The Importance of Gratitude

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By: Dr. James McFarland, People Scientist

We have all been taught the importance of saying please and thank you, but did you know that a sincere expression of gratitude may also help your bottom line? A study recently published in the International Journal of Advertising found that messages containing an expression of gratitude can significantly increase consumers’ perceptions of the brand sending the message.[1]

The study’s authors examined the effects of high- and low-effort expressions of gratitude on consumer favorability and trust. They found that high-effort expressions of gratitude (e.g., a message expressing appreciation for the consumer combined with a small free gift or product) resulted in consumers rating the brand more positively than if the brand delivered a low-effort expression of gratitude (e.g., a simple message of appreciation).

The elevated positive ratings towards brands using high-effort messaging were found to be mediated by a greater sense of trust in the brands. Meaning that consumers felt that the high-effort expressions of gratitude were more sincere and that the brands delivering them were actively promoting a reciprocal and mutually rewarding relationship.

Additionally, the study found that low-effort expressions of gratitude also increased consumers’ ratings of favorability towards the brands delivering the message, but only when the consumers personally identified with the specific gratitude target contained in the message. Meaning, that when the expression of appreciation strongly reflected the personal investment of the consumers (e.g., thanking them for supporting a specific product or taking part in a specific campaign) they rated the brand more positively than if there had been no expression of gratitude, or if the message of gratitude had been low-effort and vague (i.e., “Thank you for being our customer”). 

Expressions of gratitude can make a big difference, but the sincerity of those messages are what drives those positive results. This is illustrated by another recent study that examined the effects of expressions of gratitude on consumers’ intentions to purchase.[2] The researchers found that expressions of gratitude typically increase consumers’ intentions to purchase, but only when those expressions of gratitude are congruent with the “sincerity” [3] of the brand.  If the brand itself is perceived as “exciting” or seemingly incongruent with the gratitude being expressed, the researchers found that those messages of gratitude can actually lower consumers’ intent to purchase, ultimately hurting the brand’s bottom line.

So, it turns out that our parents were right, it is important and even advantageous to say, “thank you”, but it is imperative that we say it in the right way. When expressing gratitude to consumers, marketers need to keep in mind how their brand’s image is perceived by consumers and focus on the specific interactions their consumers perceive as being salient and mutually rewarding. To better understand consumer psychology and to find out more about expressing gratitude in your messaging, give us a call at 833-579-1905 or email us at [email protected].

And for more psychological insights in marketing, join us for our next webinar on Thursday, December 8th at 10:00 am CST as we discuss the consumer recession mindset and what steps marketers can take to successfully grow their brands, even when things seem to be going from bad to worse. Register for the webinar today!

[1] Veronica Thomas, Dora Bock & Heath McCullough (2022) Examining consumer reactions to sincere brands’ gratitude expressions: when a simple thank you just won’t do. International Journal of Advertising, DOI: 10.1080/02650487.2022.2082221

[2] Dora E. Bock & Veronica L. Thomas (2021) Too Exciting to Care? When Expressing Gratitude Is a Detriment to the Brand, Journal of Advertising, DOI: 10.1080/00913367.2021.1990812

[3] Aaker, J. L. (1997). Dimensions of brand personality. Journal of marketing research, 34(3), 347-356.