Psychology for Profit

Inspiring gratitude to influence (consumer) behavior via “relationship marketing”:

… the idea is that the unexpected nature of the gifts will leave the customer not just pleased but also grateful. Gratitude is a powerful, and potentially quite profitable, emotion to inspire.

–Rob Walker, “Hyatt’s Random Acts of Generosity,” New York Times, June 17, 2009

Of course, the manipulation of generosity can backfire as well:

Perceived unfairness can throw reciprocity instincts into reverse: instead of being disproportionately grateful, you might feel disproportionately spiteful — and take your business, and your loyalty, elsewhere.

I’m all for gratitude, when it makes people happier. In this case, it seems like customers are being subtly manipulated to feel a little more satisfied with their hotel experience, while its investors and evil marketing geniuses might become a lot happier with their bottom lines.

Is a kinder, gentler capitalism better than a cutthroat one? Ideologically, no. Pragmatically, though, empowering workers to reward pleasant customers seems, well, nice. Service sector workers might like having some agency in the workplace.

And what does this tell us about relational aesthetics, which is still somewhat marginalized as a practice (as an emergent field, its validity is often up for debate), when corporations are talking about reciprocity and relationships?


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