This is the time of year that family, friends coworkers and clients alike gather to exchange the gift of cherished relationships and good wishes for a New Year.  From the obligatory Christmas card and phone call to the newly added FaceBook posts and tweets this week, the requisite merriment and well-wishing is in full swing!

At the office, co-workers will play “Secret Santa” to those they generally don’t speak to for the other 51 weeks of the year. And vendors by the bus load will show up in your waiting rooms and reception areas adorned with tins-upon-tins of popcorn and glitter-covered poinsettias. For the next three days, your employees will walk slowly by their in-boxes looking for the corporate envelope that holds the holiday bonus, only to be disappointed by yet another gift-card to Outback or a 2-for-1 coupon at the “Beefstick Haus” kiosk in the mall.

How does it go? Yes. “It’s The Thought That Counts.”

At home children will gaze at the television with glossy, bloodshot eyes and drooling pie holes – knowing that the better they behave over the next week-or-so, the more Santa will cram into their stockings come the morning of the 25th. And parents across the globe will mill around distant shopping centers like zombies, looking for the next retail dupe to stick his (or her) naive head from the food court megaplex mumbling something about a “Sale on brains in isle three…”


But nothing says Holiday rush (as in sugar rush) like the ever-omnipresent Christmas party.

I’m not sure about you, but this is how it happens in my head world…

Friends and family members that you haven’t seen since LAST December will gather at your doorstep with cheer in charge and ugly sweaters galore. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, half-siblings, step-kids and even some neighbor kids all gather around one cramped kitchen counter to re-hash tales from ages gone by and better off forgotten.

Within minutes, grandpa is sleeping in the Lay-Z-Boy in front of the TV, the windows are covered in condensation and drinks are flowing like Niagara Falls. The superficial pleasantries have given way to the occasional fat joke and EVERYONE is trying not to stare at cousin Lacy’s botched boob-job.  And in the dining room, the kids gather ’round goofy uncle Tony like moths to a campfire, waiting for him to start telling the stories about the days he and dad were run from the chapel by nuns for dipping Ritz crackers in the stolen communion wine! Oh, and I’m not sure about your family, but it’s required that at least one person ends up crying and another (most likely a child, but not a rule) will end up bleeding from somewhere above the neck.

REMEMBER – It’s CHRISTMAS, and there’s NO better way to celebrate the joy of the holidays than with a gaggle of disgruntled relatives, a block of Gouda cheese and a $12 box of wine!

But ultimately there comes the anxiety of the gift exchange.  And this is UNIVERSAL from kids old enough to scratch “MERY KRISMAS” on the stairway walls with Crayolas to stinky great aunt Millie who couldn’t read a billboard if her wheelchair was hoisted up on the scaffolding – It’s not a matter of WHAT gift you get, but WHO gave it.  Because EVERYONE KNOWS WHO GIVES THE BEST GIFTS!

POW…  Branding lesson!

(Didn’t think I’d get there did ya’?)

Year after year, I watch companies try to define their unique value or their “appreciation” for the past year’s business with trite, should I say irresponsible attempts at gift giving for the holidays. From popcorn tins and poinsettias to the ultimately unoriginal gift cards and certificates, companies fail time after time to harness the opportunities holiday gift-giving can make for your brand.

In this case, It’s not so much the thought that counts, but the thought that’s put into it that counts.

Sure, none of my family cares if grandma Colvetti sent iTunes cards in blank envelopes. We get that she didn’t know what else to give. But we also understood that even a small gesture like that outweighed uncle Tony’s 2-for-1 oil change for great aunt Millie, who hasn’t driven anything but a wheelchair for 30 years.

If your company is ANYTHING like my family – I pray for you. But more-so, I hope that you’ve spent a little more time working your TRUE Brand into the gifts you give your clients, customers and coworkers this year. Because some gifts (like a tin of popcorn or an oil change) can disappear in a mater of an afternoon, but a gift that says “I thought of you” makes a lasting impression.

Happy Holidays!
Andrew B. Clark
The Brand Chef

Disclaimer: The names and characters in this post have been changed to protect the innocent. This post is in no way meant to imply that any of my relatives, neighbors, coworkers or friends are bad gift-givers. I love you all and look forward to the peace and serenity you will give me over the next 11 months.
  1. All gifts speak. Some gifts say things better than others. The same goes for brands!

    Good point, nice post, questionable sweater!

    Keep creating…in 2011,

  2. Nothing says “Holiday” like a box of wine. However, we don’t get the beefstick haus stuff here in Iowa, we get “Deer and Cheese Summer Sausage” courtesy of your favorite locker. Personally the most creative gift I’ve seen this year is: “His and Her High Colonics” (the gift that keeps on giving). Christmas can say a lot about one’s personal brand (like “GENERIC” or “BROWN WRAPPER”)…OR it can say “Look what I bought you that I’m going to drink 90% of in the next 3 hours”.

  3. Great post…you’re right – this time of year is a special opportunity to let past, present and future clients know that you’re thinking about them and that you appreciate their business. But HOW you do that has a huge impact. For those on a tight budget – I’d suggest sending greeting cards with a personalized, hand-written note.

    • Aaaah, see THAT’S putting a little more thought to an otherwise poor gifting decision. Creates good connection, good branding and memorable if the message is personal.

      Thanks you Suzanne! Great input!

      Keep Cooking!
      Andrew B. Clark
      The Brand Chef

  4. Great post Andrew. I’ve seen some creative & unique holiday cards/gifts this year. Here are my favorite: Saturday Mfg.’s Nog Goggles, Blue Compass’ Christmas Cave game, and Silicon Prairie’s photo hunt

    • BRILLIANT… Love seeing how others are able to tap their creative and think “Outside the Gift Box…”

      Thanks for sharing!

      Keep Cooking!
      Andrew B. Clark
      The Brand Chef