Corporate gift policies and how they affect marketing

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Gone are the days when marketers could blindly offer customers a promotional gift of $50 or less and not worry about corporate gift policies. Even a gift worth $25 might not be acceptable by a surprisingly large number of customers or prospects.

Many corporate gift policies are not allowing customers to accept gifts of any kind, including a small gift card or even cookies that can be shared with hungry coworkers. Combine this with job uncertainty and you have an all-time high for employees being sticklers of corporate policy.

What I find most shocking is that a free promotional item positioned as having 1.25% or less value of an order can be perceived as a kickback. I have never seen the finance department suggest that a 3% prepayment discount offered by a vendor not be accepted because it might be construed as a kickback.

So, what's a marketer to do when creating effective promotions? Has the power of the promo lost its value? I would 100% say no. Marketing promotions and free offers still can be quite effective, but knowing your customers will help in executing a winning promo strategy.

The key is to vary your offers to appeal to a variety of different b-to-b buyers. Offering a mix of technical offers that do not have a perceived monetary value, but rather are tools for evaluating the purchase decision, can be combined with offers that are clearly being used to drive instant sales behaviors and reward the purchasing representative.

After all, many can relate to feeling overworked and underappreciated (if my boss is reading this, it's a generalization), so the chance to get a free gift, something you personally can use, is still an effective marketing tool. Plus, by giving customers the opportunity to ship the free gifts to an address of their choice places the responsibility of accepting the gift solely in their hands.

Creating a campaign centered around a freebie, even if your customer cannot accept it, still can be quite effective if you have a multi-touch strategy in place. For example, a company might enter every purchase over $1,000 into a drawing for a free trip to Hawaii. Clearly that's something most individuals cannot accept without disclosing it to senior management, but is it a bad promotion? Not necessarily, if the promotion opens up a “soft selling” opportunity, allowing your sales team to follow up with customers and prospects.

You will gain a lot of good will by personally emailing and calling key accounts to remind them of the promotion. And the promotion also creates an opportunity for the sales team to ask, “How can I help you today? Can I send a quote or brochure, schedule a demo or set an appointment?"

You get the picture. If a trip to Hawaii is not your thing, you can develop a Pinterest photo contest and offer free prizes for customers best displaying your products, with the goal of increasing social followers. How about free product samples or demos?

I think you can see where I am going here. The possibilities are endless.

Not sure where to get started? It's simple. Just ask your customers. Let them tell you what type of offer would be most appealing and develop a plan from there. Just don't forget to track for ROI analysis.

Kirsten Bjork-Jones is director-global marketing communications at Edmund Optics ( She can be reached at [email protected]

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