An overstretched caregiver tending to her ailing husband receives a trip to London to visit family. A woman who has received a cancer diagnosis is treated to a spa getaway. A young woman who has struggled to save for art college receives a gift of art supplies — plus a cheque to help defray her education costs.

These were some recipients of special gifts offered as part of TD Bank’s “TD thanks you” campaign. The program features videos of bank branch employees surprising customers with gifts chosen especially for them by branch employees.

TD’s campaign struck a chord with clients, YouTube viewers and marketing experts. It is effective because it “humanizes” the TD brand, says Javed Khan, founder and president of Empression Marketing in Toronto.

Only employees who deal directly with clients and are familiar with those clients’ unique situations could have chosen gifts of such emotional significance, says Sylvia Garibaldi, founder of SG and Associates in Toronto.

Call it a public-relations gimmick, but TD’s campaign contains valuable lessons for financial advisors who give client-appreciation gifts. Below are some of the elements of TD campaign that make it successful and could be a part of your gift-giving plans:

> The element of surprise
An unexpected gesture makes a greater impact than a predictable gift given during the holiday season, say Garibaldi and Khan. You can time your gift to coincide with a major life event, or pick a completely random date.

While TD’s presentations took months of planning, they appear spontaneous, says Khan. The bank launched the campaign in July, a time when people aren’t necessarily in a charitable mood.

And because the occasion was not a gift-giving season, the recipient has no obligation to return the favour.

> Deep client knowledge
To reach the level of familiarity that a customized gift requires, Garibaldi says, you need to build strong relationships with your clients.

An institution as large as TD needed its “foot soldiers” to pull off this campaign. “They would actually have to go down to the customer-relationship manager and get the real stories,” says Garibaldi. This client knowledge came from in-person interactions, she says, not questionnaires.

Open-ended questions allow you to learn more about your clients, says Garibaldi. You can start firing away at the discovery stage, when you’re trying to determine what their goals are and who matters most to them.

Casual conversations about their interests can also help you come up with gift ideas. For example, if you happen to know a client enjoys the opera, give them tickets instead of a generic gift card, says Garibaldi.

> A realistic budget
You don’t need to have deep pockets to “wow” clients, Garibaldi says. (The art student was more impressed by the gesture than the size of the cheque.)But you do need to account for how much a campaign will set you back.

Have a budget reserved for client appreciation and keep it available throughout the year.

This is the first part in a two-part series on client gifts. Next: How to personalize your approach to gift-giving.

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