“So, what do you do to show your love and gratitude to your clients? What investment will you make in reputation marketing this year? What’s on the agenda to delight for 2019?” I ask.

More regularly than not, the response from the business owner I’m working with is an uncomfortable “Ahhh … that’s something we’ve kind of dropped the ball on. I think we’ve got some pens somewhere, we give those away with information packs about our (estate agency, legal practice, accounting firm, dental practice etc.). And we’re thinking of sponsoring the school fete.”

At this point in our meeting, the business owner will often smile sheepishly at me –  because we both know in our bones that a pen does not cut the gifting mustard and a school fete is unlikely to have strategic impact on their prospecting – especially if it’s the only event in on an annual events calendar.

Let me be clear: the business owner in this situation is not behaving unusually by putting gifting or marketing activity on the backburner. Their lack of structure around this aspect of their brand is no indication of their lack of dedication to their business or customer. They’re good eggs, they run competent businesses and they’re focused on doing the best job possible. 

In fact, this dedication to the delivery of their business is often a part of their dilemma: they’re so deep into working in their business that they are unable to work on their bigger business goals – like special experiences for their clients, or considering marketing decisions strategically. It’s when we’re harried and too close to our work – either because we’re worried we’ll become irrelevant if we step back a little and let our organisations breathe, or because we haven’t got team members in place to free us up and focus on the big picture of our business – that we are unable to develop systems around marketing and client love.

Does this ring a bell – does it sound like you or your business? Please don’t be worried if it does, because this aspect of your empire can be fixed with a bit of focus and a bit of well-spent budget. If you’re unsure how intentionally you’re marketing, today’s blog itemises key indicators that there’s room for you to spend budget in a better way that will result in real outcomes for your business.

Here’s how not to spend your marketing and client gifting budget:

  • Crap pens, note pads, magnet calendars and overly-expensive stationary such a presentation folders etc.

Sure, have necessary brand collateral. If you’re really attached to your annual magnet calendar, go ahead – knock yourself out. But don’t pretend that this is an investment or any kind of ‘gift’ to your customer. Gifts are about the customer. Stationary with your brand on it is about your business. No-one feels a surge of pleasure from a plastic pen attached to a notepad. Branding bits and pieces aside, is there a more interesting way you can align your business with a product for your customer?

  • Cleanskin wines with your brand on the label.

Nup. This gifting option almost equivocally feels cheap and looks cheap (even if it’s not actually a cheap gift). You’re also assuming that alcohol is a universally loved gift. (I don’t really drink, and have a full shelf of cleanskin cooking wine I will never be able to coq au vin my way out of).

  • Letterbox drops.

Whilst it is certainly possible to get some business from letterbox dropping, it is not the most effective way to market. Apart from being able to zone in on a physical location, it offers little in targeted spend to the right audience. Print collateral is expensive (when done well) and if done on the cheap, can work against your brand value. Is there a better way you can connect with your ideal customer?

  • Costly brand collateral that’s shoved into useless gift bags.

As per my first point, no-one wants tacky cheap pens, flimsy keyrings, or branded USB sticks etc. Don’t be conned into buying thousands of units of branded tat! It won’t bring you business. If you want to become involved in exhibiting at events – be circumspect and consider what you hope to get from the process. (For more on that, read our blog on ‘eventing’ with your business here.)

Here’s some powerful ways to spend your marketing and client gifting budget that will have an impact:

  • Surprising, personal gifts that showcase your care, and highlight an understanding of your clients’ personality.

There is so much resistance to personalised gifting, which is massively impactful (and feels really good, to boot). I’m talking t-shirts, books and themed gift ‘kits’ that are delivered to your clients. At Ruby Assembly we’ve done everything from ‘Beach Bags’ with towels, sunblock and gin and tonics through to ‘Sunday Snoozers’ with soft blankets, books, tea and journals. Does it take time to orchestrate? Yep. Does it elicit delight from your clients? Absolutely. So why the resistance to developing personalised gifting within organisations? It’s usually because of the perceived complexity of the task. How will you know you’re giving the right gift? Isn’t it weird to send blokes a face mask or a candle? Isn’t it a huge cost blow out? Look, there’s always a reason not to do something. In this case, look for reasons to get personal with clients – to make the effort and expose a little of who you are. The connection is worth it. (So are the referrals, by the way.)

  • Referral respect.

Referral is the best kind of business. What steps are you taking to be able to offer more of your services to your existing clients, to better support them? So many of our clients are pragmatically focusing on being of more service to their customers – understanding that doing more for those who already love and trust you makes more sense than relentlessly prospecting for shallow relationships. When you receive a referral from a customer (or even someone who is not a customer, but has done you a good turn or helped you out), you need to show those people some love. This doesn’t mean a branded card with a bottle of cleanskin wine. Get creative! What can you do will surprise and delight? What will feel personal? Don’t put this recognition in the too-hard basket – get consistent with showing your gratitude.

  • Digital strategy and social media

There’s no better way to invest budget than on your digital ecosystem. This is the most intelligent way to remind your existing audience of your value and leadership, and it’s the best way to build business from scratch. (Of course, I would say that – but it remains true nonetheless.) I’ve never quite understood why people are  happy to drop thousands on a booth at an event or a single full-page print advert in an industry magazine – but hesitate to invest in building their business in the social media and online space. I think it’s because the digital feels unknowable and unquantifiable (you can always see your boxes of branded USB sticks in the stationary cupboard). We must remember that there’s no guaranteed or sure-fire way to convert customers, and that they will come to use our services powered by a variety of reasons and motivations.

Our job as business owners is to show our value by giving back with resources, presence, leadership and good connection. To work on the business, rather than in it. And to be strategic and careful about our marketing budgets and intentions. Does this take time and effort and money? Yes. Will it grow your business? A hundred times, yes.