Just Say NO to Gift Cards

Another example of why gift cards aren’t the best choice for saying thank you to customers, rewarding loyalty and building stronger relationships showed up in my world the other day. I belong to an entrepreneurial women’s group and as a gesture of appreciation, the founder sent out egift cards to all the members. Since they would arrive via email and could be overlooked as spam, she posted a “be on the lookout for this email” message on our private Facebook page.

While several people responded with excitement and gratitude, one person posted this:

FBpost-giftcard

It says: “Perhaps I am splitting hairs, but I don’t want something that was probably paid for with my monthly dues to be a gift. Technically it would be called a rebate. Unless the $5 cards were a measure of goodwill directly from the Starbucks corporation.”

Ouch! Now we can discuss whether or not the poster is justified or exhibiting bad manners, but the truth of the matter is, she’s not the only one who feels that way about receiving a gift card. If you’re using gift cards to say thank you to clients, members or referral sources, they may very well feel the same way. And if they do, it could affect their decision to send you more business.

Even though you may be spending the same $5 or $10 or $50, giving gift cards is very different from giving actual gifts. Gift cards have a monetary value attached and displayed right on them, (why not just hand the recipient a $10 bill?). A box of cookies, a plant or a beach ball do not and are therefore perceived as a much more authentic gift and genuine expression of appreciation.

In our society, we use money as a form of payment for market transactions. We pay money to buy goods and services. We can get away with giving money as a gift for weddings or children’s birthdays because what we’re really giving there is an investment in their futures. Paying out cash, or giving a gift card, which is the equivalent of cash, is not an acceptable form of gift for business associates.

In addition to now being viewed as tactless, giving a gift card is also not very memorable. It’s certainly not noteworthy. Who gets so excited about a gift card that she displays it on her desk or shows it to her colleagues? Why would you want to give something forgettable when you could easily share something more fun and remarkable? Often for the same price or less!

Next time you’re faced with the decision of how to give thanks, think of the most creative way you can do it, not the least.

Need help coming up with remarkable, impressive and still budget-friendly thank yous? I’ve got plenty of ideas. Call me and let’s brainstorm.

PS: Just for the record, I am not looking a gift horse in the mouth and do appreciate the meaning behind the giving of the above mentioned gift card. However, I felt compelled to take this opportunity to discuss the consequences of making that giving choice.

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Black Friday Insanity

It’s Black Friday 2010 and I can’t help but be a little, hmm, what’s the word? Surprised? Amazed? Incredulous? Seriously, there’s still THIS much hoopla around this day devoted to shopping – for a bunch of non-essential stuff?

I’m a girl, so I totally get the love of shopping thing, but Black Friday takes it to a whole different level. Please tell me the people lining up at noon on Thanksgiving at the big box electronics store really need another 40” TV. I have a very hard time believing anyone buying anything today needs these items. Nor do I think anyone they might be buying them for needs them either.

It drives me crazy to hear people blaming “this economy” as the excuse for everything. In my opinion, it’s been a good scapegoat for people’s laziness and lack of initiative. BUT, if the citizen’s of the U.S. actually believe that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and money is in short supply, how do they justify their insane spending on Black Friday? That at least they’re “saving” money at these wildly marked down sales? And that the stores can afford to sell at 70% off – well there’s a whole other topic I’ll leave alone for now.

Here’s an idea. If you say you don’t have enough money to make ends meet, stay out of the stores. It doesn’t matter how good a “deal” it is. Tone it down a notch. Maybe you could make the holidays about heartfelt gestures and spending quality time together creating memorable experiences this year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get the new Katy Perry, Bon Jovi and Keith Urban CDs that are on sale for (only!) $6.99.

Holiday Gift Ideas for Clients

Many business people traditionally send holiday gifts as their way of showing appreciation for clients, customers, partners, etc. For those who like the idea of concierge service, gourmet food treats and making a great impression, this video offers some nice gift ideas. Look for the special offer at the end!

Client Appreciation for Financial Advisors

Before I started writing this article, I did a quick Google search on “client appreciation for financial advisors.” Most of what came up was all about client appreciation events, which are very common in the industry. My guess as to why is that advisors hope their clients bring friends with them to the event so the planner can get an introduction for potential new business. This is all fine and good, nothing wrong with hosting appreciation events, but I’m not crazy about them as a way to really show your thanks or differentiate yourself.

Sure, some financial planners may host events that are real blowouts, the kind of “you have GOT to be there” parties that people talk about for months. But most don’t come close to that.

Like gift cards, these appreciation dinners have three main drawbacks. One, they’re not personal. It’s a party for a bunch of people, not in honor of them personally. Two, they require your clients to make an effort. And a majority of your clients are not excited about making any efforts outside of their normal routine. Three, if everyone’s doing them, how then are you so special?

That’s why if you really want to let your clients know you value them, you send them something that requires no effort on their part – a genuine token of thanks that can be enjoyed right away, without sharing, in the privacy of their own home. In case you haven’t noticed, especially in America, people like instant gratification.

A survey done earlier this year of registered investment advisors found that most saw an increase in assets under management, coming from both new and existing clients. So you’ve got lots of new people with whom it would behoove you to strengthen bonds. Additionally, the study revealed almost 25% of advisors expected to increase spending in client appreciation activities. If you’re going to increase spending, don’t you want to make sure you’re doing it effectively?

Here are 3 better ways for financial advisors to reach out to their clients:

1. Handwritten notes – even if your assistant writes them. Send a card to say thanks at a random time, other than a birthday.

2. Gourmet food – people love treats, so send something they’d not likely find or buy for themselves and let them indulge courtesy of you. Food is a very social and nurturing thing; it says, “I care,” which is why it’s received particularly well.

3. Books – do you have a favorite recommendation? Sharing something you enjoy allows your clients to feel a closer relationship and who knows, maybe you’ll introduce them to a new genre or author that they would have never otherwise discovered.

There’s no doubt that building tighter relationships with your clients is essential to the success of your business. Just make sure the money you spend actually accomplishes what you intend.

Good Idea to Pay for a Good Deed?

The concept first showed up to me in Dan Ariely’s book “Predictably Irrational.” I just finished “Drive” by Dan Pink and he talks about it too. So it’s high time I mention it here.

Paying people for doing nice things for you is not only ineffective, it’s insulting. Think about how you might feel if you did a favor for someone and he turned around and said, “hey buddy, thanks a lot. Here’s 25 bucks.” Or a friend shows up to your dinner party and instead of presenting you with a nice bottle of wine or a yummy dessert, she hands you some cash. You’d think, wow, that’s kind of weird.

There are two sets of norms in our society – social norms and market norms. Social norms are the domain of friendly requests, good deeds and warm and fuzzy. Market norms are about monetary exchanges in transactions such as wages, prices, rents, etc. Life is good when you understand the difference and keep them separate.

Things get a little hairy though when you start mixing the two. And that’s what happens in business when you pay people for giving you referrals. Essentially, when you pay a commission to someone who is not an employee for giving you a referral, you’re making a financial transaction.

Many times people make referrals because they want to be helpful. They’re not necessarily looking for anything in return. It’s a social exchange. And in social exchanges, gifts are the most acceptable type of “reward.”

Not only are small gifts more the accepted norm, giving them instead of money actually increases the likelihood that they will continue to share information with you. Studies have shown people will work more for a cause (or something they believe is worthy) than for cash. Both Ariely’s and Pink’s books address the reasoning behind this in more depth and I recommend reading them. But suffice it to know that if you want more referral business, saying thank you with a small gift or gesture is more effective than offering legal tender. Yes, even in “this economy.”

Gifts For Dads Who Have Everything

My DadFather’s Day is approaching and every year my clients and friends lament they don’t know what to get for Dear Old Dad. We all want to find a memorable gift for Dad, something he’ll be excited to tell his buddies about. I know in my own case, anything my dad wants throughout the year, he’ll just go buy for himself. And he doesn’t really have any hobbies like golf or tennis or fishing that need equipment or supplies. It can be quite frustrating.

If he’s local, you can always take him out for brunch or make a nice dinner. If not, you have to come up with another idea. One year my brother and I gave Dad a personal chef, who would make 10 dinners and put them in the freezer for him to enjoy later. We’ve given theater tickets, and movie tickets would be a good idea too, if your dad likes movies. Restaurant gift certificates and other “experience” type gifts mean he doesn’t have to find a place to store your gift.

Oh, and I think this was the best idea ever, before everything became digital, we made a poster sized collage out of a bunch of pictures from our childhood, took a picture of that and framed it. Many years later it still hangs in his home office.

Of course my dad is a fan of The Gratitude Cookies as well as the Zen Crunch and he never tires of getting that as a gift. It is a unique gift idea that allows you to show appreciation for all that your father’s done for you. You don’t have to worry about getting the right size, color, brand, etc. Plus you can have it delivered right to his door with your personalized message, whether he’s down the street or across the country.

Need specific ideas? I suggest the Cookies & Crunch package, which gives Dad both treats of Gratitude Cookies and Zen Crunch. Or the Ultimate Appreciation, which is a whole bunch of different gourmet goodies, if you really want to make a statement of gratitude!

June 20th is coming up quickly and even if he’d never say it, Dad will certainly appreciate something more than a card or a phone call.

Gifts for Teacher Appreciation Week

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, and while we might want to celebrate these brave and admirable souls for more than just one week a year, let’s start with this. I’ve written before about finding memorable gifts for teachers here.

If you’re a parent who wants to find the perfect gift for your children’s teachers, think about what teachers might cherish most. What teachers want is probably what you would appreciate as well. Maybe some peace and quiet, a few minutes of alone time.

If you’re not up for spending enough for a spa visit, give the teachers you appreciate a few pause and savor moments with a memorable gift of a Gratitude Cookie package from Zen Rabbit. School teachers, music teachers, karate teachers, can all enjoy your expression of thanks.

One idea is the Signature Box, which holds 20 Gratitude Cookies™ paired with a jar of chocolate sauce.  Or the ever-popular Cookies & Crunch, which includes a dozen cookies and a bag of the amazingly addictive granola/nut brittle-like Zen Crunch. Or an Afternoon Indulgence combination of cookies and tea.

Whatever you do, make sure to acknowledge the great job performed by the important educators in your life.