“How” is Much More Important Than “What”

Recently I received a pleasant surprise at my doorstep – a package of gourmet vinegars sent to me by a client in appreciation for a recent business model planning session. Opening the box I experienced that warm glow of satisfaction from having rewarding work with people I admire. (And I think fondly of that client each time I prepare a salad dressing.)

I also realized just how rare that experience is in today’s whirl of non-stop response to rapid-fire emails (and now social media posts). As with many of our modern communications, the thank you gift often loses its impact, becoming little more than a sales gimmick or mass promotion.

So how do you make your expressions of gratitude more meaningful? While it may seem common sense, studies in reward theory demonstrate that to have a positive effect gifts should be:

  • Unexpected. Incentive programs are not thank you gifts. Since they are communicated in advance to encourage behavior, they are psychologically viewed as “pay” for a particular action. Unexpected gifts, however, stand out and reinforce the internal motivation of the recipient.
  • Fair. A gift loses all “value” if it somehow appears inequitable relative to other rewards for the same action (think back to childhood holidays where you were well aware of sibling gifts). The monetary value of gifts therefore should be relatively equal.
  • Timely. Gifts have more impact the closer they are timed to the event or action. So it is important to have a system in place (see below) where you can quickly respond, but with a personal touch.

Your Next Best Three Steps:

  1. Develop your guideline for thank you gifts. It carries more impact (and saves you money and time) to send fewer, more meaningful gifts than generic give-aways. List those actions of an employee, client, partner or referral source that truly helped you and your business. Also have on hand (or on your list) a series of gifts that are useful and somehow tied to your business to reinforce the reminder.
  2. Automate the logistics. Save time on things like packaging, delivery and tracking by using services like - where you can quickly print stamps, generate mailing labels, and track delivery from the convenience of your office. You also then have a record for future reference.
  3. Personalize the message. Instead spend those extra moments on a personal note, preferably hand-written. In fact personal notes themselves are the most valuable gifts of all.

About the Author(s)

Jeanne Rossomme headshot

Jeanne uses her 20 years of marketing know-how to help small business owners reach their goals. Before becoming an entrepreneur, she held a variety of marketing positions with DuPont and General Electric. Jeanne regularly hosts online webinars and workshops in both English and Spanish.

President, RoadMap Marketing

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