by Leo Jakobson | July 27, 2015

Every year, we ask respondents to the Incentive "Corporate Gift IQ" survey -- who obviously know a little something about selecting the right corporate gifts -- about the best and worst items they've personally received. It's always eye-opening, and not just because of the laughs some of the worst corporate gifts bring.

When it comes to the best, most memorable corporate gifts, there are a few basics that we see year after year. Yes, something hugely expensive is always appreciated. A first-class trip to Europe or a two-week cruise in the South Pacific followed by five days in Australia will likely go over well, as will a Tiffany lamp or a $5,000 gift card -- all of which are answers from this year.

But it's also clear that you don't need that kind of budget to make recipients feel recognized and appreciated. The best solution is to know the recipient and put thought and effort into something she will enjoy. "Anything personalized is always a nice touch," said respondent Robyn Mietkiewicz, director, global meeting management, at Meeting Sites Resource. "Whether it is engraved with my name or they have used a profile to determine my likes and dislikes as far as color, etc." Among the items others mentioned were etched crystal whisky glasses, ancient Roman coins, and a Louisville Slugger baseball bat engraved with the recipient's name.

Another solution is sincerity, and making the recipient understand that his contributions are genuinely appreciated. One respondent mentioned receiving "a clear acrylic statue with a picture of our building in it and a gold shovel," adding, "I was instrumental in the grand opening preparations."

Of course, quality matters. One respondent mentioned a fine pen, saying, "Despite having a tablet and laptop, when I pull out my pen and small, leather-sheathed notepad -- another gift -- clients are always impressed. They still see something written as being more important than something typed."

Many respondents who specified a particular merchandise award often started with the brand name. Maui Jim sunglasses, a Bose stereo, a box of Omaha Steaks, Waterford crystal, a bottle of Eagle Rare Kentucky bourbon, and Apple iPads were all mentioned, some repeatedly. Barring allergies, a "huge box of chocolates" will rarely go wrong.

Of course, there are lessons to be learned from corporate gifts gone wrong. The flip side of personalization, for example, can be seen in responses like "a gift card to a company that is not in my area," a mixed drink shaker given to a teetotaler, and a men's XXL shirt given to a woman. If you're giving homemade pastry, be sure you can bake, suggested one recipient, who pointed to "a homemade pie from a dealer's wife … Blech, too much salt."

While a fine pen is often appreciated, cheap and logoed pens were far and away the most frequent answer in the worst corporate gift category, according to our respondents.

Another thing to remember? The quality of the gift you gives reflects on you and your company's brand. So, a high-end European luxury car maker would likely have been better off giving its top 10 East Coast salespeople nothing rather than a "set of cheap opera-size binoculars." Out-of-date candy, stale food, and cheap liquor were also cited.

Practicality is another concern. Bulky or heavy room gifts like coffee table books and statues (such as "a bear and a mouse sitting in a canoe") rarely make it onto the flight home. Another respondent cited "An eight-foot ficus tree. I know the client meant well, but I had no place to put it. I gave it to the local hospital."

Then there's the stuff that falls into the category of "head-scratcher" gifts, such as this year's copy of someone's self-published book, a fake sword, a blow dart gun, and -- the punctuation marks are from the respondent -- "Engraved bolts?!"

Finally, remember that people talk. One respondent's worst gift was, "Nothing -- and I mean receiving nothing when others in same position received gifts. It is rude to exclude people in the same position."