Then came the “Kid Coder” shirts for the little ones.
What’s a gift without the wrapping? Ok, it’s still a gift, but don’t underestimate the impact of presentation. Think about the experience someone will have receiving your gift. A nice box, tissue paper, a handwritten note... attention to detail and how it contributes to the overall package can turn really nice into “wow."
When we rebranded and officially became Foster Made, we used it as an opportunity to create the ultimate care package as one way to introduce the new brand. We thought about the experience of someone opening the box, first encountering multilayered inserts that told a story and extended an invitation to collaborate, and the contents underneath were tools to inspire: journals, pencils, coffee, a mug. I’m sure not every recipient thought that deeply into it, and maybe it’s cheesy, but it was some nice stuff and looked great all put together.
Getting others in the company involved in the gift giving process makes it more of a collective effort. You can make an event of it that’s fun and provides opportunities to bond. You can ask for an opinion when you’re looking at options or encourage someone who’s worked directly with the gift recipient to write a handwritten note to accompany the gift.
We recently partnered with Lamplighter Coffee Roasters in Richmond to create a custom Foster Made blend. It was a group effort—we had a team outing at the coffee shop for a tasting, and Lamplighter created our blend based on the feedback we gave them. Another time we created an event around gift giving was when we put together our brand announcement boxes to send out all at once. It wound up being somewhat of a team building exercise, now that I think of it. We took a break from work, chatted and laughed while we packed gifts, and even problem solved for the sake of efficiency.
This kind of goes along with being inclusive. It’s ok to ask someone if they want or are able to receive a gift. If you send food treats, ask if there are any allergies or dietary restrictions. When it comes to apparel, don’t assume or estimate size. While you lose the element of surprise, asking a gift recipient questions upfront can save you from having to fill in the gaps and avoiding misinterpretation.
I always ask someone their preferred t-shirt size in advance. And I generally ask for preferred mailing addresses to avoid returned deliveries. Although I keep a gift log with addresses and sizes, I recently decided it was best to ask for someone’s size again two years later. Weights fluctuate up and down for different reasons, and I’d rather not unintentionally make light of something potentially sensitive. Giving and receiving gifts should bring joy.
Support local businesses and rep your city or state by sending “homegrown” products. This can be cool for people who live far away as well as people in your region, a celebration of a certain type of camaraderie if you will. One client we’ve worked with for years, Southern Environmental Law Center, sent us stationary with stunning nature photos across the US South, which is fitting because SELC’s mission is to use the power of the law to protect and preserve the South’s environment (so this gift also applies to sharing work culture).
As I mentioned earlier, our Foster Made coffee blend is roasted here in Richmond. We send it out to people all over the country and also gave some away as a favor at our last open house, which local Richmonders appreciated. Our printed materials and t-shirts are screen printed locally by Triple Stamp Press. As much as we can, we try to support local businesses and represent our Richmond pride.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s ok to give a gift that’s “been done before.” It can actually be an opportunity to stand out if you do it better. We’ve all received pens and mugs, but if your pen or mug is nice, people will notice. If you’re not sure what makes one pen or mug nicer than another, ask someone who’s maybe a little more particular about their preferences and you know and trust to have objectively good taste. And if you don't have time or energy to scout out quality products, fortunately there are companies out there now who've done the hard work of curating an assortment of high-quality gifts that can be branded, such as Clove & Twine (who claims to be "turning the 'cheap swag' model on its head").
We’ve found that people do actually notice and comment about the quality of the t-shirts we send out. We care about quality because we believe it’s a reflection of our company and work. When choosing vendors, we choose businesses who are as passionate about their craft as we are about ours. When looking into writing implement options to add to our brand box, we eventually selected custom pencils from CW Pencil Enterprise, an up-and-coming leader in the pencil industry (who knew?) committed to quality.
I realize this is a little contradictory after my last point being you don’t have to always be original. It’s also hard to really quantify or instruct how to do this, because it requires a little creativity and well… thinking outside the box. An idea might come to you as a spark of inspiration when you least expect it. An “aha moment.”
This example is really what inspired me to write this entire blog post. We recently sponsored an industry conference (EE CONF), and as a sponsor, we coordinated a matching game for conference goers to enter to win an iPad Pro. Each attendee received a card, they would have to find someone else with a matching card, and the two would enter their information into a page we created on our website. While it generated a buzz and traffic to our site, I particularly like the concept because it encouraged individuals to meet other people at the conference they might not have met otherwise.
Do try to refrain from slapping your huge logo or company name in big letters across whatever the item is, unless you have a good reason or a large base of customers with brand loyalty. I’m not saying to never put your logo on anything. Just saying, be tasteful. e-CorporateGifts.com suggests, “If you have selected an item that makes a lasting impression, there is no need to put your logo on the gift, they will remember you by the gift itself."
There are many cases—mugs, shirts, journals—where we’ve used just our mark instead of the full logo. The mark portion of our logo happens to look nice as a standalone design element. It can also be a conversation piece. Sometimes people ask me what the symbol on my shirt is when I wear my Foster Made t-shirt. Another consideration is to give a client a gift with their logo on it. For one special occasion we gave a client laser engraved coasters with their logo.
Last but not least, I’m going to give a shout out to my friend, the environment (hey!). I’m no expert when it comes to environmental impact, so I won’t go there, but for the purposes of this blog post, I’m considering it from more of a psychological perspective. I’m not sure about you, but I get an icky, conflicted feeling when I want to throw something away while shushing my subconscious that wonders if it’s bad for the environment or will break down in a landfill.
In gift giving, I don’t want to put that burden on others. Besides that, it could also prompt a negative association with your brand. This is where quality (I’ll say over quantity this time) and consideration come into play. When in doubt, something consumable, like food, or recyclable after it’s served its purpose are great options. This is another reason I love the card matching card game. A small piece of cardstock became a puzzle piece to a one time game that you could recycle afterwards. And the real prize, an iPad, was something you definitely wanted (as I write that I also want to say let’s postpone any electronic recycling debates).
If you’re an article skimmer, I just want to clarify I’m not suggesting your gifts hit all 10 considerations. Again, “think quality over originality” and “think outside the box” are rather contradictory (but if you do manage to do both, let me know because that’s impressive).
I also know we can’t always get it right. Gifts are still subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You can send an awesome mug without knowing the recipient has a ton already and thinks, “ugh, another mug.” Or you might send a journal to someone who prefers to keep notes 100% digital. I would say c’est la vie, but I’m Italian, so I’ll say que sera, sera (whatever will be, will be). And to throw one final cliché your way: it’s the thought that counts.