We're in the middle of gift-giving season, and there are many common mistakes you can avoid if you understand the core drivers of gift-giving as a strategy. You can walk into any office this time of year and see a table full of fruit baskets, chocolate, wine and other treats delivered to show thanks. But these gift-givers are making mistakes, no matter how good their intentions.

For many of you, the most advanced strategy you have is categorizing people into segments that allow you to stretch your budget. You give some people more expensive gifts; others get the leftovers. If this is your strategy, you're missing the point of giving gifts in the first place. 

Gift Giving Is About Sparking an Emotional Connection

When you give a gift to someone, you want to express gratitude for the relationship. If you truly want to impact the recipient with a gift that endears him toward you, that gift has to make an emotional connection. Gifts that don't spark emotions are quickly pushed to the side and often thrown away. Back to that table of treats in your office -- do you see how it all blends together, with nothing creating a particularly positive or warm connection? 

I recently talked with John Ruhlin, author of Giftology, about gift-giving mistakes like this one. He's spent years working with organizations like the Miami Dolphins and Chevron to use gifts as a strategy for building business relationships. Ruhlin shared, "In business and life, everything rises and falls on relationships. People will act on your behalf when they feel inspired -- which is about emotion."

Avoiding common mistakes is easy when you accept that gifts are about establishing an emotional connection. If you want to embrace gifting and expressing gratitude as a strategy for growing your business, here are the biggest mistakes you can make -- and what to do instead.

1. Stop holiday gift-giving.

Giving a gift when everyone else is thinking about it reduces your ability to create the emotional bond you desire. It's a mistake to pile on top of the other gifts coming in. You should avoid the five weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Instead, give gifts just because -- year-round -- to surprise and delight those you want to deepen relationships with. 

If you want to put $1 into a gift and get $10 in return, you have to do the unexpected. Ruhlin explained that if you do something at an unexpected time, you get much more of an emotional response. A positive emotional response ensures that people remember you, deepening your relationship.

Don't take my word for it: my fellow Inc. columnist Melanie Parker recently shared the brain science of why holiday gift-giving is a bad idea.

2. Forget branded gifts.

I love to give Yeti cups with my company logo at trade shows. However, branded items aren't great gifts for expressing your gratitude. You wouldn't think of giving a gift with your logo at a wedding, so why send logo-branded gifts to a referral partner or new client? Instead, give gifts that are personal and unique to the person.

One time, after speaking with a group of entrepreneurial leaders, I wanted to give the organizer a special gift. I thought about what would resonate with her. I remembered a story from Ruhlin's book about engraved kitchen knives. This particular organizer was a "foodie," and a personalized message for her on a kitchen knife was the perfect gift. Let's be clear: The engraving had nothing to do with me or my company name. It was all about what would inspire her.

3. Always personalize with a handwritten note.

Amazon Prime is a fantastic service. There's a good chance you have an Amazon package waiting for you at home right now. Yet the ease of automation comes with a downside: You aren't able to include a handwritten note with your gift. The time you take to write out a unique and personalized message is worth so much more than the ease of automation. 

Ruhlin adds that sometimes, the handwritten note is more important than the gift. I've been sending out copies of my book, The Trap of Success, to prospects and strategic partners for about two years. Each book that goes out has a personalized message, along with my signature. I make sure I include a handwritten note with each package. It would be easier to send via Amazon directly, but I lose the ability to customize the experience. 

Sending gifts is a great way to connect with a person. You don't have to spend tons of money to think of something creative and personalized, but it does take time to pinpoint a gift that creates an emotional connection. And that's time well spent.