How to select the right gift for someone you appreciate (in business)

With this being the season of giving and saying thanks, I wanted to share some thoughts on the right way to do it. Unfortunately, it is common in business to rush through your to-do list and quite often that means not thinking hard enough about what gift to give, especially when it comes to giving chotskies at tradeshows. In business, there is much mediocrity.

First, I'll give you a little background on Bazaarvoice and some of the gifts we chose and then I'll summarize with how you can select gifts that are meaningful, rememberable, and impactful.

When Brant Barton and I first started Bazaarvoice, we wanted to be known for being different from the herd. Bazaarvoice itself was to be a disruptive business for commerce - leading to an unprecedented level of transparency for 70% of the economy (that dominant portion driven by all of us, the consumer). So we named it after a disruptive book and specifically Chapter 4 of The Cluetrain Manifesto, which I believe is the greatest chapter written in any marketing book (you can read it onlinefor free). Literally translated, Bazaarvoice meant "the voice of the marketplace" (I wrote about naming your company in this Lucky7 post).

When we first started attending tradeshows to promote Bazaarvoice, we asked ourselves what chotskies we could remember given out by others ... and there were very few. So we came up with a personal, memorable, and meaningful gift, which both reinforced what our company would do as well as spoke to our roots in Austin. We selected a bottle of wine - Texas wine.




Becker Vineyards is our best Texas wine and they have a great claret - a blend of Bordeaux grapes. It is different than a California red in several ways, one of the most notable being that it uses some Texas oak in aging, which adds a layer of spice. They also use quite a bit of petit verdot.

As you can see from the bottle, we sandblasted the Bazaarvoice logo into the back and then had each handpainted with our logo. This wasn't cheap - both the wine and the sandblasting cost around $50 per bottle.

We brought these bottles to tradeshows throughout our first year of history. We made a point to give them to the biggest connectors (the "cool kids") - the people known for generating word of mouth and setting the trends in an industry (I wrote about how you can identify and sell to the "cool kids" in these two Lucky7 posts). These connectors then carried the bottle around for most of the tradeshow, answering where they got it from the many who asked (most of them fellow connectors, of course). We were the only company passing out bottles of wine, after all - and not just any wine but a really great wine (I have seen some companies do this years later and use a really cheap wine that no one would drink and therefore not a meaningful, memorable, or personal gift at all). I should note here that this was before the TSA required you to check your luggage if you were carrying liquids over four ounces. We sadly stopped giving wine at tradeshows right after the TSA rule change.

Each time we gave the $50 bottle, sparingly I might add, we made a point to tell the connector a personal story about it. My wife, Debra, and I had spent four years living in San Francisco during our Coremetrics days and had gotten to know a lot about wine on our monthly Napa and Sonoma trips. If I was giving the Bazaarvoice bottle, I would talk about how I thought that Becker's Claret could stand up to quite a few of the better California reds and that they should drink it on a special occasion coming up soon. And then - and this was the most important - they should write us an email telling us what they thought about it.

A little background here. In 2005, the year we first started Bazaarvoice and began attending tradeshows, customer reviews were a pretty foreign concept in retail. There was a lot of fear about ever deploying them because of negative reviews. As a result, there were less than 10 U.S. retailers that had customer reviews online when we began Bazaarvoice - versus the thousands you see today, around the world. Brant and I knew we had to find a way to decrease the fear factor - and relate customer reviews to word of mouth, a medium that all of us had engaged in since the dawn of retail (i.e., since the dawn of the bazaar). The wine helped us break through.

Months after the tradeshow, we would receive very long emails from the connectors that we had personally gifted the wine to. I remember one of these emails being from a woman who shared the wine on the beach with her husband for their anniversary and agreed with me that it could hold up to a California red and how surprised she was as a result. Her review was several paragraphs long. We would respond to these emails by communicating that what just happened was word of mouth - that their customers were communicating to each other about the products they sold every day, that their business had been conducting surveys and focus groups to try to grasp at word of mouth when they could just deploy customer reviews online and listen to it all as it occurred, and that we were the company to deliver it for them.

So the gift of Becker Vineyards Claret itself was the medium. It was meaningful, rememberable, and impactful.

As life progressed for Bazaarvoice, we made a point to do our best to make every gift memorable - even bottles of water at our first Client Summit. Sam Decker had become our Chief Marketing Officer by this time and he was a true genius when it came to things like this.

The little things matter. A lot of little details add up to a huge experience.

Every Friday, when I was CEO of Bazaarvoice, I would handwrite a letter to one of our top performers. I would give them a box of Vosges Haut Chocolat truffles - not the type of chocolate you would just buy for yourself. The packaging, presentation, and stories of the founder's inspiration from around the world in designing each truffle was worthy of great word of mouth. It was a gift that was meaningful, rememberable, and impactful (as they would share it with someone they really cared about). It was a personal gift - one that I myself would have loved to receive from a boss. In fact, thatis how I found out about Vosges as Julie Allegro of Allegro Venture Partners sent me as a gift one year (she was one of my first investors in Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics and extraordinarily helpful in building both businesses). I remember talking to family and friends about her gift for weeks.

So when you are thinking about gifts for someone you appreciate in business, whether it is an employee, prospect, client, investor, or partner, I offer these tips:

  1. Think. As Apple advertised, think different. As Seth Godin wrote, be the Purple Cow. Make your gift meaningful, rememberable, and impactful. Make it personal. What are your values? Is this a gift you yourself would want to receive? Is this a gift that will get people talking? Is it worthy of their word of mouth? I still remember receiving the original Google rocketship chotskie. Wow, did that ever turn true with their market cap of $361 billion as of today, over $90 billion higher than Wal-Mart's (who is Fortune #1 out of the Fortune 500).
  2. If it is a t-shirt or some other piece of apparel (hoodie, anyone?), mark time. Don't just put your logo on it. Have something on the t-shirt that marks that time in history. The journey is the reward, so leave stakes in the ground behind as you mark the journey. Going back to revisit those stakes at some future date, just like you do when looking back at the photos from a family vacation, helps you remember just how great it was. We almost always marked time with our Bazaarvoice t-shirts, as you'll see fromthis series of Lucky7 posts titled "the tale of Bazaarvoice as told through the shirts on our backs". Far too many startups go the mediocore path by not thinking hard enough and simply putting their company logo (and nothing else) on a t-shirt during their first year. They are missing the opportunity to mark time. I also marked time at Bazaarvoice in other ways, such as taking a lot of photos along the way so that we would all remember our roots and the journey better (read this Lucky7 post about that practice).
  3. When you host an event, think about the venue and the theme. The margarita-themed water bottles for our first Client Summit were all about the fun of Austin and the great TexMex food that surrounds us here. If we had the event in Vegas, maybe that water bottle would have been designed differently. And a water bottle?! Yes, again, sweat the small details. They matter. If you want the attendees to talk about your event for months after, make it meaningful, rememberable, and impactful. Make it personal. Make it entertaining.

I hope this post helps you this holiday season and beyond. I would love to hear about the business gifts you most remember (or gave) in the comments below. And speaking of gifts, I just received a cool box of Austin-themed gifts from Unique Influence, where my good friend Ryan Pitylak is the founder and CEO. I highly recommend their online marketing services and often introduce them to the startups we've invested in.

The most memorable, personal, impactful, and meaningful gift I ever received? My first computer, and a mom who gifted it and also learned how to program with me at age 7. Lucky7 is named after that moment and dedicated to her (read my tribute about her).


The most memorable, personal, impactful, and meaningful gift I ever received? My first computer, and a mom who gifted it and also learned how to program with me at age 7. Lucky7 is named after that moment and dedicated to her (read my tribute about her).