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Why customer choice is critical to corporate gifting [Podcast]

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Sara Rodell, CEO of Loop & Tie, is an entrepreneur who leads by example. She believes companies have an opportunity to shepherd social change by embracing inclusion, diversity, and the business strength that comes from a culture of openness to new ideas and people.

Loop & Tie, a leader in corporate gifting industry

Sara Rodell is CEO of Loop & Tie, a leader in the corporate gifting industry.

Sara started Loop & Tie because of a personal gifting problem she experienced in her own workplace. She was sending client gifts to people that felt a little bit boring. She created Loop & Tie, which is a gift choice platform that allows companies to send choices of gifts to clients, or employees, and rather than sending the same thing to everyone, the client can pick out something that’s meaningful for them, which means gifting becomes a new form of communication and a better way to get to know your customers.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Sara for the Sage Advice podcast. You can listen here or read an edited version of the interview below.

Why did you pick this profession?

I think it sort of picked me. I’ve become a bit fixated on things, and this was such an inefficient process that I got to the point that I couldn’t help but explore this idea I had for making it better. It took me a while to work up the thing that I thought people would buy before I left my job and I did that about three years in. Of course, that first product failed, but it taught me a lot, and really informed what then became Loop & Tie.

I’ve experienced the same thing as a speaker myself, occasionally I get a gift from someone, whether it’s a tie, which I never wear, and I bring them home and my wife usually says, “Why don’t they just give you a Starbucks card?” But, you’ve solved that problem in corporate gifting?

We have, we have. One of the big inefficiencies that came up for me when I was purchasing client gifts was we had a lot of clients who were kosher, or who didn’t drink, and the most standard gifts are bottles of wine, and sometimes food baskets that don’t really take that into account. I think it’s interesting that you could have a really good intention but actually end up doing something that’s a bit rude or offensive if you’re not careful.

It’s really crazy to me that gifting is something almost every business in the U.S. does, yet there is no technology to manage it, and there’s no way to be personalized at scale. So just kind of looking at those two problems was where I started my focus.

And of course, this led you to examine the notions of consumer choice, and of course how we make purchases. Unpack that for us a little bit.

Something that was really fascinating to me is we’re shifting with social media and with the ability to essentially choose the content that you want to view at any time you want to view it through Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, all these different mediums. There was this discrepancy between the way that we were choosing to consume some content and materials in our life and the way that we were still making our purchases.

There’s a general consumer expectation that’s shifting, where a consumer doesn’t believe in a “one-size-fits-all” approach anymore. I became fascinated with how you can express this notion of choice that is happening in the content world through consumer products and creating a solution for that would also solve this problem that I saw in the gifting market around personalization at scale.

I think that if you really dig into just how consumer behavior if shifting towards this expectation of, “I should be able to choose whatever I want, when I want it,” and then unpack what that looks like, in different markets, you really have to have choices as sort of your biggest bar, and then unpack the process that serves that.

Do you find there’s something different between gifting and making a purchase? Do people think differently when they’re looking at a purchase for themselves, versus a gift that they’re picking out when on your platform?

I do. When you’re buying for someone else, you will never have all the information you need like you would when you’re buying something for yourself.

That always presents a problem and more room for failure. With that, people don’t like to purchase … gift cards don’t feel personalized, sending a gift basket doesn’t feel personalized, but we resort to these things because the more common denominator you get in our mind, the less likely you are to fail, and by failure, I mean buying someone something that they don’t care about or use.

I looked at that dynamic and I thought, ‘Well, what if instead of having the buyer choose, what if you flipped that and the recipient ended up getting to choose? How would that change that satisfactory feeling at the end of the exchange?’ And I think it changes it quite markedly.

Tell us about the culture of your organization.

Sure, so I love to go down the rabbit hole of thinking about why we do what we do, and if we had to recreate processes from the beginning today, would we do the same thing. I think the same thought process around choice applies to this workplace ideal where we very consistently followed this industrial idea of work means going to a desk, sitting at a desk from 9:00 to 5:00, and that’s where work must happen.

I think that not only is that not true, but sometimes it’s counterproductive, especially for creative jobs. What fascinates me about working in the startup world is that nothing is a given. Unlike other industries where you sort of have to come in with this table stakes view of, ‘Well, at least I’m coming to a desk in the same room every day.’ That’s not always true for a startup.

The way that Loop & Tie’s culture is built is around this idea of how do you do your best work and be your happiest self because that ends up creating a very robust and creative thought process that at the end of the day, I think informs a better customer experience.

The way that our culture is designed is remote. We hire people that are really good at getting whatever they need to get done, and they can do it from wherever they want to be. I think we’re privileged to be able to do that because of work tools like Google Hangouts, like Slack, like Intercom, that keep us tied to each other and to our customers. I really think that the workplace of the future isn’t necessarily a destination.