Every once in a while, I receive a package in the mail that I wasn’t expecting. The doorbell rings, I go to answer, and sitting there on my doorstep is a box. Brown waves at me, drives off, and I walk back into the house with the mysterious package under my arm. I weigh it in my hand. Too heavy for a T-shirt. Too light for a book. Too quiet for an 8lb bag of m&ms. I let Chico sniff it for explosives. Clear. Cholula sniffs for pot, in case it’s from my sister. Clear. Chiquita sniffs for anthrax. Clear. I set the box on the kitchen table, swing my ninja sword at its edges in a blur and a woosh, and voila. Inside the box, I find… stuff like this:

Now, for the sake of disclosure, I should point out that I know Kamran Popkin (@swagclub). We are both members of Social Media Club Greenville and fellow mischief-makers. He had a hand in getting me to the BMW driver school a while back, which was a pretty awesome thing to do. And yes, Kamran and I have become fast friends over the last two years, mostly because he’s a straight-up guy, fun to be with, and he too is a major Steven Pressfield fan (always a good sign). I trust, respect and like him.

When we aren’t drinking really good sake, trading sushi war stories or making soap over on Paper Street, Kamran, being the business samurai that he is, likes to show me, rather than just tell me, what kind of impact good swag and a personal touch can have. That’s why he routinely sends me cool stuff in the mail. My package from Audi/Klout Perks earlier this week reminded of how effective Swag Club’s personal touch really is. It’s the little details that make all the difference: You can treat your relationship with potential customers and “influencers” as merely a numbers game, or you can focus on building lasting relationships with people you want to bring into your cool little business universe.

Let me let you in on one of Kamran’s little secrets: He doesn’t want customers or clients. He just wants to do business with people he likes. His funnel is built to only attract people he can have fun with. His business circle caps off at 149 people. That’s it. If you want in, you have to earn your spot. And trust me, you want in. Being one of the 149 is something none of us takes for granted. We’re part of a tribe of miscreants and instigators. We’re all in on the same inside jokes. We are a real community, bound by the same thread. The free stuff has very little to do with it. It’s a vehicle, nothing more.

The difference between a company that puts its logo on koozies and key chains, and a company that uses perks and swag to build relationships may seem imperceptible to the average person, but it is crystal clear to those of us who find ourselves touched by the latter. Exclusivity is part of it. Feeling valued as a human being is another. Kinship and like-mindedness are never far. These are some of the elements that help build strong communities and word-of-mouth movements. Before sending gifts to “influencers,” remember that the end-game isn’t the mailing of a box. The end-game is the development of a community of influential evangelists. This is a key insight that EVERY advertiser partnering with Klout Perks needs to learn and think about.

And beyond building the kind of internal culture that both fuels this type of thinking and drives effective outreach programs is a basic methodology – a framework, if you will – that can be broken down in five simple lessons. Swag Club follows them with Swiss-like precision, and the results speak for themselves, which makes me wish I could somehow bring Kamran and Klout together to build a playbook for every new Klout Perks partner.

Audi could have sure used a little Swag Club flair this past week. Imagine how cool their promotion would have been if Mr. Popkin had been involved in the project somehow. All 830 of us might be enthusiastically selling Audis to everyone we run into well into 2015. Why not.

Let me give you a taste of what I am talking about:

1. Presentation is important.

You saw the way Swag Club’s package was arranged. Compare that with the box I received from Audi’s Klout Perks promotion this week:

Clearly, one says “I care. I want to start off this relationship on the right foot.” The other says “I don’t care. I’m just doing my job.”

Which do you want to be? Which do you think will yield the results your company is hoping for? Who’s in charge here?

2. Always include a personal note.

Here is the kind of note Kamran sends with every Swag Club package, along with the flip side of his business card. Note to every company sending swag and goodies through Klout Perks rewards programs: Write a personal note. Sign it. Put your Twitter or Facebook thingamajig on it. Don’t just have a guy in a warehouse somewhere pack stuff in a box.

This is where the real gold is. Trust me, nobody cares how big and bad your new koozie is. We’ll grow tired of it after a few minutes. You want to influence an influencer? Become his friend. His brother. Invite him into your tribe, and make him want to extend the same invitation to you.

And no, you can’t outsource this. Invest in a good pen and actually write these yourself. That’s what makes them special. That’s what gives them their magic. There is no corner-cutting here. Remember: You aren’t sending this stuff to 10,000 people. If you get it, you are sending it to just a few dozen.

3. Bespoke your swag.

Nothing says “you’re important to me” like a generic coffee mug trapped inside a plain dusty brown box. Don’t go there.

This is a completely different mechanism from mass marketing. Anyone can score your latest bottle opener with your logo on it by walking by your booth at a trade show or buying it from your website. If it’s already sitting on a shelf in your swag warehouse, it isn’t special. You aren’t really going to “wow” anyone with it. If you want to impress “influencers,” if you want them to sing your praises all on their own for years to come, you have to at least try to make an effort. That means giving the perk itself (not just the packaging and the handshake) a little extra flavor. Customize something for them. Make the gift unique and meaningful. If not, it won’t make a lasting impression. Here are two simple examples from Swag Club that Klout Perks partners might want to draw inspiration from:

Note that bespoke swag doesn’t necessarily have to be drink/glass-oriented. (People just like to give me booze, for some reason.)

See the laser etching? Notice that it isn’t just about the “influencer’s name but that there is more there. The whole “instigator,” “Space Monkey” and “member #149″ references have meaning. It’s the inside joke, the secret handshake. Simple stuff, but it works.

What Swag Club manages to do here that Klout doesn’t is create a bond between itself and the person it is trying to build a relationship with. What a bespoke swag/perk says is “not only do I care enough to present this to you with a little finesse, not only do I care enough to throw a little personal note in there for you, but I also care enough to give you something that is just for you. Something with your name on it. Something that will forever be uniquely yours.

The term “talisman of friendship” comes to mind. This isn’t marketing, folks. This is relationship building. It’s evangelist development. This is the sort of thing that requires a little more care than the odd mass mailing. Do it right.

If your budget doesn’t factor in fancy laser etching, custom embroidery or velvet paintings, consider decals. See what happened with this bottle of Brockman’s gin in the image below? It might not last as long, but the swag doesn’t have to be long-lived. It just needs to make a lasting impact.

Yes, that’s a decal of a Twitter avatar, stuck to that bottle. Here is an inexpensive way to turn just about any kind of gift into instant swag, and do it in a memorable way. And like every great signature, it is also an invitation to connect.

The bonus lesson here is that “clever” works on the same parts of the brain as “cool.” Which leads me to my next point…

4. Do the unexpected.

Creating “wow” moments isn’t just about bling, perks and VIP treatment. First, you want to build anticipation and excitement. Then, like any good showman, you want to surprise and delight. There’s a little undercurrent of misdirection here that you need to get good at. Make your new friends pay attention to the left hand while you prepare the surprise with your right. Make them think they know what to expect, then surprise them with something even cooler.

One thing that Kamran likes to do is tell me he is sending me something in the mail ahead of time. Usually, it comes in the form of a quick Tweet or email:

@SwagClub: “Are you in town this week?” Me: “Yep.” @SwagClub: “Good.” That’s it. That’s all it takes. For the next 2-3 days, I watch my mailbox like a hawk. If a FedEx or UPS truck drives within three miles of my house, I somehow hear it. When the package finally comes, I know it could be anything: Some new Space Monkey business cards. Fake tattoos. Project Mayhem decals. A bottle of French liqueur with a bespoke tumbler. A Russian bride. Who knows? Whatever it is, the element of surprise always works in Swag Club’s favor: I am never underwhelmed.

How this applies to Klout Perks promotions: If your campaign discloses that participants will receive a bag of chocolates, don’t just send them a bag of chocolates. Send them something else too, like movie tickets, or a gift card, or a custom sock monkey designed by your creative director. Something. Anything. Surprise them by upping the ante. Overwhelm them with something cool and unexpected. Make an impression.

5. Follow through.

You aren’t done once the “influencer” has received his or her perk. That was just the beginning. Now comes the relationship-building time. Now comes the regular chats on Twitter or by email or by phone. You want to invest in influence? You want to build a small army of highly connected word-of-mouth evangelists? Make it about more than the gift. Trust me. You want to build the kind of good will and mutual respect that will last longer than a week. Otherwise, you’re just another koozie panderer. Your stuff will hit a landfill inside of six months. Where’s the value in that?

You know how we like to talk about best practices in social business and community management? When it comes to the new digital influence game, you don’t really have to look much further than this.

@Klout, if you’re listening (and I know you are), consider reaching out to @SwagClub. If you guys can put together some best practices or guidelines for your Perks partners following this general methodology, both the relevance and longevity of your perks program will be assured. I can almost guarantee it. Think of the possibilities.

Cheers. :)