Client Communications

A museum pass may be appreciated, but that simple scented candle just might do the trick

By Beatrice Paez |

The hunt for an ideal gift that makes the right impression on a favourite client can be an agonizing exercise.

"People stress a lot about the holiday season," says Cindy Chan, assistant professor of marketing at Rotman School of Management and University of Toronto, Scarborough. "But thinking about it as an opportunity to strengthen your bond can take some pressure off."

Still, the decision is made no easier by the endless array of options to choose from. Many financial advisors have trouble deciding whether they should go for traditional gifts or opt for something experiential — such as theatre tickets — and spend time mulling over how much the recipient will appreciate the gesture.

Studies have examined the different emotions that various types of gifts can elicit. Here are some of the observations, with tips on how you can give more meaningful presents:

> Experiential gifts
Chan has examined the psychology of gift giving, with an emphasis on the value we attach to experiential gifts vs material gifts.

In her research, Chan has found that experiential gifts, such as a museum pass or spa certificate, resonate more deeply because they are more emotionally evocative. Even if you don't partake in the event, the recipient will attribute the memory of that experience — and all the feelings it inspires — to you.

However, experiential gifts, she notes, are not perceived to be any more thoughtful than material goods. So, as with any type of gift, you have to put thought into finding something the person might enjoy.

> Charitable donations
Depending on the nature of your relationship, a charitable gift in honour of the recipient doesn't always have the intended effect of elevating your image in his or her eyes, according to one study.

Recipients may not appreciate the gesture as much as you expect them to. This was especially true for gifts given between spouses and gifts to people you would share looser bonds with, according to researchers at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business. They found that those recipients interpret the gesture as more of a personal statement about your commitment to worthy causes than an expression of your appreciation of the relationship.

If you want to give gifts that reflect your values as a conscious consumer, it might be better to shop for fair-trade goods that the people on your list will appreciate. For example, you might search for products that donate a portion of the proceeds to a charity supported by you or the recipient.

> Material presents
When faced with the task of having to shop for several people, there's a tendency to overthink the gift-giving ritual.

You might take great pains in trying to match gifts based on each individual's unique preferences. But sometimes, the simple things that we overlook as too common or impersonal can actually be just what the person wants, Chan says, citing a study that appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research.

A scented candle or scarf becomes more than just another ordinary object if you can explain its significance, Chan adds: "Highlight the experiential aspects if you want to give a material gift."

For example, if you want to give someone a set of coffee mugs, you can add a note telling the recipient how much you hope they enjoy it during their morning coffee.

This is the second part in a two-part series on client gifts.

Click here for part one.

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