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Giving ‘real’ gifts to customers in 2012

The festive season and all the interesting promotions that come with it got me thinking about what ‘gift-giving’ truly is…

The beauty of human nature says that when we give a gift the recipient feels somewhat obliged to return the favour in equal part. It’s the oldest trick in the marketing book (and still noted as a powerful tool of persuasion by many modern marketers). But by definition, a gift is not given with the expectation that it will be reciprocated. If we are only giving a gift with the view to receive something in return, it’s more a trade than a gift, right? Either way, marketers have proven that customers often perceive something communicated as ‘FREE’ to be a ‘gift’… And you only have to look back on the Christmas and Boxing Day promotions to see that marketers are still exploiting this.

In one of my favourite books Predictably Irrational, the author Dan Ariely talks of how charitable organisations were amongst the first to directly exploit this element of human nature with a good understanding of ‘the principle of reciprocation’. The volunteers of a US charity would hand airport travellers a flower ‘for free’ (the term ‘free’ itself is explored in very interesting detail in the book) and then they’d walk away into the busy crowds. After you’d checked your bags and you were staring blind at the departure screens, that same stranger would circle back around and ask if you would mind giving a moment of your time to answer some questions. It’s simply human nature to feel indebted in this situation and it’s almost impossible to say no to giving something back (in this case, time) – even though the flower barely had any monetary value. Whilst this particular example is from an age well before we developed the wariness we now have for such sneaky tactics, it’s still a good articulation of the power of gift giving and the term ‘free’.

Another great book, Linchpin by marketing master Seth Godin, talks about the power of gift-giving in some detail – and provides much broader examples of its power. In fact, Godin is so passionate about the power of gift-giving, that he believes it is a fundamental ingredient in what sets us apart from each other in the workplace. If you’re only doing what is outlined in your position description you are dispensable, he figures. If however you give the gift that only you can give – your own unique passion, skills, connections, perspective etc – you become more integral to the business and less replaceable in good or tough times.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that an honest gift will almost unfailingly be reciprocated in some capacity; in marketing, general business and in life… Particularly when those contributions are honest ones that aren’t expectant of any reciprocation whatsoever. Easier said than done!

In 2012 I am going to make a concerted effort to give more back to the community we market to (both existing and prospective clients). Because this forces you to think about what gift they truly want, I’ve already found myself engaging with customers on a much deeper, much more honest level.

What gift are you giving your customers in 2012?

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Thomas Mahon

Thomas Mahon

Tom is General Manager of Salmat’s SME division, Local Direct Network. Tom works with Australia's largest team of digital and direct marketing experts specializing in loyalty, data, websites, eCommerce, in-store experience, digital POS, essential mail, direct mail, undressed mail, email, SMS, competitions, social media, inbound and outbound call centers. Having worked closely with organisations that range from corner-shops to Aussie retail powerhouses Coles and Kmart, Tom writes from a unique perspective.

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