Like many things in business today, navigating the etiquette of business gift giving can be a minefield. It doesn’t have to be that way. By following a few simple guidelines, you can make your customers, prospects, and employees feel valued and appreciative.

According to the 2018 Advertising Specialty Institute’s 2018 Corporate Gift Giving study, nearly half the companies surveyed planned to give gifts to their employees for the holidays and more than 37% planned to give to clients and prospects. Their primary goals were to show appreciation, build relationships, and generate goodwill. Food continued to lead the way as the most popular gift, followed by desk accessories. Small electronics have seen the largest increase in the last few years. Almost all of the companies surveyed planned to brand their holiday gifts in some way.

Gifts are personal, they say as much about the giver as they do the recipient. What do you want your gift to say about you? First and foremost, you want the gift to say that you were truly thinking of the recipient when you chose it. Obviously, promotional materials or inappropriate gifts (overly extravagant or personal gifts) say that you weren’t thinking of the recipient or were giving a gift with an expectation of reciprocity. Neither is appropriate.

To ensure your present is well received, choose gifts for their quality, utility, and attractiveness. Quality should be a given but isn’t always. While ordering online is convenient, you can’t always judge the quality of the product you’re ordering. If you do order online, leave enough time to get samples before you commit your entire gift-giving budget to an unknown quantity. The best way to ensure quality is to work with a local merchant – and it has the added benefit of showing that you support your local economy.

Ray Brown, President and CEO of Canfield and Tack Inc., one of Rochester’s premier printing and fulfillment businesses, gives corporate gifts every holiday season and believes in keeping it local, “We have found that the gifts with the greatest impact are ones that come from local vendors. When we have given local specialty food gift boxes, the positive response from our customers has been truly unprecedented – they LOVED them.”

Utility is another important attribute. A good rule of thumb to ensure a gift’s usefulness is whether or not it needs to be dusted. This sounds humorous but it demonstrates that if a gift is just sitting there, it gathers dust. Despite the popularity of desk accessories and office decor, they often add only clutter. It’s far better to give something that’s used – like food or clothing – that the recipient can enjoy while they have it and when it’s used up, discard or recycle it without worry.

A gift can be high quality and useful but to be really special it should be beautiful. Make sure your branding is subtle and attractive. Ensure your gift is beautifully packaged and pay attention to the details. Tie with a ribbon and add a simple, handwritten note acknowledging your appreciation.

If you really want to stand out, think about doing something different this year. Instead of giving Christmas gifts, give at Thanksgiving or New Year’s. Give gift subscriptions so that your thoughtfulness can be enjoyed all year long – specialty foods providers often offer interesting and useful subscriptions. And think of giving the gift of health – anything that contributes to your customer or employee’s health and well being is a win for everyone.