Give less, but better: How Covid and climate changed gifting forever

Jonathan Legge, CEO and co-founder of gifting platform &Open, reveals how Covid-19 and climate change have changed corporate gifting and what companies need to do now to not get left behind.

Before the pandemic cast its shadow across the world, the climate crisis was already here. It didn’t generate immediate, once in a generation action by governments, it didn’t warrant daily rolling news updates, but make no mistake, it is as real, and as much of a threat to life as we know it as the current global pandemic is.

Over-consumption and growth at all costs are central drivers of an economy and a society teetering on the edge of an irreversible change in how we understand, navigate, and survive in our world.

“Corporate gifting, as we know it, is broken. Rather than being something joyful, it has become hyper-transactional, wasteful, and careless”

There is no getting away from the reality that the nature of business contributes more products into the world. So when we’re thinking about corporate gifting, and doing it better, consider: how do we bring people from a place of wasteful, throw-away swag that will inevitably end up in landfill, to choosing to send meaningful gifts that will last and be appreciated.

My advice? Gift less, but better.

If, as a business, you’re going to take the time and spend the money on sending gifts to clients, customers, and employees, do it right.  Why create waste when you could be creating a moment of genuine connection.

Corporate gifting, as we know it, is broken. Rather than being something joyful, it has become hyper-transactional, wasteful, and careless.

But the times, they are a-changing. Society has started to reassess misguided archaic thinking. Even the most traditional businesses have had to recognise that consumers, especially younger people, hold a lot more power, and vote with their feet if a brand doesn’t feel aligned with their values. In our new reality brands that care – about people, and about the world we live in – will reach people.

For some of the world’s biggest and most forward thinking brands, the simple act of sending a gift with thought and meaning behind it has a significant impact.

It represents a human gesture, a real connection. It reaches people with a powerful message: I matter. They see me. This company cares. Crucially, it leads to fewer unwanted items, and a more considered approach to gifting.

Three rules to sustainably gift by

In sourcing and designing gifts for our clients, there’s a lot to consider. Who is it going to? What do they value? Context is super important.  Where will the tiny moments of delight happen? How locally can we make this gift ? One could get lost down the endless road of considerations, but these are our top three.

  • Align with the gift recipient’s values: As the gift sender, it’s important to determine what gift holds attributes that the gift recipient actually values. Is it made with recycled materials — and is recyclable itself? Does it amplify the work of a minority-owned business? Will part of its proceeds support a charitable cause? Post-pandemic, 25% more consumers plan to pay closer attention to the social and environmental impact that results from their shopping behaviours. This new wave of consciousness should result in an intentional effort to give gift manufacturing, makers and materials the consideration they have always deserved.
  • Built for memorable longevity: We’re not fans of cheap merch. It just doesn’t cut it when it comes to actually making someone feel special. Find objects that stand the test of time, things thoughtless merch could never stand against. A good gift either 1) creates an unboxing experience that is not soon forgotten, or 2) is so well-made it becomes a household staple for years to come. The  set-up may be harder , but it will mean more in the hands of its new owner. Quality beats out quantity every single time. So gift for longevity.
  • Useful yet unexpected (in a good way):  At the end of 2020, nearly 40% of US consumers purchased gift cards from their favourite retailers and restaurants to support them during the darker days of last December. Gift cards, having previously been labeled as ‘lazy’ holiday gifts, suddenly became a primary way of bringing communities together and supporting local establishments.

So this year, consider the unapparent. We do, and it works. Make a charitable donation on the gift recipient’s behalf, let them choose an Airbnb Experience, give them a membership to Calm, or a digital voucher for coffee or a staycation — the opportunities are endless. You just have to be willing to think about what people will use the most.

There’s of course more to consider than just the above. But it’s a great place to start. Keep values, craft and optionality in mind, and you might just have yourself a heap of happy customers, and employees.

The future of corporate gifting

The future we believe is very much where we began – gift less, but better.  We are fixing corporate gifting because it’s  fundamental to good business. Businesses are powered by people and that means there are a multitude of relationships that need to be nurtured.  In the past, corporate gifts were transactional and careless. 

Now, the focus is shifting to prioritising the human experience and making people feel valued, something that’s become incredibly important in relation to employee gifting, as the changes to work and life wrought by the pandemic show no signs of abating.

Ultimately, these things all work together to boost productivity and loyalty which grow the bottom line. Gifting works. Emotionally connected brands are winning. The numbers all say the same thing.

Companies that show their human side reach people. Real connections build relationships. At &Open we believe our future has a just society, not an economy, at its heart. People matter more than numbers.

So, handle with care.

Jonathan Legge
Jonathan Legge is the co-founder and CEO of &Open, a Dublin-based start-up. He founded the end to end gifting platform in 2017, alongside his wife, Ciara, and his brother. An experienced multidisciplinary designer and entrepreneur with 15+ years of experience in the consumer design industry, Jonathan is now a disrupter in the global gifting market. Jonathan received his Master’s in Design Products from the Royal College of Art before going on to join celebrated designer, Ilse Crawford, at her world-renowned creative studio. Jonathan is based in Dublin, Ireland.