Thanksgiving is a perfect time to reflect on how we show gratitude toward clients and consumers. Bonnie Harris, founder of Wax Marketing, and host Michael Lynch will explore the ways you can authentically express thanks.
Many companies confuse gratitude with a rewards program, but they are quite different. In this session, we’ll discuss how gratitude benefits an overall brand, its contribution to the customer experience, and companies that are outstanding at demonstrating an attitude of thankfulness.
As the founder of Wax Marketing — an integrated marketing agency based in St. Paul, Minnesota — Bonnie Harris and her team design and implement IMC strategies for clients across the United States, focusing primarily on mid-sized companies in the healthcare, technology, and manufacturing industries. Harris is also an instructor for the IMC program.
Michael Lynch: What exactly do you think of when you hear the word "gratitude?"
Bonnie Harris: When I think of gratitude, I think of something that goes beyond rewards or anything that's programmatic. I think about things that reflect a true appreciation for clients or customers and that are authentic. It may include some kind of reward in the mail, but usually, when brands are really good at showing gratitude, it's personalized to the person who's receiving it. It's event-related. In other words, it has to do with something that's happened, or that's beyond just a purchase.
ML: How can you tell when a company really appreciates his customers?
BH: I think it goes back to companies that send an automatic response, "Gee, thanks so much, we love that you're our customer." Well, there's no way that that response was created just for you. As human beings, we're really good at identifying things that come from brands and companies that are "triggered" by some kind of process or some kind of event, and that really comes from the heart and from the human side of a particular company. I flew on Alaska Airlines for the first time in a long time about a month ago. I used to fly on that airline all the time when I was working on the west coast, and I would get random notes from them with little upgrades, certificates and things like that, that really weren't because I had reached a certain level, something that kind of came out randomly. It looked like somebody had said, "Wow, she's flown a lot on our airline, we're going to send her this." When I flew to Alaska this time, the same thing happened. I had to change my flight, and when I talked to the customer service rep, she was great. I mean, I got somebody right away, she said, "Thank you for your business," all that kind of thing. Then, I got a little email that said something that was very specific to our phone conversation, and literally, it was the customer service person saying, "Is that good? Is that going to work for you? Let me know if you need anything else. Here's my personal phone number and email." That's the difference between Delta sending me a canned message with a survey, which is what I get from Delta.
ML: Can you maybe give me an example of what you've seen or what you've experienced that might be considered authentic gratitude?
BH: The litmus test of it is whether or not it creates that emotional connection. When it's true appreciation, that connection is made. I have a small nonprofit here in Saint Paul that I work with that provides community services for adults with mental illness. Sixty percent of it is funded by private donations and not by the state. A lot of these agencies have to raise some money. What Vail Place does to show its gratitude for its donors is they make individual videos thanking each donor for their donation. Those videos are put on social media, they're on their YouTube channel, and they're sent to each donor individually in an email from the executive director. I can't even tell you how much time that takes to do that. There's nothing that's more personalized, there's nothing that's more authentic. It's not scripted. The members look at the donation; they look at the name and they state their gratitude for the money. Sometimes it's $20; sometimes, one gentleman donated $15,000. That's another point is that a lot of times I've heard the phrase gratitude-based marketing out there, and I get what they mean by that, but I really dislike it because it implies using this emotion for more sales, and I don't like that. This activity was something that they came up with on their own, and I simply helped them figure out how to deliver it.
ML: What companies really do show great gratitude, and how do you think they show it?
BH: I think that companies show gratitude in a lot of different ways. I look at American Express, which used the content as a way of being grateful. They started a website for small business marketing a long time ago, and obviously, it was part of their marketing engine, but this website has so much content on it. They spend so much money managing and editing and getting contributors, and it's actually not that easy to become a contributor either. They spend a lot of time making sure that it's really good content. They use editors that came from editorial media, and it's grown into this giant community that they manage. And to me, yes, their brand is on there, so that is good for them, but at the same time, I think they could have done something that was much smaller, kind of clinical, looked good, but really didn't deliver the value this content engine delivers. To me, that's giving back to your customers and giving back to a certain segment of your customers with a lot of really valuable information. This is where smaller brands really can compete. I have another eCommerce software company that I work with here called Insight Software and they compete with a brand that's owned by Adobe. Insight can't compete in terms of advertising with them, but their CEO spends a considerable amount of time visiting with customers, going out to meet customers, calling customers just to find out what their experience has been like and to thank them. Even though they're small, they do a very big user conference every year that has a lot of content that's basically free to the people who use the software.
ML: What does the expression "attitude of gratitude" mean to you?
BH: I think there are two kinds of people in the world. I think there are those that are grateful and there are those that are entitled. I think that goes to brands as well. I think that there are brands who feel entitled, and it comes across in how they market. Sometimes they could be a little bit condescending at times. If we think about car brands, Lexus had a real issue with that for a long time, and did a lot of work, particularly with women, to be much more grateful for that business rather than just writing them off. Let's talk about Chewy because who the heck launches an online business against Amazon and wins? Chewy has some of the most loyal customers I've ever seen because when you order from them, I think they actually know who you are. Like they must have some kind of database that has ad hoc comments about the last conversation you might've had with them, and they go out of their way to do things. I had a friend who had dog food coming and his dog died, and he called to cancel the order and they called him. It makes me choke up every time. And of course, they canceled the order, but they donated several bags of dog food in his dog's name to a local rescue. I mean, that's the sort of thing that you can't duplicate. Chewy has the most loyal fan base I've ever seen.
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