Will They Be Talking About That Employee Gift Next Week? How Corporate Gifting Is Evolving

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May 4, 2016

You’ve stayed late. You’ve come in early. You’ve eaten many, many lunches at your desk, all in  hard work to push the company forward. And today, you’ve reached a milestone–it’s your first year work anniversary. Feels good.

Your boss congratulates you and she hands you a gift. You dig through the tissue paper slowly, and grasp the item at the bottom. You pull it out and–oh. It’s an umbrella with the company’s logo. One to add to the collection, you think.

Many companies fall short when it comes to corporate gifting, failing to give their clients and employees products that excite and make lasting impressions. So if a company’s intention is to show gratitude and keep itself top of mind, their methods may not be working. What would work, then? We argue experience-based gifts. These have a greater potential to build deeper relationships between companies and their employees or clients, as they create memories unlikely to be forgotten.

Look how much you spend

Companies tend to spend quite a bit of money on gifts, in hopes of strengthening the relationship between themselves, and their employees or clients. The gifts are also a way to show gratitude. This certainly benefits companies, as 86% of employees say they are motivated to work harder when recognized in their jobs.

According to the Advertising Specialty Institute annual gift giving report, companies planned to spend an average of $48 on each client during the 2015 holiday season. That’s up 9% from 2014. Companies also planned to gift something worth $44 to employees, up from 16% in 2014. One quarter of companies said they would spend significantly more — $100 on each employee gift.

According to the report, companies mostly give food, beverages, calendars and labelled office accessories to clients. Employees mostly get cash, gift cards, or apparel. 46% of companies said they’d give out products sporting a company logo to both staff and clients.

But are these gifts that people really want? Would receiving a calendar, for example, make someone feel excited or make a lasting impact? Probably not. Researchers from San Francisco State University found that post-purchase, people think life experiences would bring them more happiness than material items. These days, what consumers want are experience-based gifts.

Experiences over products

It’s a shift that’s happened in all industries over the decades — consumers now desire experiences over products — and corporate gifting should follow suit.

The experience economy was first described in 1998 in the Harvard Business Review article, “Welcome to the Experience Economy.” The authors argue that whereas people once saw huge value in interacting with products and services, the economy has changed so that consumers see more value in experiences and creating memories. Consumers now want to feel emotion from a product, and will pay for the feeling a company provides, they say.

Spa massageLet’s take a look at how getting a massage, for example, has changed to become more experience-driven. Whereas in a product-driven economy a consumer would have been happy to receive an electric massager as a gift, and in service-driven economy consumers would have been happy to have been given a simple massage certificate, an experience-driven economy means consumers expect a lot more.

Imagine this: You receive a personalized invitation to a spa. When you arrive, someone greets you by name and shows you to a private room. You’re offered warm green tea and sit in the room, relaxing by yourself for a few minutes and listening to the soft music. The masseuse arrives, and the massage begins. This type of experience allows one to interact with a brand or situation and participate in a service they’re unlikely to forget. It’s something that an electric massager, or a massage in a fluorescent lit clinic, cannot provide.

Corporate gifting needs to move beyond non-personalized products and service to focus on gifting experiences. These could be tickets to a concert, a club membership or a trip to the zoo for the family. These are things employees and clients won’t just stash in their closets. Ideally, they’ll see more value in them because they’ve created memories.

The ROI value of experience

According to Antonio Damasio, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, emotions impact all our decisions. When we’re confronted with a choice, emotions from previous experiences come into play to create preference, which leads to the decisions we make — including purchasing decisions. We buy based off an emotion a brand creates.

Norwegian Cruise LinesHere’s an example from Norwegian Cruise Line: Users spent more time on Norwegian Cruise Line’s website because they perceive the brand to be “entertaining,” “appealing,” and “family-oriented,” according to a Key Lime Interactive study. The positive emotional experience creates customer loyalty, says the report, which named Norwegian Cruise Line best in class for its web experience.

Corporate gifts can show gratitude and build relationships; if included with a service, they can increase referrals by 500%. However when a gift lacks imagination and signifies little effort, people may walk away feeling disappointed — even if a company has spent hundreds of dollars. Experience-based gifts, on the other hand, have a bigger impact. The gifts draw an emotional response, which then gets associated with a company’s brand to increase loyalty. It’s relationship marketing to its fullest — focusing on treating customers right to retain long term engagement.

The experience-based gifts have the potential to build an even deeper relationship between companies and those they work with, because they create memories. Remember that time you went paragliding with your spouse last summer

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