Using Gift Giving to Make Meaningful Connections in a Digital World

On balance, modern business has been migrating away from the physical world.

Paper-free offices are giving way to office-free companies that meet by video, phone and instant message. New businesses are built around novel ways to leverage data and facilitate communication, services that are themselves entirely digital.

But far from making the physical world obsolete, the digital trends in business can give tangible gifts greater impact. In fact, corporate gift giving is on the rise as companies strive to retain employees in a tight labor market, the Advertising Specialty Institute found in its 2018 annual report.

The question is, how does a modern business use the gifting experience to incentivize performance, cement bonds within the company and strengthen client relationships?

To learn more about the role of gift giving in the digital age, Crain’s Content Studio turned to Rymax, which designs customer loyalty, employee engagement and corporate gifting programs. Crain’s spoke with Mary DiSanzo, manager, strategic partnerships, and Allyson Krichman, vice president of sales, product group.

Crain’s: What role can tangible gifts play in an increasingly digital world?

Krichman: The emotional connection to a brand, a company or an experience is stronger when there’s something tangible attached to it. At a time when we have hundreds or thousands of pictures on our multiple devices, adding something as simple as an instant print camera from Polaroid to a smartwatch can deliver that emotional connection.

DiSanzo: A gift evokes positive feelings and a sense of accomplishment for the person receiving it, as well as for the giver. Giving a gift that may be shared with a spouse or family members also ties the giver to the recipient in an emotional way, more than a digital greeting could.

Crain’s: What kinds of messages can businesspeople convey with their gifts?

DiSanzo: A gift can convey a message of thanks, recognize a job well done or commemorate an anniversary, to name a few. The tangibility underscores the personal connection. And taking the time to pick the right gift is a powerful way to show you value the relationship.

Krichman: Giving any type of gift in any season is all about connection, engagement and recognition. Whether it’s a business gift to a current or potential client or from an employer to an employee, it’s about reinforcing the personal relationship.

Crain’s: Corporate gifts are often thought of as an extra. Are they more integral to operations than some may realize? 

Krichman: Sending a thoughtful, well-executed corporate gift communicates the respect and appreciation a company has for its customer or employee. While mass email blasts and software allow companies to send broad messages, physical gifting provides the personal touch. It’s a great way to tap into the principle of “reciprocity.” 

Mary DiSanzo, Manager of Strategic Partnerships

Crain’s: Can companies use the gift-giving experience to make more of an impact on their recipients? What might a gifting event look like?

Krichman: Companies can use an immersive gift giving experience to make more of an impact and allow the company to interact with their employees or clients face-to-face. Imagine that the doors of a ballroom or other destination open to reveal a wonderland filled with the latest in technology, from connected home products from Amazon or Sonos to the latest kitchen electronics from Ninja or even that Dyson heater that’s offered just in time for the fall/winter chill. The effects of the experience will be longlasting, creating residual value. Shipping the item directly to the recipient’s home or office reinforces the connection and allows the company to connect with the recipient again.

DiSanzo: The way to make a gifting event meaningful is make sure that the mix of product selections suits the attendees’ demographics. The ability to choose from an array of products across multiple categories and hands-on interaction with the products create the perfect gifting experience. We suggest surveying recipients before the event and tailoring the product selection to their preferences. Then collect feedback after the event to round out the entire experience.

Crain’s: What types of gifts are popular with corporate gift givers this year? Is there any difference by generation?

DiSanzo: In years past the trends centered on gadgets and technology. We’ve seen a shift to more fashion-related or retro items for the millennials and an increase in items that may be shared with young families. Boomers tend to appreciate the finer things, such as great luggage or a fine timepiece.

Krichman: In this digital age, all generations are looking for items that do just the opposite. For instance, the return of the turntable resurrected vinyl records. For the boomer and older generations, this is the time to dust off those old records. Their millennial counterparts are going to vintage stores to start their collections. At the same time, we are also always looking for style and functionality. Products like true wireless earbuds and fashion pieces that can go from the workout to the office to a night out are also going to resonate.

Crain’s: Companies often give gifts at the end of the year. How can companies think out of the box when it comes to timing, and how could that benefit employees and partners?  

Krichman: Give the gift early, before the holiday rush. Time it so recipients receive their gifts before Thanksgiving. With health and wellness initiatives continuing to play a major role in corporate missions, consider providing recipients with a way to maintain their zen during the intensity of the holiday season. Consider items that one might not buy for themselves but would be happy to receive, such as a Himalayan salt lamp, a calming sound machine or even a USB travel aromatherapy kit like the one available through Gaiam.

DiSanzo: Companies that recognize clients and employees throughout the year reap a far greater benefit than ones that are only part of the holiday gifting frenzy. Planning gifting that coincides with events and anniversaries that are meaningful to the relationship in question produces a far better return on investment for both the recipient and the giver. The gift stands out and provides that emotional tie, which is the most valuable part of the transaction. The psychologist Norbert Schwarz found that surprise increases the emotional impact of a gift. Gifts given outside of the holiday season are more likely to surprise their recipients.


This article originally appears in Crain’s New York Business, Nov. 4, 2019.

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