The Halloween decorations are down, and the Christmas Trees are about to start popping up, which means it's time for you to think about gifts, and parties. Business owners and managers often have large gift lists--for employees and clients--to fill. Figuring out what to get these people can be difficult, so I turned to expert gift giver, Ashley Wong, CEO and Founder of Gemnote, a company that specializes in gifts. Here's what she said.
Inc: How do you determine the best gifts?
Ashley Wong: Know your audience. Having an idea of your recipient's likes and dislikes, taste and hobbies is key in finding a great gift. For example, our clients often use us for their VIPs, who are usually C-level execs. Generally speaking, these people don't love cheese logs, flavored popcorn or bath salts. They're also unlikely to wear your company's t-shirt, unless as pajamas. Our gift selections are also backed by data, so we're keen on what gifts do well with certain audiences.
Know the products. A good rule of thumb is to gift things you'd also want. If you can try/test the gift and personally endorse it, even better. You don't want to run the risk of spending $200 on a set of earbuds that constantly fall out of your ears. If you're gifting food, make sure to taste it first! Be warned that just because a food item is beautifully packaged, doesn't mean it's tasty. We've sampled all kinds of chocolates, cookies, coffees, and teas that had gorgeous wrapping, but didn't pass the taste test.
Here's the rubric Gemnote's merchandising team uses that can help guide anyone to great gifting:
Usability - Is the product practical? When and how often would the recipient use this? Is it easy to understand how it works?
Durability and Quality - Is it well-made? Do the materials feel sturdy or flimsy? Could this last for 2-5 years? Is it easily breakable?
Design - Does it function well for its purpose? Does it look refined and stylish? Does it feel dated or modern? Does it come in a variety of colors?
Taste (only relevant for food and beverage) - Does it taste good? What's the texture like? How does it smell when you open it? Are the flavors consistent? Does it taste natural or artificial?
Inc: Is there a big difference based on industry or employee job?
Wong: Yes, absolutely. Traditional corporate gifts have been and still are pretty homogeneous -- gifts are rarely tailored to the recipient. However, people have such unique tastes; you can't expect to delight recipients by sending them all the exact same presents.
Tech companies love to send trendy, innovative products. They don't necessarily need to be tech gadgets, but they're not your old-school corporate gifts. For example, we find that Tile -- a tiny Bluetooth tracker and easy-to-use app that helps you find everyday items -- is often requested in gift boxes. It's very practical as it helps people find keys, wallets, and other valuables. Also, we just did a custom terrarium using kinetic sand. It brings beauty and life to a boring desk, but also the sand is fun to play with when you're on a call. From our experience, tech companies don't usually send baskets of food.
Financial institutions and law firms send more classic gifts like leather briefcases, coffee mugs and custom wool scarves in the winter. Although these seem more old school, they leverage bespoke services like Gemnote to scale the process by curating based on their audience, as well as customizing, wrapping and shipping gifts for them.
There are also differences in budgets when it comes to employee jobs. Companies tend to spend more as you go up in rank. University hires/interns get excited about custom American Apparel hoodies, S'well water bottles, and stickers. Whereas, Directors and Managers appreciate Patagonia down vests, Chemex coffee makers, and leather cellphone cases.
Inc: Do employees really care what their bosses give them?
Wong: Yes. We've spoken to hundreds of companies and most employees are fed up with receiving cheap gifts that are useless. "It was nice that they gave me something, but I just wish they put more thought into it," is common feedback we hear.
In 2014, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) did an extensive study by surveying over 200,000 people about what they care about most as employees. The #1 factor was being appreciated for their work.
A thoughtful gift can go a long way when companies show employees that they're valued. In order to help our clients excel in customer and employee satisfaction, we A/B test gifts and iterate on the low-performing ones because recipients really do care what they receive.
Inc: Can a gift be better than cash?
Wong: Good gifts tend to be much more memorable than cash, although I'm sure we'd all like bonuses on our birthdays and employment anniversaries. Oftentimes, gifts are more appropriate than cash as well.
One of our clients, Medallia, does an outstanding job with sending gifts -- they know how and when to send. The company sends gifts to candidates during the interview process, so it's a much more delightful experience, especially if they don't end up getting an offer. Cash would be very inappropriate in this situation. However, every quarter, they also send gifts to employees who are promoted. They don't need to do this, especially since the employee is likely getting a raise, but the gift is very thoughtful and motivating. The gift also serves as a public acknowledgment that the employee is doing a great job.
Inc: What are the best overall gifts for managers to give employees this year?
Wong: Here are the gifts we recommend to keep employees happy: