The Science Behind Gifting


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In ancient times, like the 1980s, digital marketing wasn’t popular. You couldn’t email your prospect. Sure you could call them, but marketers in the dark ages of the early 90s knew you had to give a little to get a lot. When you give something first, the receiver is more open to communication, more likely to trust you and most importantly, will return the favor. Gifts have a proven psychological effect on the prospect. Why? There are three different factors you probably don’t talk about in sales: dopamine, reciprocity, and the brain footprint.

Gifts Increase Dopamine

Science shows a fun surprise causes dopamine levels to spike in the receiver’s brain. Dopamine, often known as the ‘feel-good’ hormone, controls people’s motivations and directly correlates to mood. Increases in dopamine impact trust, decision-making and pleasure. Why? It rewards behaviors with a shot of euphoria, and may even help assign importance to actions and stimuli, making sure you’ll do (supposedly) beneficial actions again and again. It is biological positive reinforcement mechanism.

When you send a gift, that counts as an unexpected action that surprises the recipient. Isn’t an email the same? No not at all. Would you consider a business email fun? And it isn’t all that surprising either. However, a nicely branded package sitting on their desk is a different story. They get to tear into something they weren’t anticipating in the least. In comes the dopamine and they’re hooked – literally.

Of course for this to work, you have to be genuine. You can’t ask for something in the same outreach. The gift shows you’re thinking of them instead of yourself. Since it’s a new relationship, avoid immediately asking for something in return. The gift doesn’t make as much of an impact if it comes with a note asking for them to sign a contract or set a meeting.

Using the Law of Reciprocity

The law of reciprocity is common sense. If you give someone something, they will feel compelled to return the favor. Reciprocity was officially observed in relation to marketing and documented by Dr. Robert Cialdini. And it works, but only if the gift make an emotional (dopamine!) connection.

Everyone is sending their prospects whitepapers, case studies and sales stories. Your marketing collateral isn’t a gift: it is marketing collateral. A handwritten note, however, works. An actual gift works even better, especially if it isn’t the same sort of swag they’ve always gotten.

The key is to make a real, empathic connection with the prospect. People seem to be unconsciously aware of how powerful the reciprocity is and are on the lookout for unsympathetic gifts.

Understanding the Brain Footprint

In a Millward Brown study, it was discovered that physical media leaves a deeper, longer-lasting footprint in the brain. This is because the brain interprets a physical object as more real than a digital object. This means the brain is more likely to trigger emotional ties to the object. These emotions burn memories into the brain, which is why recall for messaging, logos, and even calls to action are much higher for physical objects vs digital sends. You can really capitalize on this deeper footprint by using both physical and digital paths to a customer.

Using the Science of Gifting

With its ability to make an impactful connection, the best marketers are mixing dimensional mail in their marketing campaigns. With the right tools, sending dimensional mail is highly effective, trackable, measurable and as easy as sending an email. Start making real connections with customers through personalized, tangible messages that don’t get lost to overcrowding.

Let’s be honest, direct mail has a bad rep because it has been used for decades to peddle weak messages. We aren’t advocating bad direct mail. We are advocating making a real connection, one that excites your customers (and gives them a dopamine rush) and compels them to respond, not because you tricked them but because you really want to make that connection. Here is a list of things to keep in mind if you want to leverage the science of gifting.

  • Know your customers. Go as far as you can with getting to know your customers. Check out their online profiles, find out what they like and try to feature that in a personalized note. This research takes time and effort, so it makes the most sense to research your highest value leads. Get to know their pain points. Dig as far as you can into their day to day so you can add real value when you send something.
  • Be honest. Send a gift that is truly a gift. Sales pitches, aggressive branding, and marketing collateral aren’t gifts, they don’t say you care about the customer only that you care about their signed contract. Personalization is important, be sure to craft your value prop (if you are including it in the gift) to directly address the customer’s needs.
  • Be fun. Remember, fun gifts are remembered, they’re shared and they compel reciprocity every time they are used. Something that is actually fun to open and use, or will start a conversation around the office, will trigger a stronger dopamine response.
  • Don’t turn the science against you. Make sure you aren’t sending something offensive, either because the content is terrible or the quality is shoddy. If you elicit a negative emotion, you’ve just turned the power of all this science against you!
  • Follow up. Even with the science backing you, you are still going to have to reach out to the customer for a follow-up, but when you do, you’ll be rewarded with a conversation or a hot lead.

Scaling gifting in a competitive sales environment can be difficult, but we can help. Check out our solutions for launching effective gifting campaigns at any scale for both marketing and sales teams.