Business Psychology - Latest Findings

Article No. 193
Customer Psychology Findings, by James Larsen, Ph.D.

Just-Because Gifts

Researcher explores gift-giving and finds new markets retailers can explore.

Charles Areni from Griffith University went exploring one day and found something interesting. He assembled several large groups of young adults and asked them to write a description of a memorable gift exchange. Then he collected the narratives and set to work looking for patterns.

Areni found that men equally divided their narratives between giving and receiving, but nearly all of the women wrote about gifts they'd received, largely from men. Since women usually purchase the gifts, this result surprised Areni and alerted him to the importance men play in gift giving. He also identified 10 distinct themes and 5 common gift exchange settings in the stories. Finally, he profiled the most common patterns of givers and receivers in these various settings.

These themes, settings, and profiles are grist for marketers' thinking. Any of them could supply the basis for a marketing campaign surrounding gift giving or give direct sales staff new reasons to present to customers to buy their products. Areni believes we should direct many of these efforts toward men. He thinks we're neglecting a valuable market. Here are the 10 themes.

    1. Personal-history gifts symbolize a specific period in the gift receiver's life. There is a unique link between the object and the period.
    2. Helping-others gifts alleviate a predicament for a friend or family member.
    3. Surprise gifts are memorable because they are unexpected.
    4. Deception gift givers take on the role of the master of the exchange when they trick or fool a recipient.
    5. Sacrifice gift givers contribute significant time, effort, expense, or other personal investments in a gift, and this amplifies its value.
    6. Planning-everything-to-a-tee gifts are given following a carefully executed plan.
    7. Family-tradition gifts are heirlooms passed on to a child or grandchild that strengthens a person's bond with a family lineage.
    8. Symbol-of-a-relationship gift recipients are reminded of the gift giver and of their relationship whenever they see or think about the gift.
    9. Maturity gifts mark a passage into a more responsible stage of a person's life.
    10. Perfect-thing gifts have something about them that makes them perfect for the recipient.

Areni also identified 5 common gift giving settings: exchanges with romantic partners, parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends; and for each of these settings, he discovered patterns in the givers and/or receivers he labeled profiles. These profiles are key patterns for marketers and salespeople to notice in their customers.

Exchanges with romantic partners: Gift giving men in this setting described planning everything to a tee and purchasing the perfect thing. Women described receiving gifts that demonstrated sacrifice, were symbols of their relationship, and symbolized an important stage in life (personal history).

Exchanges with parents: Gift-receiving women described gifts that demonstrated sacrifice, family tradition, and surprise.

Exchanges with grandparents: Gift-receiving women described gifts that demonstrated maturity, family tradition, and were symbols of their relationship.

Exchanges with siblings: Gift-receiving women described gifts that revealed surprise and were the perfect thing.

Exchanges with friends: Gift-giving men described gifts that helped others and were planned to a tee. Both gift-giving and gift-receiving women described gifts that symbolized their relationships with these friends.

Now let's apply this information.

Think with me for a moment about a customer wandering through a business and being greeted by a salesperson who asks "Who in your life most needs a 'just-because' present right now?" A customer who pauses to consider this question could be guided to settings, people, gifts, and intricate plans of presentation that could significantly brighten another person's life.

"Just because" could become a theme in marketing campaigns, and accounts of unique gift giving strategies carried out by men could add interest. It's an idea worth considering.

Reference: Areni, Charles, Pamela Kiecker, and Kay Palan. (1998) Is It Better to Give than to Receive? Exploring Gender Differences in the Meaning of Memorable Gifts. Psychology and Marketing, 15(1), 81-109.

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