Unless you were raised by wolves in the wild, at some point you learned that it is polite to say thank you. It's not merely proper etiquette; it's just downright considerate and gracious.

Yet, for marketers, saying thank you is about much more than just being polite. If you're in the business of building lasting, loyal customer relationships (and if you're not, please ask why you're bothering to be in business at all), it's an essential practice that pays both monetary and goodwill dividends. Without it, you're at greater risk of customer flight—and you're a sitting duck for the competition.

If you don't already have a thank-you email process in place, it's easy to begin one. I suggest matching the format of your initial thank-you message to the channel via which someone first did business with you, then expanding that process over time.

For example, did someone purchase from you online? If so, email the customer a thank-you message with an offer to revisit or purchase again; ideally, you'd provide a coupon or free gift to entice action soon. Did someone buy in your store or office? Send a thank-you follow-up letter via postal mail. Did customers do business with you at a conference, fair, or tradeshow? Email and mail them an invitation to engage with you at your physical place of business, your online storefront, or both. And keep the follow-ups going.

The thank-you and other conversational greetings (such as birthday, holiday, and anniversary acknowledgments) become a legitimate reason to reach out to and talk to customers and should be different in feel from the ever-present invitation to buy, buy, buy. They make you approachable, grateful, and personal.

Remember, people don't buy from brands; people buy from people. Adding thank-you emails to your marketing illuminates the human side of your brand.

Acknowledging the performance of the action you requested is as important as, if not more important than, asking for it in the first place. Always thank promptly, but also show gratitude when it's expected (such as, at a minimum, at Thanksgiving and on a customer anniversary date) and when not expected (at any other appropriate juncture, when it will surprise and delight).

Here are three suggestions for weaving both expected and unexpected thank-yous, in the spirit of gratitude, into your marketing.

  1. The Immediate Thanks

    As I recommended, an initial thank-you message should match the channel via which communication or a transaction occurred. Make it immediate and consistent in tone, design, and style with your marketing message that prompted the purchase or action.

    Immediate thanks for e-commerce transactions can be sent easily via email, but don't forget social media. If, for example, you're asking customers to enter a sweeps or promotion on Facebook (or give you a thumbs-up there), redirect them to a thank-you page immediately after they take action.

    Also, the greater the purchase or commitment someone makes, the more time, effort, and money you should spend thanking that person. The last time I bought real estate, for example, I received a huge housewarming gift basket, not a lame postcard or text message. Match your thanks, in magnitude, to the action you are thankful for.
  2. The Seasonal Thanks

    After you've sent immediate thank-you emails to acknowledge specific calls to action that prospects or customers took you up on, remember to also thank your customers at regular, natural intervals throughout the year. In the US and in other countries that celebrate a day of Thanksgiving, that one's a given, but go beyond national or religious holidays.

    Are you also thanking your customers on the anniversary of their relationship with you? Of their first purchase? On holidays relevant to them (Mother's Day, Father's Day, New Year's Day, Veterans Day, Grandparents Day)?
  3. The Surprise Thanks

    Of course, we all love a thank-you for no particular reason when we're least expecting it. To start, weave a quarterly or (if you're ambitious) monthly thank-you campaign to reward repeat business and customer loyalty. It could be as simple as a winter/spring/summer/fall program with a special offered during each season. Or, to keep people guessing, make it random, maybe even behaviorally driven.

For example, as customers reach specific purchase levels with you, move them into segments that receive exclusive thank-you gifts. Think of how American Express does it with its charge-card holders: Gold, Platinum, and "black card" Centurion members all receive specific perks for being customers at those levels. The higher the level, the bigger the gratitude! In 2009, for example, American Express sent several "gifts" throughout the year to Centurion card members, ranging from a $500 gift certificate for swanky department store Barney's (no minimum purchase required) and a $500 gift card usable on a $1,000-minimum purchase at high-end jeweler Van Cleef. Centurion cardholders spend a minimum of about $300,000 per year, so $500 here or there is a drop in the bucket.

Remember, you don't have to be a big spender, but do be generous relative to the customer's value to your business.

* * *

When you integrate thank-you messages into your customer communication stream, especially your email programs, you won't be thought of as the friend who calls only when she needs something. Instead, you'll be considered—and appreciated for taking the time to be—sincere... and human!

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Humanize Your Email Marketing With a Well-Timed Thank You

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image of Karen Talavera

Karen Talavera is the founder of Synchronicity Marketing, a company specializing in digital marketing training, coaching, and education.