We're not sure what the 'official' start date of Christmas is, but now we're into December, we thought it appropriate to rustle up a few words on our thoughts on the use of promotional products over the festive period.

Corporate gift-giving at Christmas is nothing new – it's been standard practice for many years. But that's all the more reason to put a bit of thought into it.

It's traditional for businesses to exchange promotional items but it's easy to get lost in the mire of goodwill gestures that flurry between firms and suppliers in December.

It's really important to get your promotional items right at Christmas, because it's clear how strong a role promotional merchandise can play in keeping your core customers.

Think about it – themed promotional products with your company logo on send out a number of messages. It's a message of genuine goodwill at Christmas time, a friendly festive message. But it's also a subtle customer retention tool, a signal if you will that business is ongoing, that your relationship will continue well into the new year and beyond.

In an age of the rising popularity of electronic communication – like the e-card – something real and tangible that your customers can see and touch really make promotional gifts stand out, we say.

And this shouldn't be understated – while a festive email is likely to end up in the trash, that themed promotional mug you send is likely to take pride of place on an office desk, where it'll be seen by lots and lots of people. And there's something personal about it, too.

And with budgets and resourcing undoubtedly strained this year, given the current ongoing financial uncertainty, promotional products offer businesses a cost-effective marketing solution.

So what to do to make your promotional products stand out from the crowd?

Well, we think it's all about tailoring your products to your customers.

One really good way is to think about the personal connections you have with your clients. Let's say there's one customer you speak to regularly who's something of a sweet tooth – he's chocolate mad and it's something of a running joke.

How about a promotional mug filled with sweets and chocolates? A great way to get your brand message across and also show you've put a little thought into the gift.

That's just one idea – but we think you can see how this could work. By using what you know about your customers you can create bespoke gifts that really stand out from the crowd.

If you're looking at things from a more general point of view, we say it's all about upping the ante.

When you come to send out your corporate Christmas cards, instead on off-the-shelf set of cards, make sure you personalise them. Sure, it might mean you have to rifle through your contact book but it'll mean you can send out specific promotional Christmas cards to your customers.

They'll appreciate it – a personalised Christmas card with a customer or company name on shows that a little thought has gone into the gift – something we think makes a big difference.

And a final idea – don't just limit promotional merchandise to your customers.

Think about how they could be used among your staff at Christmas, too. This could take the form of some promotional bags packed with festive treats for the last working day before you finish for Xmas, or a promotional mug of warming coffee to reward those staff who've made the effort to get into work on cold and frosty mornings!

We hope these ideas get you started.

Posted by Robin McCrink