updated November 2022

With the holiday season upon us, our focus turns to giving thanks and recognizing what we’re grateful for. And while gratitude certainly plays a vital role in our personal lives, it is just as important with employees and with customers.

Gratitude can help your organization humanize your brand, enable you to cultivate stronger relationships with each other and build a more authentic customer experience that inspires loyalty, repeat purchases and referrals.

The problem? Finding genuine ways to express and cultivate gratitude is often easier said than done. Sometimes, gratitude is confused with one-off employee appreciation tactics and customer reward programs. If it’s not done right, it can come across as unauthentic and self-serving.

That’s why we’ll first explore what gratitude actually means and then consider ways you can adjust your approach to make a lasting impression and begin to build a more authentic relationship experience.

True gratitude is more than appreciation

Gratitude in marketing is often thought of as synonymous with customer appreciation. But it’s deeper than that. By definition, gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” It’s a reciprocal, continuous practice rather than a one-off action.

Appreciation, on the other hand, is defined as “recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.”

See the difference?

It’s often assumed that organizations can show gratitude by simply doing nice things such as offering reward coupons, giving gifts or creating customer loyalty programs/employee appreciation programs. While these tactics might drive more transactions or immediate approvals, they won’t help you build loyalty and develop meaningful, long-term relationships.

Instead, driving gratitude starts with identifying and nurturing a shared purpose with and sharing that purpose with others. Shared purpose is an idea that not only tells the story of what your organization does, but why it matters. It persuades employees to buy in and your customers not just to buy, but to believe. Shared purpose is not something you do for each other, but rather with each other.

And while true gratitude goes beyond coupons or reward programs, that’s not to say gratitude can’t offer an ROI benefit for your business.

For customers, it’s gratitude first, loyalty second

A three-year-old Deloitte Digital study looking at rational considerations, emotional responses and shared values found that rational influences like price and promotions are top of mind when consumers initially interact with brands. These same factors may also prompt the end of a brand relationship when people leave for rational reasons such as increased prices or poor-quality products.

Emotional responses, however, are what drives a customer’s relationship with a brand to continue beyond the initial interaction. They inspire brand loyalty, as well as advocacy. Across digital and in-person interactions with brands, today’s consumers seek contextual awareness, personalization and empathy. They expect two-way dialogue that grows over time, just as with a friend.

For brands this means listening to customers, expressing gratitude and providing authentic customer experiences that mirror the qualities of positive human relationships. When you do this first, brand loyalty and advocacy will naturally follow.

A real-life example: REI’s Black Friday #OptOutside Initiative

“On Black Friday, we’re closing our doors and going outside. Because we need to. Because that’s where we feel good, and awesome, and human.”

Going back a few years, outdoor retailer REI made a bold and unprecedented decision to close on Black Friday, using the hashtag #OptOutside. It was thought to be a very risky move, but it turned out to be a huge success. The company used social media and shareable content like video to promote the initiative. REI’s decision, along with the hashtag, went viral and is still going strong today.

Notice that this effort has nothing to do with driving sales (at least not outright). In fact, it’s encouraging customers to do the opposite.

The initiative is successful because it’s built upon a shared purpose between the brand and its customers: enjoyment of the outdoors. It’s genuine, emotional and perfectly in sync with REI’s values. It also means giving their employees the day off and allowing them to experience nature as well. It became the perfect way for REI to display gratitude and generosity while staying true to their brand values in an authentic way.


Whether it’s in our personal life, work life or business, the act of expressing gratitude makes us vulnerable and authentic. For brands, it can create a powerful, human connection that today’s customers are craving. And it’s more than just a “feel good” benefit. When done right, gratitude can be a powerful way to connect with employees and with customers to inspire loyalty and brand advocacy for years to come.