More than ever, customers care about where their incentives come from

Posted on September 27, 2022 by Roshni Patel

As a marketer, when it comes to choosing the right corporate gifts for your customers, there’s a lot to consider. Do the gifts offer enough breadth of appeal to suit all tastes and backgrounds? Will they reflect well on your company, in terms of quality? Are they affordable without feeling cheap, and luxurious while feeling accessible? 

There’s another key factor to consider – something that, until recently, may not have registered as a potential issue: does the supplier of your gifts align with your company’s corporate values? Are you, in other words, sending ethical gifts to your customers? 

Here’s why that matters: Empowered by the internet and driven by a growing awareness of ethical business practices, the majority of consumers are now paying attention to how the companies they support conduct themselves.

Kathleen O’Connor is a freelance marketing consultant who oversees campaigns and strategies for several Manchester-based SMEs. “The ‘halo effect’ is a real thing,” she says. “I oversee the marketing for a charity called EatWell MCR, which partners with organisations to provide high-quality meals to people sidelined by poverty. We’re currently running a fundraising raffle, and I’ve got a multinational FMCG brand to provide prizes. Now, they genuinely do care about supporting this good cause. But they’ve also got a PR department that knows how good it will look to customers to have their brand logo on the EatWell MCR site.

“Internally, too, it’s going to help that company’s employee engagement, because workers will feel happy to have the brand aligned with an objectively good cause.”

Your company could have an unimpeachable reputation with regards to corporate social responsibility, but that reputation may take a knock if the gifts and incentives sent out to customers are sourced from a business with a dubious track record. Just as aligning with a notably ethical organisation can provide a ‘halo effect’ and make your brand appear switched-on and good-hearted, working with a widely maligned supplier may cause your brand to appear a little behind-the-times.        

In fact, a 2021 survey of 2,000 UK consumers found that 53% of them would never buy from a brand again if it was accused of unethical sourcing. The survey also revealed that 82% of consumers plan to prioritise buying only from companies with ethical sourcing strategies in place. (That number is up from 69%, pre-pandemic.) Increasingly, people are scrutinising where their money goes and what it supports – and the information they need to make decisions is often readily available online. 

When sourcing your gift supplier, then, here are a few areas to consider:

  • Does its supply chain negatively impact human rights, e.g. is it in any way associated with modern slavery?
  • Does the supplier have a transparent sustainability policy, and seek to avoid causing environmental damage wherever possible? 
  • Does the supplier behave ethically with regards to animal welfare? 
  • Does the supplier have forward-thinking diversity and inclusion policies? Any negative stories in this regard have a good chance of spreading far and wide across social media.  
  • Does the supplier give back to communities and/or charities? If it doesn’t, that won’t be a deal-breaker for most consumers – but it’s certainly a major plus-point if it does.  

Gifts and incentives remain hugely effective in attracting and retaining customers. By ensuring that your gift supplier behaves in a manner that your company would be happy to openly endorse, you can sidestep the risk of those gifts inadvertently doing more harm than good. Reap the benefits, avoid the backlash, and keep your customers happy and guilt-free.

You can learn about M&S’ own environment, social and governance (ESG) strategy here.