November 4, 2021 / Thought Leadership

Holidays are seasonal, gratitude is not.

Hillary Williams, Group Brand Director

With the Holiday season approaching, one word seems to stand out among the rest: Gratitude. It’s always top of mind (or nowadays, “trending”) as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday … and this year that magnified sense of thankfulness feels more relevant than ever for brands.  

Expectations for brands have been dramatically increasing for the past several years and the need for companies to stand for something greater than their products has never been more profound. These expectations are driven by consumer desire to identify with companies through shared values, in order to rationalize purchase behavior via decisions that contribute to the greater good. At the end of last year, a study by Forrester reported that “63% of consumers will choose brands that help their local communities, while 57% intend to buy from companies that contribute to sustainability more frequently over the next two years” (Forrester, 2020). Alongside what companies are doing for society, consumers want to feel personally appreciated and that their business is not being taken for granted. According to a recent study, “48% of people expect specialized treatment for being a good customer,” and will be quick to switch from product experiences that lack appreciation and personalization (Accenture, 2021).

Consumers do not want to feel like they’re being taken for granted by the brands they support, but neither do the employees working for these organizations. The pandemic of the past year has further amplified the search for meaning and purpose in our lives, yielding a shift in perspective on priorities. Recent reports reveal that “25% of polled professionals said the pandemic has made them want to pursue more fulfilling jobs,” (Boston Globe). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that 2.9% of the entire workforce quit their jobs in August alone, hitting a new monthly record (NPR).

So how can companies effectively navigate this greater sense of purpose and feelings of restlessness to retain and attract both employees and consumers? Simply put⏤  they can show genuine gratitude. Appreciation is a critical foundation of any strong, long-lasting relationship and as Professor Bradley Cannon of the University of Wisconsin remarks, “We did not create or fashion ourselves. Life is about giving, receiving and repaying. We are receptive beings, dependent on the help of others. As such, we are called to gratitude.” Studies show that grateful people tend to be more empathetic, agreeable, joyful and enthusiastic and that the act of gratitude helps mitigate toxic emotions (Forbes). In a University of Pennsylvania study, telemarketers who had a brief visit from the Head of Giving thanking them for their efforts, outperformed the shifts that did not by 50% (Wespire). 

Gratitude starts from within companies, – and the way it’s rooted in the brand DNA and manifested towards consumers are of equal importance.  With this in mind, here are three ways to show gratitude for employees and consumers in a compelling, authentic way:  

  1. Walking the brand purpose walk. An oldie but a goodie and no better example in my opinion, is REI. Despite a tough sales year due to COVID related store closures they’re continuing with their #optoutside movement and closing all doors on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, encouraging over 15,000 employees and consumers to spend time outside on the busiest shopping day of the year. REI’s commitment to the #optoutside effort exemplifies their core purpose of “inspiring, educating and outfitting for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship,” on the heels of a period where many reprioritized time outside. This year aligns with their new Cooperative Action Fund, a charity to support “nonprofit organizations promoting justice, equity and belonging in the outdoors.” From a loyalty standpoint, REI offers a $20 lifetime membership offer for customers. This alternate take on a traditional loyalty program reflects their co-op roots and gives consumers frequent discounts, but with a sense of genuine belonging to the organization. Members see themselves as an extension of the company which creates a genuine sense of loyalty vs. generic and artificial discount offer system.
  2. Grand gestures that make a statement and prioritize emotional health over immediate profit. After a grueling year in a reimagined corporate world that blurred all lines between home and work, LinkedIn prioritized the mental and emotional health of their employees with a company-wide “RestUp!” week that gave nearly all their 15,900 full time workers an extra week off to recharge. By promoting the well-being of their hard working staff with this dramatic gesture, LinkedIn boosted internal morale and optics with platform users, all with a relatively minimal impact on their bottom line in the grand scheme of things. This move is particularly relevant at a time when other social platforms have been under increased scrutiny regarding their moral compasses – or lack thereof. It helps set a high bar for companies to demonstrate appreciation in concrete ways, which Spanx CEO Sara Blakely embraced as she surprised all employees with two first class tickets and $10,000 to celebrate their recent acquisition by Blackstone. 
  1. Public celebrations of appreciation. The best acts of gratitude stem from a company’s brand ethos, and Dave’s Killer Bread’s employment model is based around hiring the best person for the job, regardless of their criminal history. In their recent campaign with Exverus Media they showed the empowering and inspiring stories of workers with criminal backgrounds and reciprocal nature of second chances through a moving long form video that personified their brand values and celebrated employees in a personal way. Similarly, in the midst of the pandemic Burger King’s targeting took an unconventional and compelling shift when they used their on-site advertising to showcase messages of gratitude for their employees, who had to risk their health to keep working through the pandemic. Customers were invited to leave thank you messages when placing an order through the app which resulted in more than 5,100 messages over just three days. While this was a timely and impactful gesture, there’s an opportunity for this type of employee appreciation outside of extenuating circumstances like the past year’s pandemic. A CP client, Liberty Bank recently repositioned the brand around improving the lives of their customers, teammates and communities for generations to come. Their “community kind” brand ethos is rooted in the bank belonging to something greater than itself. The organization lives out this mission on a daily basis with gratitude for their customers and community – whether it’s surprising the community with ice cream at a children’s summer camp over the summer, featuring profiles of inspiring customers on their social channels or OOH that speaks to how inspired they are by the community. These types of public gestures of gratitude both celebrate employees and drive consumer affinity. 

It’s clear to see that this Thanksgiving represents a unique opportunity for companies to lean into gratitude and find genuine ways to thank both their consumers and employees. But more than that, it’s a reminder that gratitude should be something that’s practiced 365 days of the year – positioned around what giving thanks really means for your business and to those that support you from both a workforce and consumer standpoint.