We’re approaching the time of year when companies start shopping for customer and employee appreciation gifts. Too often, though, many fall short of the mark. Tee-shirts, pens, stress balls and plaques can be the Father’s Day equivalent of socks and ties.
Time and money are scarce. Companies, with the best of intentions, sometimes settle for basic items. While even the smallest gesture is nice, a little bit of creativity and planning can make your gift special and memorable. In this post, four adform customers explain how they show their appreciation for their most valuable assets: employees and customers.
Know Thy Customer
When choosing customer gifts for his 1,200 accounts, Jim Burke, Director of Sales and Marketing at United Oil, puts himself in his customers’ shoes. In modern marketing terminology this is called “developing a persona” and can make the difference between a gift being treasured or tossed. “I look for three things,” says Burke. “The gift must be functional, good quality and reflect positively on my company’s brand.”
United Oil’s customers are hands-on, blue-collar employees who work outdoors all year long. For them, good-quality apparel that helps them battle the elements is very much appreciated. While some companies in his industry have reduced their investment in customer gifts, Burke has done the opposite. “When done right, a very positive association is built," notes Burke. “A good quality hat makes our oil perform better.” Jim's approach to gifting is appreciated by his customers and, at the same time, provides a certain amount of defense from competitors trying to get into his accounts.
Make the Effort to Make Customers Feel Special
For decades, Southern Auto Auction has been recognizing their best customers with their Top Gun Club award program. At annual red-carpet events, Southern’s top 20 customers receive a “swag bag” of the latest electronic gadgets and the prestigious Top Gun award. Customers look forward to the award. “It’s a status symbol in our industry,” explains Southern’s Director of Marketing, John Turcotte. Recipients will proudly display their awards in their offices. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Southern promotes dealer rankings. “It’s an end-of-year incentive that fosters friendly competition,” says Turcotte. “Dealers strive to be in this elite club.”
So how does Southern do it? “We plan ahead and put a lot of time and effort into the award,” reflects Turcotte. Tied in with each year’s event and venue, customized awards have included surfboards, propellers and swords. “We make the award memorable and meaningful. One year we held our event at a theater, so our awards looked like the Academy Awards.” Southern deliberately gives more than off-the-shelf plaques to make their customers feel special. These are substantial, high-quality, unique awards worthy of the hard work recipients do all year long. Turcotte adds, “Customers genuinely appreciate the time and effort we put into recognizing them. It’s the foundation of the success of the Top Gun Club program.”
A Personal Touch Goes a Long Way
At the end of the year, many companies thoughtfully give employees appreciation gifts. Family-owned Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe, Inc. adds a twist. “We make end-of-year gift-giving a very personal experience,” explains Julie Griffie, Director of Human Resources.
When choosing their employee gifts, the company first selects items that are useful and relevant. “We don’t want to give items that will sit on people’s shelves,” notes Griffie. Each year, Martin’s works with adform to brainstorm gift ideas, before an internal team whittles down the choices and makes a final selection.
More importantly, managers personally deliver the year-end gifts to each of Martin’s 650 employees. “We are a family company and relationships are important. We are not only giving a gift, we are making a connection with each of our employees,” says Griffie. “Our employees are important. The personal delivery of employee gifts ensures that each person feels appreciated.” When it’s time, managers meet with their teams at the end of a shift on the production floor, or at the end of the day in an office or conference room. They reflect on the year and recognize each employee. “Our culture is based on teamwork, integrity, communication and respect,” adds Griffie. “In this spirit, we make time to truly appreciate each individual’s effort.”
For over 15 years, Martin’s has personalized gifting. The feedback from employees has always been very positive. Not only do employees show their gratitude to their direct management, President James Martin also receives personal thank you notes.
End-of-Year Gifts… All Year Long!
If there is a potential downside to customer appreciation gifts it is that companies are doing it at the same time. To help the company stand out and stay in touch with their customers, Capital Rentals gives customer gifts all year long. “It’s like giving a gift to your spouse,” says Brian Vaughan, President at Capital Rentals. “It’s nice to give gifts when you’re supposed to. It’s a bit more special when it’s not expected.”
Capital Rentals works with adform to design and produce customer gifts—calendars and caps are popular items—throughout the year. In a drip-marketing campaign manner, sales reps will distribute the gifts to their 1,000 accounts during the year. “We find that gifts lubricate the interaction with customers,” notes Vaughan. “It’s as if they have ledger sheets in their heads and they remember who gives them gifts.” Capital Rentals’ gift-giving philosophy, based on the element of surprise, has been a successful program for over 25 years.