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Should Firms Use Small Financial Benefits to Express Appreciation to Consumers? Understanding and Avoiding Trivialization Effects

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Firms commonly add small financial benefits to communications designed to acknowledge consumers' loyalty or support. Yet is it always better to provide some financial benefit as opposed to simply saying "thank you"? Although this question has important implications for customer relationship management, research has not yet provided an answer. This article demonstrates that, indeed, a financial acknowledgment (defined as an acknowledgment with a monetary benefit) can lead to less positive outcomes than offering a verbal acknowledgment (defined as an acknowledgment without a monetary benefit), a phenomenon termed the "trivialization effect." The results explain this effect in terms of shifting evaluation standards: whereas a verbal acknowledgement is evaluated relative to verbal gratitude expression norms, a financial acknowledgment is evaluated relative to both verbal norms and customers' monetary expectations. The authors also demonstrate two practical, theory-consistent ways firms can structure financial acknowledgments to eliminate the trivialization effect. Thus, this research shows both the peril of small financial benefits as a means of expressing customer appreciation and practical, low-cost ways to salvage their potential.
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74
Journal of Marketing
Vol. 79 (May 2015), 74 –90
© 2015, American Marketing Association
ISSN: 0022-2429 (print), 1547-7185 (electronic)
Peggy J. Liu, Cait Lamberton, & Kelly L. Haws
Should Firms Use Small Financial
Benefits to Express Appreciation to
Consumers? Understanding and
Avoiding Trivialization Effects
Firms commonly add small financial benefits to communications designed to acknowledge consumers’ loyalty or
support. Yet is it always better to provide some financial benefit as opposed to simply saying “thank you”? Although this
question has important implications for customer relationship management, research has not yet provided an answer.
This article demonstrates that, indeed, a financial acknowledgment (defined as an acknowledgment with a monetary
benefit) can lead to less positive outcomes than offering a verbal acknowledgment (defined as an acknowledgment
without a monetary benefit), a phenomenon termed the “trivialization effect.” The results explain this effect in terms of
shifting evaluation standards: whereas a verbal acknowledgement is evaluated relative to verbal gratitude expression
norms, a financial acknowledgment is evaluated relative to both verbal norms and customers’ monetary expectations.
The authors also demonstrate two practical, theory-consistent ways firms can structure financial acknowledgments
to eliminate the trivialization effect. Thus, this research shows both the peril of small financial benefits as a means
of expressing customer appreciation and practical, low-cost ways to salvage their potential.
Keywords: customer appreciation, customer relationship management, firm–consumer relationship, trivialization,
compensation, benefit, gratitude
Online Supplement: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jm.14.0091
Peggy J. Liu is a doctoral student, Marketing Department, Fuqua School
of Business, Duke University (e-mail: peggy.liu@duke.edu). Cait Lamber-
ton is Associate Professor of Business Administration, Marketing and
Business Economics Department, Katz School of Business, University of
Pittsburgh (e-mail: clamberton@katz.pitt.edu). Kelly L. Haws is Associate
Professor of Marketing, Owen Graduate School of Management, Vander-
bilt University (e-mail: kelly.haws@vanderbilt.edu). The authors thank Carl
Mela and Christine Moorman for helpful comments on a prior version of
this article; Gavan Fitzsimons for helping connect them with the hotel con-
ference center at which Study 1a was conducted; the management team
and staff at the hotel conference center for facilitating Study 1a; and Keri
Dickens, Diana Mao, Alison Mayer, and Aline Swiec for research assis-
tance. Alexander Chernev served as area editor for this ar ticle.
Firms often thank their loyal customers by offering
acknowledgments that include small financial bene-
fits (Lyon 2012; O’Malley 1998; skh 2013). Firms
presumably provide these financial benefits believing that
they will make customers feel appreciated, a fundamental
component of relational satisfaction (Reis et al. 2000) that
is linked to long-term commitment in marketing channel
relationships (Geyskens, Steenkamp, and Kumar 1999;
Hoffman and Lowitt 2008). This belief is echoed by an
entrepreneur organization, which advises, “If your cus-
tomers have been loyally paying you, then rewarding them
with even a small discount can sometimes produce huge
amounts of goodwill. Receiving something of real tangible
value that they weren’t expecting is the easiest way to
delight customers” (Young Entrepreneur Council 2014).
This more-is-better principle has been assumed to apply
even when financial benefits are very small (indeed, close
to negligible). For example, Microsoft recently sent loyal
Xbox customers a birthday e-card with a gift of 20
Microsoft points (worth $.25) to express its appreciation
(Co 2012). However, in the present research, we argue that
the more-is-better principle does not apply when financial
benefits are very small (i.e., too small to meet consumers’
expectations). Rather, when financial benefits are smaller
than expected, the inclusion of a financial benefit can actu-
ally subtract from, rather than add to, customer goodwill.
Surprisingly, virtually no prior academic research has
examined when and why financial acknowledgments
(defined as marketing activities that acknowledge desirable
consumer behaviors and offer a monetary benefit) are coun-
terproductive in communicating appreciation relative to
verbal acknowledgments (defined as marketing activities
that acknowledge desirable consumer behaviors but do not
offer a monetary benefit).1
1The present research operationalizes financial acknowledgments
as financial benefits that are accompanied by a verbal acknowledg-
ment (e.g., a thank-you note offering a small financial benefit). How-
ever, further research could examine the effectiveness of financial
benefits that are not accompanied by any verbal acknowledgment.
Should Firms Use Small Financial Benefits? / 75
In the present research, we provide evidence that small
financial benefits sometimes backfire, despite the intuitive
suggestion that they should lead consumers to feel as appre-
ciated, if not more appreciated, than if they were to receive
no financial benefit. That is, relative to a verbal acknowl-
edgment, a financial acknowledgment with similar verbal
message content can make recipients feel less appreciated
and satisfied. We term this effect the “trivialization effect,”
in line with the notion that a small financial benefit may
devalue or “trivialize” consumers’ contributions to or rela-
tionship with the firm. Furthermore, we propose that the
trivialization effect occurs because including a financial
benefit prompts consumers to evaluate the firm’s communi-
cations in light of its adherence to both verbal and financial
norms. Accordingly, when a financial benefit does not meet
financial norms or expectations, its inclusion can backfire.
Next, we elaborate on the theoretical rationale for our
hypotheses.
Theoretical Framework
The Trivialization Effect
Classic expectancy disconfirmation theory suggests that, if
financially feasible, a firm should meet or exceed con-
sumers’ expectations about how much financial benefit they
are due. The closer a firm comes to meeting such expecta-
tions, the more appreciated consumers will feel, and the
greater their satisfaction will be with the firm’s action
(Oliver 1977; Oliver, Balakrishnan, and Barry 1994; Weaver
and Brickman 1974). A firm may therefore conclude that
any financial benefit greater than zero should provide some
modicum of satisfaction relative to no financial benefit
because it is objectively closer to such expectations than is
zero. Indeed, a savvy marketer may intuit that small finan-
cial benefits could take advantage of the steepest portion of
the prospect theory curve (Kahneman and Tversky 1979),
leading to an increase in satisfaction disproportionate to the
amount provided.
However, other research raises questions about whether
a message involving small financial benefits will always be
more positively viewed than a message involving zero
financial benefit. Although it differs in the mechanism and
contexts in which it operates, such research has shown
rejection of small financial amounts. For example, research
in economics has shown that giving paid research partici-
pants additional performance-contingent bonuses may
undermine performance (Ariely, Bracha, and Meier 2009;
Gneezy and Rustichini 2000). This effect has been
explained both in terms of the negative effect of monetary
rewards on intrinsic motivation and in terms of an “incom-
plete contract” whereby participants who do not receive
additional performance-contingent bonuses may interpret
the relatively high non-performance-contingent research
payment as their payment for implicitly agreeing to perform
well (Gneezy and Rustichini 2000). In the context of incen-
tivizing charitable giving, this effect has been explained in
terms of performance-contingent bonuses diluting the sig-
naling value of prosocial behavior, at least in public con-
texts (Ariely, Bracha, and Meier 2009). Similarly, work in
ultimatum games has shown that “petty” offers—those in
which someone is offered less than 20% of a pot of
money—are often rejected (Sunstein 1996). This effect is
typically explained in terms of the petty offer’s relationship
to a norm-based reference point of a fifty-fifty split. That is,
the recipient’s reference point is an even division of
resources, rather than zero, and the recipient decides that
receiving zero is not worse than receiving 20%.
Altogether, such research suggests that some money is
not always preferred to no money, though multiple explana-
tions for such an effect exist. Importantly, none of this pre-
vious research has occurred in the marketing context of
acknowledging consumers for efforts they have already
voluntarily expended. Instead, prior research has primarily
studied the effect of small incentives on motivation (Ariely,
Bracha, and Meier 2009; Gneezy and Rustichini 2000). In
our context, people decide on their own how much effort to
expend toward helping the firm; we do not alter a priori
extrinsic or intrinsic motivation. Moreover, we do not alter
whether the firm’s acknowledgments are public or private;
all acknowledgments are private in our research.2Our focus
on firm acknowledgments for voluntarily expended effort is
valuable because communicating appreciation is a critical
part of customer relationship management in many market-
ing contexts. To the extent that gratitude is appropriately
expressed, consumers are likely to be willing to engage in a
deeper relationship with the firm (Algoe, Fredrickson, and
Gable 2013). Thus, the key element in determining the wis-
dom of marketing expenditure lies in consumers’ evaluation
of these appreciation efforts.
To predict these evaluations, we must draw on a differ-
ent theoretical basis than that used in prior work. Specifi-
cally, we base our prediction on the idea that evaluations of
single-component (as opposed to multicomponent) stimuli
differ and that multicomponent stimuli are often evaluated
according to an averaging model (Anderson 1965; Gaeth et
al. 1990; Weaver, Garcia, and Schwarz 2012; Yadav 1994).
First, consider how consumers may evaluate an acknowledg-
ment of effort or loyalty that involves only verbal gratitude,
thus offering zero financial benefit. In our context, verbal
acknowledgments may be considered single-component
acknowledgments. When consumers receive a verbal
acknowledgment, their responses are likely to be based pri-
marily on whether the acknowledgment adequately meets
norms associated with appropriately expressing verbal
gratitude, which are fairly well-defined in Western culture
(Hilton 1995). For example, consumers may evaluate
whether the acknowledgment conforms to prototypical
gratitude expressions by accurately honoring their contribu-
tion and expressing sincere gratitude (Lambert, Graham,
and Fincham 2009). Importantly, the norms of expressing
2Indeed, whereas Ariely, Bracha, and Meier (2009) find that
small incentives are detrimental to motivation when offered in
public but beneficial when offered in private, we propose that even
privately offered firm acknowledgments may have a trivializing
effect.
verbal gratitude do not require that the expresser provide
some form of financial benefit. Indeed, research shows that
simple expressions of gratitude have strong positive effects
on people (Grant and Gino 2010). Expressions need only
adhere to verbal norms to prompt positive customer
responses (Algoe, Fredrickson, and Gable 2013). Thus,
consumers will evaluate verbal acknowledgments accord-
ing to adherence to verbal norms alone.
In contrast, financial acknowledgments may be consid-
ered multicomponent stimuli. Assuming an averaging
model consistent with previous research on evaluation of
multicomponent stimuli (Anderson 1965; Gaeth et al. 1990;
Weaver, Garcia, and Schwarz 2012; Yadav 1994), con-
sumers will likely evaluate such messages as an average of
adherence to verbal norms and the extent to which the
financial benefit meets financial benefit expectations.
Importantly, evaluations of the financial benefit may be
negative (in the case of trivializing compensation), not posi-
tive. Specifically, rather than compare the received financial
benefit with a reference point of zero financial benefit, con-
sumers may compare the received benefit with a higher
expectations-based reference point. When the benefit falls
short of expectations, consumers may evaluate it as negative.
This comparison with a nonzero reference point is
likely facilitated by the notion that people expect to be com-
pensated in proportion to how much time, effort, and bene-
fit they have provided in employment contexts (Basu et al.
1985; Charness 2004) or, more generally, in line with views
of fairness in transactions (Adams 1963, 1965; Haws and
Bearden 2006; Van den Bos et al. 1997). This quantitative
expectation may vary on the basis of factors such as the
consumer’s personal experiences and beliefs about environ-
mental norms (Adaval and Wyer 2011; Boulding et al.
1993; Epley and Gilovich 2010; Okada and Hoch 2004).
However, once evoked, the expectation is likely to be
greater than zero: people place a high value on their time
and effort (Okada and Hoch 2004; Saini and Monga 2008)
and are likely to anticipate commensurate financial benefits
(Adams 1963, 1965; Basu et al. 1985; Charness 2004).
In summary, we propose that standards for evaluating
firms’ efforts to express appreciation to consumers depend
on whether the firm offers a verbal or financial acknowl-
edgment. Because a message conferring zero financial
benefit is evaluated relative to verbal standards alone, it can
meet expectations quite adequately. However, because it is
evaluated relative to both financial benefit expectations and
verbal standards, a message that conforms to verbal stan-
dards (leading to a positive evaluation) but does not con-
form to financial benefit expectations (leading to a negative
evaluation) will lead to less satisfaction than the message
without a small financial benefit.
For example, consider a consumer who receives only a
verbal acknowledgment that effectively communicates
gratitude. Given that this message meets verbal norms, the
consumer should evaluate it positively. Next, consider that
the firm decides to add a small financial benefit to this mes-
sage. Although this financial benefit objectively makes the
consumer better off than she was before (i.e., it is objec-
tively closer to her quantitative expectations than is the zero
amount received in the prior case), she will evaluate it
negatively if it does not match the amount she would expect
for her time or effort. The average of the positive evaluation
verbal component and the negative evaluation of the financial
component will be lower than the consumer’s positive evalua-
tion of the verbal acknowledgment alone. This difference in
evaluation is the trivialization effect—the extent to which
adding a financial benefit to a verbal acknowledgment
reduces consumers’ felt appreciation. The term “trivializing
compensation” refers to such smaller-than-expected monetary
benefit amounts. Formally, assuming that the message content
adheres to verbal norms and thus is evaluated positively,
H1: Consumers feel more appreciated by a firm when they
receive a verbal acknowledgment rather than a similarly
worded financial acknowledgment with trivializing
compensation.
As we have stated, H1assumes that the message content
adheres to verbal norms. However, firms’ messages may
fail to conform to verbal norms. Examining nonconforming
verbal messages enables us to further test our theoretical
account, which predicts that H1will be less likely to occur
if message content does not adhere to verbal norms. The
rationale is that a consumer will evaluate verbal message
content simply on the basis of its conformance to verbal
norms. Therefore, when the message content does not con-
form to verbal norms, a verbal acknowledgment has a nega-
tive evaluation. If the financial acknowledgment again con-
tains a smaller-than-expected financial benefit, the financial
benefit will be negatively evaluated. Using the same aver-
aging model as before, we find that the trivialization effect
is less likely to occur in the presence of verbal norm adher-
ent messaging. Specifically, the average of a negative ver-
bal component and a negative financial component is
unlikely to be lower than the consumer’s negative evalua-
tion of the verbal acknowledgment alone. Formally,
H2a: The trivialization effect is mitigated when message con-
tent fails to conform to verbal norms.
Again, H1assumes that the financial benefit is smaller
than expected (i.e., trivializing compensation). Yet firms
can also offer financial benefits that meet expectations.
Financial benefits that meet expectations should be posi-
tively evaluated. Thus, the trivialization effect should be
mitigated: the average of a positive verbal component and a
positive financial component is unlikely to be lower than
the consumer’s positive evaluation of the verbal acknowl-
edgment alone. Indeed, the trivialization effect can even be
reversed if the financial benefit is large enough that it
exceeds expectations because its evaluation will be positive
enough to raise the overall average evaluation score for the
financial acknowledgment. Formally,
H2b: The trivialization effect is mitigated (or reversed) when a
financial benefit amount meets or exceeds expectations.
76 / Journal of Marketing, May 2015
Should Firms Use Small Financial Benefits? / 77
How Can Firms Create Felt Appreciation with
Small Financial Benefits?
Both H1and H2a–b draw on the theory that consumers’
evaluations of a financial acknowledgment are based on
both adherence to verbal norms and meeting financial bene-
fit expectations. This theory suggests that if marketers can
strategically alter the financial benefit reference point that
consumers use, they can encourage more positive evalua-
tions of small monetary benefits and therefore mitigate the
trivialization effect. We consider such strategies next.
First, firms should be able to mitigate trivialization
effects if they can anchor consumers’ financial reference
points at values lower than the received financial benefit.
To do so, the firm may make the possibility of lower bene-
fits salient to consumers. In such cases, consumers will be
encouraged to adopt a comparative or “joint evaluation”
mode (Hsee 1996; Hsee et al. 1999; Tanner 2008), evaluat-
ing the financial benefit offered by the firm relative to the
possibility of lower outcomes rather than considering it in
isolation, relative to their own (likely higher) expectations.
Practically, the possibility of lower benefits can be made
salient by couching a small monetary reward in terms of a
range of possible rewards (e.g., “To thank you for your loy-
alty, the underlined discount is the amount you will receive:
1%, 2%, 3%, 4%, or 5% off a future purchase,” wherein a
5% discount might otherwise have been perceived as failing
to meet expectations).3
Second, our theory suggests that the trivialization effect
may be mitigated if the monetary benefit is offered in a
form that is not naturally evaluated according to a higher
financial benefit reference point. Specifically, we suggest
that firms can offer the small benefit in a prosocial form, in
which the benefit is directed at a worthy charity on the con-
sumer’s behalf. Here, we build on recent work showing that
prosocial spending leads to greater happiness than equiva-
lent amounts of spending on the self (Anik et al. 2013;
Dunn, Aknin, and Norton 2008). Of particular relevance,
research has shown that prosocial bonuses (bonuses given
to others) can lead employees to feel more satisfied than
traditional bonuses (Anik et al. 2013).
Importantly, utility derived from giving prosocial bene-
fits seems to be fairly insensitive to the financial benefit
amount actually provided (Hsee and Rottenstreich 2004;
Imas 2014; Small, Loewenstein, and Slovic 2007), suggest-
ing that consumers pay relatively little attention to evaluat-
ing the amount of the financial benefit. Indeed, people may
evaluate prosocial benefits according to low reference
points. For example, in the context of fundraising cam-
paigns, one often hears variations on the phrase “even a
penny helps” (Cialdini and Schroeder 1976; Estrin 2013),
both suggesting that a low financial reference point may
govern evaluation of prosocial offers and emphasizing the
power of many small amounts to accumulate toward a
cause. Formally,
H3: The trivialization effect can be mitigated by lowering the
financial benefit reference point consumers use to evalu-
ate the financial benefit offered.
We operationalize the provision of lower financial benefit
reference points in two ways: by displaying a range of pos-
sible financial benefits that can be offered and by providing
the financial benefit in a prosocial form.
Overview of Studies
We explore our hypotheses in seven studies. Across all
studies, we focus on the effects of financial (vs. verbal)
acknowledgments on felt appreciation and satisfaction in
the context of acknowledging customers for firm-beneficial
behavior. In all studies, we control for the message content
across the verbal and financial acknowledgments being
compared to help isolate the impact of making an acknowl-
edgment financial as opposed to verbal.
Studies 1a–1c provide initial demonstrations of the
trivialization effect across a range of actual customer appre-
ciation contexts (H1), controlling for message content.
Studies 2a and 2b provide support for our proposed theory
underlying the trivialization effect by demonstrating the
impact of varying adherence to different types of standards
(verbal gratitude norms and financial benefit expectations)
on the trivialization effect. Study 2a shows that when mes-
sages fail to adhere to verbal norms, the trivialization effect
no longer occurs (H2a). Study 2b shows that if financial
expectations are met or exceeded, the trivialization effect
no longer occurs or is reversed (H2b).
Finally, Studies 3 and 4 examine two ways in which
firms can mitigate the trivialization effect while continuing
to use adherent message content and small financial bene-
fits, providing tests of H3. Study 3 provides an alternative
financial benefit reference point to consumers by introduc-
ing the possibility of lower benefit amounts through the
comparative or joint evaluation context of displaying a
range of possible outcomes. Study 4 provides the financial
benefit in a prosocial form (the financial benefit is donated
to charity), for which the reference point tends to be very
low. Thus, both Studies 3 and 4 offer theory grounded and
practically useful ways in which managers can reclaim the
upside of small financial benefits.
Establishing the Trivialization
Effect: Studies 1a–1c
Studies 1a–1c demonstrate the trivialization effect, provid-
ing robust evidence for H1. All three studies were con-
ducted in the field, using either a physical business location
(i.e., a hotel conference center [Study 1a] and a dining
establishment [Study 1c]) or an online context (Study 1b)
with real financial rewards. In all three studies, we designed
the verbal acknowledgments to conform to gratitude
3Note that if couching small monetary rewards in terms of a
range of possible outcomes, firms should manage the distribution
of rewards such that most customers will be given a reference
point lower than the amount they actually receive.
expression norms and selected the financial benefit amounts
to be lower than financial benefit expectations.4
Study 1a (“Hotel Field Study”) captured data from hotel
guests who were asked to write a review of their stay. Partici-
pants received either a verbal acknowledgment or a finan-
cial acknowledgment (with a small financial benefit of $.05).
Study 1b (“Competitor Feedback Study”) was designed
to provide further evidence of the trivialization effect in
another field study. In this case, the firm offering an
acknowledgment was previously unknown to the partici-
pants, and therefore, no prior impressions of the firm could
influence responses to the acknowledgment.
Study 1c (“Dining Establishment Field Study”) pro-
vides evidence of the robustness of the trivialization effect
to a change in wording. Specifically, when comparing a ver-
bal acknowledgment with a financial acknowledgment in
each study, we control for the verbal content as much as
possible across the two acknowledgment types such that the
only factor differentiating the two types is the presence or
absence of a financial benefit. There are two methods to
control for the verbal content across verbal and financial
acknowledgments. The first method, which we use in Stud-
ies 1a and 1b (and Studies 2a, 2b, and 4), keeps the number
of sentences constant across acknowledgment types. The
second method creates the financial acknowledgment by
adding a sentence conveying the addition of a financial
benefit. We used this additional sentence method in Studies
1c and 3 and show that the trivialization effect seems robust
to both methods of controlling for verbal content.
Method
Study 1a. Forty-nine guests (67.3% female; Mage = 41.55
years) at a full-service hotel conference center completed
this study in June and July 2014. Two additional partici-
pants provided a review but left the study before answering
any of the dependent variable questions; thus, their data
could not be analyzed. Participants were randomly assigned
to one of two conditions: verbal acknowledgment or finan-
cial acknowledgment of $.05.
In collaboration with the conference center, researchers
set up laptop survey stations outside the dining room. As
guests walked past, researchers asked if they would be will-
ing to complete a customer review of the conference center.
Because each guest often walked past the survey stations
multiple times a day for multiple days, we ensured that each
participant only participated once but were unable to assess
accurate participation rates.
Guests who agreed to provide a customer review
answered a series of questions about aspects of the confer-
ence center they liked and disliked. They also wrote a
review of the conference center for potential future guests
(for the customer review questions, see Web Appendix W1).
On average, participants wrote 53.45 words (SD = 24.58;
Mdn = 50 words) to address the free-response questions
(liked aspects, disliked aspects, and customer review).
Participants were then told that the conference center
would like the researchers to pass on a note to those guests
who provided a customer review. Participants then saw a
note that either thanked them (verbal acknowledgment con-
dition) or thanked them and gave them $.05 (financial
acknowledgment condition). For the notes, see Appendix A.
The dependent variable consisted of three items to capture
how appreciated participants felt as a result of the firm’s
actions (for items, see Web Appendix W2). Given that these
items were highly correlated (Cronbach’s a= .96), we aver-
aged them to form an appreciation index.5
Finally, participants were debriefed about the purpose
of the study and given a piece of chocolate to help ensure
that they would not leave the study feeling unappreciated.
(We asked participants to put the piece of chocolate away
immediately after they received it so that other participants
would not enter the study expecting to receive chocolate.)
Study 1b. One hundred fifty participants (44.7% female;
Mage = 33.60 years) from Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk
(MTurk) panel were recruited to participate in a study
78 / Journal of Marketing, May 2015
5We measure consumers’ satisfaction with a firm’s customer appre-
ciation gesture. As such, consumers’ satisfaction should be highly
correlated with their felt appreciation. Nonetheless, we recognize
that appreciation and satisfaction are distinct constructs; accordingly,
we verified that the general pattern of results holds with all three
measures in the appreciation index in Studies 1a–1c, 2a, 3, and 4.
4In separate pretests, we confirmed that the verbal acknowledg-
ments used in Studies 1a, 1b, 2b, 3, and 4 adhered to verbal grati-
tude expression norms. In five pretests, participants (ranging from
N = 49 to N = 50) from Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk)
panel saw either the same scenario as participants in the main
study (Studies 2b and 3) or a description of the real situation faced
by participants in the main study (Studies 1a, 1b, and 4). They
then viewed the acknowledgment note used in the studies and
rated the note on two seven-point items measuring adherence to
verbal gratitude expression norms (the same items were used in
Study 2a to measure adherence to verbal norms). These two items
were significantly correlated (r = .45, p< .001); thus, we averaged
them to form an adherence to verbal gratitude expression norms
index. For all five pretests, we then confirmed that index scores
were greater than the midpoint of the scale (4.0) according to one-
sample t-tests (ps < .001). We also confirmed that the verbal
acknowledgments used in Study 1c and in Study 2a’s adherent to
verbal norms condition adhered to verbal gratitude expression
norms by asking participants in the main study to rate the note on
these two seven-point items after they had already answered the
dependent variable questions. In both cases, the index scores were
greater than the midpoint of the scale (4.0) according to one-sample
t-tests (p< .001). With regard to the financial benefit amount
selected in Studies 1a and 1c, we selected $.05 as an amount that we
thought would not meet expectations for the majority of participants
for Studies 1a and 1c, which were conducted in person with actual
hotel conference center and dining establishment customers. With
regard to the financial benefit amount selected in Studies 1b, 2a, and
4, we selected $.01 as an amount that we thought would not meet
expectations for the majority of participants because MTurk partici-
pants are used to receiving relatively small financial compensation
(often mere cents). At the end of Study 1b, we asked participants in
the verbal acknowledgment condition how much of a bonus they
would expect to receive from Pure Coffee & Tea to thank them for
providing feedback on their competitors websites. Almost all partici-
pants listed an expected bonus greater than $.01. Finally, with regard
to the financial benefit amount selected in Studies 2b and 3, we con-
ducted a pretest to establish participants’ financial benefit expecta-
tions (the pretest is described in the Study 2b “Methods” subsection).
Should Firms Use Small Financial Benefits? / 79
ostensibly about the participants and their attitudes toward
various decisions. Recent research has shown that the
MTurk panel is demographically diverse and has defended
the external validity of this sample (Berinsky, Huber, and
Lenz 2012; Horton, Rand, and Zeckhauser 2011). Partici-
pants first filled out questions about food choices (questions
about preferences for different-sized orders of French fries
and the Dietary Intent Scale [Stice 1998]) and personality
(the Hong Psychological Reactance Scale [Hong 1992;
Hong and Faedda 1996]). These questions were actually
pilot questions for a separate study and thus were unrelated
to the present study. Participants were thanked for complet-
ing these questions. They were then told that the next part
of the study (comparing two competitor websites for “Pure
Coffee & Tea,” a new start-up company hoping to sell cof-
fee and tea products online) was optional but would be
helpful to the founders of the company. Participants were
told that providing the website comparison was completely
optional to simulate actual opportunities to help companies.
Seventy-four participants agreed to provide a website
comparison. They were then directed to links to two real
competitor websites for coffee and tea retailers. Participants
were asked to fill out an online form titled “Pure Coffee &
Tea: Review of Competitor Websites” (for screenshots of
the online form, see Web Appendix W1). After participants
submitted their review of the two competitor websites, they
left the online form and returned to the study. Of the 74 par-
ticipants who agreed to provide a website comparison, 72
accessed the online form and submitted a review. On average,
participants wrote 73.78 words (SD = 58.45; Mdn = 53 words)
to answer the four free-response questions in the online form.
All participants were then told that the company wanted
the researchers to pass on a note to participants who spent
time helping them. Participants were then randomly assigned
to see a note that either thanked them (verbal acknowledg-
ment condition) or thanked them and gave them a $.01 bonus
(financial acknowledgment with $.01 bonus condition). For
the notes, see Appendix A. Note that MTurk allows individ-
ual bonuses to be given to participants; thus, the financial
benefit was real (and we actually gave participants a bonus
of $.25 at the end of the study to help ensure that they would
not leave the study feeling unappreciated). As in Study 1a,
our dependent variable consisted of three items averaged
(Cronbach’s a= .97; see Web Appendix W2) to capture
how appreciated participants felt by the company’s actions.
Study 1c. Forty-six patrons (56.5% female; Mage =
18.85 years) of a college campus’s dining establishments
completed Study 1c in November and December 2014. Par-
ticipants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions:
verbal acknowledgment and financial acknowledgment
($.05 financial benefit). Researchers set up laptop survey
stations primarily outside one dining establishment.6As
patrons walked past, researchers asked if they would be
willing to complete a customer review of the dining estab-
lishment. Because many patrons walked past the survey sta-
tions multiple times a day for multiple days, we ensured
that each participant only participated once but were unable
to assess accurate participation rates. Patrons who agreed to
provide a customer review sat at a laptop, where they
answered a series of questions and wrote a review of the
dining establishment for other potential patrons (for the
customer review questions, see Web Appendix W1). On
average, participants wrote 46.83 words (SD = 25.74; Mdn =
44 words) for the free-response review.
Participants were then told that the dining establish-
ment’s parent company would like the researchers to pass
on a note to those customers who spent the time helping
them by providing a customer review. Participants then
received either a verbal acknowledgment or a financial
acknowledgment (with $.05 financial benefit). For the
notes, see Appendix A.
As in Studies 1a and 1b, the dependent variable con-
sisted of three items averaged (Cronbach’s a= .98; see Web
Appendix W2) to capture how appreciated the company’s
actions made the participants feel. Finally, as in Study 1a,
participants were debriefed about the purpose of the study
and given a piece of chocolate to help ensure that they
would not leave the study feeling unappreciated.
Results
Study 1a. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA)
showed that participants who received an acknowledgment
with $.05 felt significantly less appreciated than partici-
pants who received an acknowledgment without $.05 (M =
4.38 vs. M = 5.57; F(1, 47) = 8.50, p= .005), in support of
H1. Consistent with random assignment, length of free-
response answers did not differ significantly across
acknowledgment conditions (t(47) = .11, p= .914).
Study 1b. A one-way ANOVA showed that participants
who received a financial acknowledgment with $.01 felt
significantly less appreciated than participants who
received a verbal acknowledgment (M = 3.91 vs. M = 5.26;
F(1, 55) = 10.50, p= .002),7again demonstrating the trivi-
alization effect predicted in H1. This analysis was con-
ducted on the 72 participants who provided a website
review. Again, the length of free-response answers did not
6One survey session took place outside a different dining estab-
lishment also run by the same parent company. Two patrons were
surveyed during this survey session. Excluding these two patrons
leads to the same results, so we combined the data across dining
establishments.
7The standard one-way ANOVA assumes homogeneity of vari-
ances. When this assumption is violated (as it is in Studies 1b, 1c,
2b, 3, and 4), we instead report an adjusted F-statistic (and the
associated degrees of freedom) provided by the Brown–Forsythe
(1974) procedure, which does not assume homogeneity of vari-
ances. In addition, in Studies 2a–4, we report p-values from
planned comparisons using the t-test for unequal variances, which
also does not assume homogeneity of variances (Ruxton 2006),
when applicable. Finally, for Study 2b, we report the p-value from
a linear weighted contrast using the error term from the groups
involved in the linear contrast rather than the pooled error term
from the one-way ANOVA. The results do not change for any of
these analyses if we conduct analyses that assume homogeneity of
variances. Details about these procedures are available upon
request.
differ significantly across acknowledgment conditions
(t(70) = –1.18, p= .243).8
Study 1c. A one-way ANOVA showed that participants
who received an acknowledgment with $.05 felt signifi-
cantly less appreciated than participants who received an
acknowledgment without $.05 (M = 3.39 vs. M = 4.86; F(1,
39) = 11.97, p= .001). The length of free-response answers
was marginally significantly different across acknowledg-
ment conditions (t(44) = 1.82, p= .075), but importantly,
the effect of acknowledgment condition remained signifi-
cant (p= .002) when we used length of free-response
answers as a covariate.
Discussion
Studies 1a–1c provide support for our hypothesis that express-
ing customer appreciation using a financial acknowledg-
ment (i.e., a firm-to-consumer message that includes mone-
tary benefit) can lead consumers to feel less appreciated
than a verbal acknowledgment (i.e., a similar message with
no monetary benefit; H1). This finding held across contexts
and means of controlling for message content. The robust-
ness of these findings highlights the importance of recog-
nizing and understanding the trivialization effect.9Our next
set of studies replicates these findings while exploring the
mechanism that drives this effect.
Studies 2a and 2b: Varying
Adherence to Verbal Norms and
Financial Expectations
Studies 2a and 2b examine the importance of two types of
standards (verbal gratitude norms and financial benefit
expectations) in leading to the trivialization effect (H2).
Collectively, these two studies test our theory that people
evaluate verbal acknowledgments relative to verbal norms,
whereas they evaluate acknowledgments with financial
benefits relative to both verbal norms and financial benefit
expectations.
Study 2a: Varying Adherence to
Verbal Gratitude Expression Norms
Study 2a examines a smaller-than-expected financial bene-
fit and varies the extent to which the acknowledgment’s
message content adheres to verbal norms. We predict that
the trivialization effect will be mitigated when the verbal
message content fails to conform to verbal norms (H2a).
Method
Design. One hundred sixty-one participants (47.2%
female; Mage = 33.30 years) from MTurk completed this
study. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four
between-subjects conditions in a 2 (acknowledgment type:
verbal acknowledgment, financial acknowledgment with
$.01 bonus) ¥2 (message content: adherent to verbal
norms, nonadherent to verbal norms) design.
Procedure. The procedure in Study 2a is similar to that
used in Study 1b. Four hundred thirty-four participants
(44.0% female; Mage = 32.47 years) from MTurk were
recruited to participate in a study ostensibly about partici-
pants and their attitudes toward various decisions. Partici-
pants first filled out two personality scales, the Big Five
Inventory (John, Donahue, and Kentle 1991) and the Need
for Cognition Scale (Cacioppo and Petty 1982), which were
unrelated to the present study. Participants were thanked for
completing these scales. Participants were then told that the
next task (providing a website review for a university) was
optional but would be helpful to the website feedback team.
Of the 434 recruited participants, 161 agreed to provide
a website review. These participants were then directed to
links for the actual website of a top business school in the
United States. Participants were asked to look at the website
and then to fill out an online form titled “[Business School]:
Review of Website” (for screenshots of the online form, see
Web Appendix W1). After participants submitted their
review, they left the online form and returned to the study.
On average, participants wrote 53.06 words (SD = 34.12;
Mdn = 46 words) to answer the three free-response ques-
tions in the online form.
Participants were then told that the university’s website
feedback team wanted the researchers to pass on a note to
participants who spent time helping them. Participants then
saw one of the following notes, depending on which condi-
tion they were randomly assigned to: verbal acknowledg-
ment adherent to verbal norms, verbal acknowledgment
nonadherent to verbal norms, financial acknowledgment
adherent to verbal norms (with a $.01 bonus), or financial
acknowledgment nonadherent to verbal norms (with a $.01
bonus). For the notes, see Appendix A.
Note that although there are many ways that a firm’s
message could be nonadherent to verbal norms, we varied
one important aspect of verbal norms—the extent to which
the acknowledgment was offered out of a sense of obliga-
tion—because prior research has indicated that an acknowl-
edgment does not adhere to prototypical gratitude expres-
sions if it is offered out of a sense of obligation (Lambert,
Graham, and Fincham 2009). Varying this one aspect
enabled us to change the adherence of the note to verbal
norms while retaining a high level of similarity on other
message components. In addition, as in Study 1b, at the end
of the study, we gave $.25 actual bonuses to all participants.
Dependent variable. The dependent variable consisted
of three items averaged to capture how appreciated partici-
pants felt (Cronbach’s a= .98; see Web Appendix W2).
80 / Journal of Marketing, May 2015
8Word count was skewed to the right, so we performed the t-test
on log-transformed word count.
9We also note additional studies we conducted regarding the
robustness of the trivialization effect, but we do not include those
in this article. Namely, we find that the trivialization effect holds
in the context of employee bonus compensation, using common
gifts rather than monetary payments, and as expressions of apol-
ogy for service failure rather than appreciation for patronage or
other inputs provided by the customer. Herein, we focus on the
context of consumers and expressions of appreciation.
Should Firms Use Small Financial Benefits? / 81
Manipulation check (financial acknowledgment with
$.01 bonus conditions). In the two financial acknowledg-
ment conditions, participants were asked, “Does the MTurk
bonus provided by the [Business School’s] management
team fail to meet, meet, or exceed your expectations for
how much of an MTurk bonus the university would pro-
vide?” (1 = “fails to meet my expectations,” 4 = “meets my
expectations,” and 7 = “exceeds my expectations”). This
measure allowed us to confirm that the $.01 MTurk bonus
met (or, in this case, failed to meet) financial benefit expec-
tations similarly, regardless of whether the message content
adhered to prototypical gratitude expressions.
Manipulation check (verbal acknowledgment condi-
tions). In the two verbal acknowledgment conditions, par-
ticipants were asked two questions to gauge the extent to
which they thought that the message content adhered to ver-
bal norms. We developed these two questions (see Web
Appendix W3) based on the prototypical gratitude expres-
sions described in Lambert, Graham, and Fincham (2009).
We averaged responses to these two questions to form an
adherence to verbal norms index (r = .795, p< 001), which
allowed us to confirm differences in perceived adherence.
Confound checks. Finally, we asked questions about
perceived correctness of spelling (“Does this note have cor-
rect spelling?” 1 = “not at all,” and 7 = “very much so”),
length (“How long is this message?” 1 = “very short,” and 7 =
“very long”), and understandability (“How easy is it to
understand this note?” 1 = “very difficult to understand,”
and 7 = “very easy to understand”). These responses helped
us ensure that our manipulation aimed at altering adherence
to verbal norms did not affect these aspects of the notes.
Results
Manipulation checks, confound checks, and website
review length. Before analyzing the main dependent
variable, we conducted analyses of manipulation and con-
found checks, which indicated that our manipulations were
successful and did not create problematic confounds. First,
a manipulation check of the two financial acknowledgment
with $.01 bonus conditions confirmed that the $.01 bonus
met financial benefit expectations similarly regardless of
whether the message content adhered to verbal norms
(Madherent, $.01 bonus = 2.88 vs. Mnonadherent, $.01 bonus = 2.45;
t(78) = 1.10, p= .274). Importantly, the financial benefit did
not meet financial benefit expectations: responses were less
than the midpoint of the scale (4), according to one-sample
t-tests (ps < .001).
Second, a manipulation check of the two verbal
acknowledgment conditions confirmed that adherence to
verbal norms was indeed higher when the message content
was intended to adhere to these norms (Madherent, no bonus =
5.55 vs. Mnonadherent, no bonus = 2.71; t(67) = 9.58, p< .001).
Furthermore, according to one-sample t-tests, ratings of the
adherent note were greater than the scale midpoint (4) (p<
.001), whereas ratings of the nonadherent note were less
than the scale midpoint (p< .001).
Third, there were no two-way interactions between
acknowledgment type and message content on any of the
three confound checks (spelling: p= .417; length: p= .649;
understandability: p= .174), so we collapsed them across
acknowledgment type and confirmed that none of the con-
found checks differed across the message content manipula-
tion (spelling: p= .134; length: p= .490; understandability:
p= .430). Finally, consistent with random assignment, the
website review length did not differ significantly across
conditions (F(3, 157) = .86, p= .466).
Dependent variable. Consistent with H2a, a two-way
ANOVA conducted on the 161 participants who submitted a
website review revealed a marginally significant two-way
interaction between acknowledgment type and the message
content’s adherence to verbal norms (F(1, 157) = 3.79, p=
.053). See Figure 1.
When the message content adhered to verbal norms, we
again replicated our key trivialization effect from the prior
studies (Madherent, no bonus = 5.48 vs. Madherent, $.01 bonus = 3.91;
t(65) = 4.88, p< .001), as we predicted in H1. Importantly,
when the message content did not adhere to verbal norms,
the trivialization effect was no longer present (Mnonadherent,
no bonus = 3.33 vs. Mnonadherent, $.01 bonus = 2.85; t(78) = 1.05,
p= .296), as predicted in H2a.
In further support of our theory that verbal acknowledg-
ments are evaluated entirely on the basis of adherence to ver-
bal norms whereas financial acknowledgments are evaluated
only partly on the basis of adherence to verbal norms, the
impact of varying adherence to verbal norms was greater in
the verbal acknowledgments condition. For verbal acknowl-
edgments, participants reported that they would feel much
FIGURE 1
Study 2a: Trivialization Effect as a Function of
Whether Message Content Adheres to Verbal
Norms
5.48
3.33
3.91
2.85
Message Adherent to
Verbal Gratitude
Expression Norms
Message Nonadherent
to Verbal Gratitude
Expression Norms
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
Feelings of Being Appreciated
(1 = “Not at All,” 7 = “Very Much”)
Verbal acknowledgment
Financial acknowledgment with $.01 bonus
Notes: The trivialization effect occurs when the message content
adheres to verbal gratitude expression norms (H1) but is
mitigated when the message content does not adhere to ver-
bal gratitude expression norms (H2a). The error bars refer to
standard errors of the mean.
more appreciated when the message content adhered to ver-
bal norms (Madherent, no bonus = 5.48 vs. Mnonadherent, no bonus =
3.33; t(57) = 5.64, p< .001). For financial acknowledg-
ments, participants also reported that they would feel more
appreciated when the message content adhered to verbal
norms (Madherent, $.01 bonus = 3.91 vs. Mnonadherent, $.01 bonus =
2.85; t(78) = 2.57, p= .012), but importantly, consistent
with our theory, the interaction suggests that the magnitude
of the difference was smaller, signifying that financial
acknowledgments are based partly, but not entirely, on
adherence to verbal norms.
Discussion
Study 2a varied the extent to which an acknowledgment’s
message content adhered to verbal norms. As we predicted,
the trivialization effect did not emerge when the message
content did not adhere to verbal norms. Furthermore,
evaluations of the financial acknowledgment were affected
by the message content’s adherence to verbal norms, but not
to the extent that evaluations of the verbal acknowledgment
were. This latter result provides further support for our
theory that when the acknowledgment is verbal, consumers
base their evaluation of the acknowledgment entirely on the
message content’s adherence to verbal norms, whereas
when the acknowledgment is financial, consumers base
their evaluation of the acknowledgment only partly on the
message content’s adherence to verbal norms. Although we
contend that these findings are important for demonstrating
our theory, given that firms are unlikely to send apprecia-
tive notes to their customers that fail to adhere to verbal
norms, we return to a focus on acknowledgments that meet
verbal norms in the remaining studies, consistent with Stud-
ies 1a–1c.
Study 2b: Varying Adherence to
Financial Benefit Expectations
Study 2b tests our theory that consumers who receive an
acknowledgment with a financial benefit base part of their
evaluation of the acknowledgment on the amount of the
financial benefit. We do so by focusing on acknowledg-
ments whose message content is adherent to verbal norms
and by manipulating the relationship of a financial benefit
amount to expectations such that amounts fall short, meet,
or exceed expectations. In line with our theory, we should
replicate the trivialization effect observed in Studies 1a–1c
and 2a when the financial benefit amount falls short of
expectations, but amounts that meet and exceed expecta-
tions should not lead to trivialization (H2b).
Method
Design. Three hundred sixty-four participants (37.9%
female; Mage = 31.12 years) from MTurk completed this
study. Participants were randomly assigned to one of nine
conditions: 0% discount (verbal acknowledgment), 5% dis-
count, 10% discount, 15% discount, 20% discount, 25%
discount, 30% discount, 35% discount, and 40% discount.
Pretest. We selected these discount amounts on the
basis of a separate pretest in which 46 participants from
MTurk saw the same scenario as participants in the main
study’s acknowledgment with 0% discount condition. In
this separate pretest, participants were asked what percent-
age discount off their next purchase they would expect to
receive to thank them for their loyalty. These pretest results
indicated that a 5% discount would meet or exceed expecta-
tions for 0% of participants, a 10% discount would for
28.3% of participants, a 15% discount would for 41.3% of
participants, a 20% discount would for 67.4% of partici-
pants, a 25% discount would for 78.3% of participants, a
30% discount would for 87.0% of participants, a 35% dis-
count would for 91.3% of participants, and a 40% discount
would for 95.7% of participants. Therefore, by manipulat-
ing the financial benefit at these amounts, we are able to
increase the degree to which the financial benefit meets or
exceeds participants’ expectations.
Procedure. Participants first read the following direc-
tions: “Imagine that you frequently go shopping at a mid-
end clothing store at the mall and bring the store a lot of
business by encouraging other people to shop there as well.
You even wrote a lengthy review of this store on their social
media page. In short, you do a lot to benefit this store’s
business. Imagine that you get the following email.”
Participants then saw an e-mail that was manipulated in
line with the randomly assigned conditions to either thank
the customer (verbal acknowledgment) or thank the cus-
tomer and offer a discount on her next purchase (the size of
the discount varied from 5% to 40%, depending on the
financial acknowledgment condition). For the e-mails, see
Appendix A.
Dependent variable. Finally, participants were asked
how appreciated they felt (“After receiving this e-mail, how
appreciated would you feel by the store for all that you do
for its business?” 1 = “not at all appreciated,” and 7 = “very
much appreciated”).
Results
A one-way ANOVA using discount amount to predict
appreciation was significant (F(8, 320) = 6.18, p< .001).
See Figure 2. We then conducted planned contrasts to test
our theory regarding the importance of financial benefit
expectations in creating trivialization (H2b).
Consistent with H2b, the only decrease in appreciation
occurred when shifting from the 0% discount condition to
the 5% discount condition (M = 5.19 vs. M = 4.49; t(77) =
1.98, p= .051). Aside from the 0% discount condition, the
15%–40% discount conditions also generated significantly
greater appreciation than did the 5% discount condition (ps
ranging from .005 to <.001), in support of H2b. In addition,
when examining the eight nonzero discount conditions (the
5%–40% discount conditions), we observed a consistent
positive linear trend in feelings of appreciation as the dis-
count amounts met or exceeded expectations (significant
weighted linear contrast: F(1, 314) = 41.83, p< .001), indi-
cating that larger discounts were associated with feeling
more appreciated than were smaller discounts. Finally, the
82 / Journal of Marketing, May 2015
Should Firms Use Small Financial Benefits? / 83
30%–40% discount conditions, which met or exceeded
expectations for most pretest participants, were all signifi-
cantly higher than the 0% discount condition (ps from .019
to .001).
Discussion
Study 2b demonstrated that financial benefit amounts that
fail to meet consumers’ expectations lead to the trivializa-
tion effect but amounts that meet or exceed expectations do
not. This finding suggests that consumers compare their
received financial benefit amount with their financial bene-
fit expectations as a reference point. Importantly, this find-
ing shows that it is not simple proximity to financial benefit
expectations that determines consumers’ satisfaction,
because a small amount is objectively closer to financial
benefit expectations than is zero. Rather, considerable satis-
faction created by a verbal acknowledgment (no financial
benefit included) suggests that it is evaluated relative to a
different standard than a financial acknowledgment (finan-
cial benefit included). As we demonstrated in Study 2a, this
standard is likely to be the extent to which the acknowledg-
ment’s message content adheres to verbal norms.
Study 3: Marketer-Provided
Financial Benefit Reference Point
Study 2b’s findings suggest that consumers may automati-
cally use their own financial benchmarks when financial
benefits are presented. Accordingly, we suggest that mar-
keters should be able to provide alternative reference points
to shift consumers’ reference points away from their own
internal financial benefit expectations. Therefore, Study 3
tests whether the trivialization effect will be mitigated when
consumers are exposed to lower firm-provided financial
benefit reference points, consistent with H3. In addition to
further testing the role of financial benefit reference points
in evaluating financial acknowledgments, Study 3 is also
important from a managerial perspective because it can
suggest a practical way for managers to salvage the power
of small financial benefits without increasing the firm’s
costs.
Method
Design. Two hundred fifty-one participants (37.1%
female; Mage = 30.14 years) from MTurk completed this
study. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three
conditions: verbal acknowledgment, financial acknowledg-
ment (5% discount), or financial acknowledgment (5% dis-
count) with lower reference points.
Procedure. Participants first read the following direc-
tions, which were similar to those read by participants in
Study 2b: “Imagine that you frequently go shopping at a
mid-level clothing store at the mall and bring the store a lot
of business by encouraging other people to shop there as
well. You also wrote a lengthy review of this store on their
social media page. Imagine that you get the following note.”
Depending on randomly assigned condition, partici-
pants then saw a note that either thanked them (verbal
acknowledgment condition) or thanked them and offered a
5% discount on their next purchase (financial acknowledg-
ment condition; financial acknowledgment with lower ref-
erence points condition). In the financial acknowledgment
with lower reference points condition, a series of potential
discounts were listed on the note (1%, 2%, 3%, 4%, and
5%), and the 5% discount amount was circled. For the
notes, see Appendix B.
Dependent variable. The dependent variable consisted
of three items averaged to capture how appreciated partici-
pants felt (Cronbach’s a= .95; see Web Appendix W2).
Results
A one-way ANOVA using condition to predict felt appreci-
ation was significant (F(2, 238) = 7.53, p= .001) (see Fig-
ure 3). We then conducted planned comparisons to test
whether we would replicate the trivialization effect pre-
dicted in H1and to test H3(that the trivialization effect can
be mitigated by providing alternative financial benefit refer-
ence points).
First, in support of H1, participants who received the
financial acknowledgment felt less appreciated than partici-
pants who received the verbal acknowledgment (M = 4.25
vs. M = 5.08; t(155) = 3.46, p= .001). Second, in support of
H3, participants who received the financial acknowledg-
ment with lower reference points felt similarly appreciated
as participants who received the verbal acknowledgment
(M = 5.04 vs. M = 5.08; t(160) = .17, p= .864) and felt
more appreciated than participants who received the financial
acknowledgment without the lower reference points (M =
5.04 vs. M = 4.25; t(168) = 3.06, p= .003).
FIGURE 2
Study 2b: Effect of Different Financial Benefit
Amounts on Consumers’ Felt Appreciation
5.19
4.49
5.03
5.57 5.48 5.52 5.85 5.90
6.22
10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40%0% 5%
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
Feelings of Being Appreciated
(1 = “Not at All,” 7 = “Very Much”)
Condition
Notes: The trivialization effect occurs when the financial benefit pro-
vided is smaller than expected (i.e., 5% discount; H1) but is
mitigated and reversed when the financial benefit provided
meets or exceeds expectations (i.e., 10%–40% discount; H2b).
The error bars refer to standard errors of the mean.
Discussion
Study 3 replicates the trivialization effect (H1) and further
shows that it is eliminated when consumers are exposed to
lower financial benefit reference points (H3). Thus, Study 3
provides further support for the importance of financial
benefit reference points when evaluating financial acknowl-
edgments. Moreover, from a practical perspective, Study 3
is important because it suggests that managers may be able
to avoid the trivialization effect by presenting consumers
with explicit financial benefit reference points that are
lower than the small benefit amounts offered.
Study 4: Prosocial Benefit
As Study 3 suggests, lower reference points provided by
managers can effectively alter reference points for evaluat-
ing financial benefits. However, we also suggest that other
mechanisms may similarly change these reference points.
As such, Study 4 tests a form of financial benefit that we
suggest may be less subject to comparison with a higher
financial benefit expectations reference point: prosocial
benefit. Specifically, Study 4 tests whether the trivialization
effect will be mitigated when the financial benefit is proso-
cial, consistent with H3. To maximize ecological validity,
participants in this study completed a review for a proposed
start-up company and actually received the financial benefit
assigned by condition.
Method
Design. Two hundred thirty-eight participants (60.9%
female; Mage = 38.56 years) from MTurk completed this
study. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four
conditions: verbal acknowledgment (no bonus), financial
acknowledgment with $.01 bonus (version 1), financial
acknowledgment with $.01 bonus (version 2), and financial
acknowledgment with $.01 prosocial bonus. We created
two versions of the financial acknowledgment with $.01
bonus to further establish the robustness of the trivialization
effect to a change in wording that emphasized that the com-
pany knew that the small bonus could not begin to compen-
sate participants for the time they spent (version 2).
Procedure. Seven hundred sixty-one participants (51.6%
female; Mage = 35.29 years) from MTurk were recruited to
participate in a study ostensibly about participants and their
attitudes toward various decisions. As in Study 2a, partici-
pants first filled out two personality scales, the Big Five
Inventory (John, Donahue, and Kentle 1991) and the Need
for Cognition Scale (Cacioppo and Petty 1982), which were
unrelated to the present study. Participants were thanked for
completing these scales. They were then told that the next
task (providing a website review for “Fifth & Falls,” a start-
up company hoping to sell modern tableware online) was
optional but would be helpful to the company’s founders.
To mimic actual opportunities to provide input to compa-
nies, we told participants that providing the website review
was completely optional.
Of the 761 recruited participants, 248 agreed to provide
a website review. These participants were directed to a
separate website for this modern tableware company. Par-
ticipants were asked to look at the website and, when ready
to write the review, to click on the “Reviews” tab of the
website and fill out a review (for a screenshot of the home
page and the reviews page of this website, see Web Appen-
dix W1). Of the 248 participants who agreed to provide a
website review, 238 actually submitted a review. After these
participants submitted their reviews, they left the website
and returned to the study. The average length of a submitted
review was 43.04 words (SD = 33.92; Mdn = 34 words).
Participants were then randomly assigned to one of the
four conditions. They were told that the company wanted the
researchers to pass on a note to participants who spent time
helping them. Participants then saw a note that thanked them
(verbal acknowledgment condition), thanked them and gave
them a $.01 bonus (financial acknowledgment with $.01
bonus, version 1 condition), thanked them and gave them a
$.01 bonus that the company acknowledged could not begin
to compensate them for the time they had spent (financial
acknowledgment with $.01 bonus, version 2 condition), or
thanked them and told them that $.01 would be given to a
charity on their behalf (financial acknowledgment with $.01
prosocial bonus condition). As in Studies 1b and 2a, we actu-
ally gave participants in the nonprosocial financial acknowl-
edgment conditions a bonus of $.25 at the end of the study
to help ensure that they would not leave feeling unappreci-
ated, and we donated $.25 to charity for each participant in the
prosocial bonus condition. For the notes, see Appendix A.
Dependent variable. The dependent variable consisted
of three items averaged to capture how appreciated partici-
pants felt (Cronbach’s a= .95; see Web Appendix W2).
84 / Journal of Marketing, May 2015
FIGURE 3
Study 3: Effect of Lower Financial Reference
Points on Trivialization Effect
5.08
4.25
5.04
Verbal
Acknowledgment
Financial
Acknowledgment
(5% Discount) with
Lower Reference
Points
Financial
Acknowledgment
(5% Discount)
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
Feelings of Being Appreciated
(1 = “Not at All,” 7 = “Very Much”)
Notes: The trivialization effect is mitigated through the firm providing
lower reference points (H3). The error bars refer to standard
errors of the mean.
Should Firms Use Small Financial Benefits? / 85
Results
A one-way ANOVA on the 238 participants who provided a
website review, using acknowledgment condition to predict
felt appreciation, was significant (F(3, 222) = 3.78, p=
.011). See Figure 4. We then conducted planned compari-
sons to test for the trivialization effect (H1) and to test
whether making the financial benefit prosocial mitigates the
trivialization effect (H3).
First, consistent with H1, participants who received a
financial acknowledgment with a $.01 bonus felt signifi-
cantly less appreciated than participants who received a ver-
bal acknowledgment (version 1: M = 4.65 vs. M = 5.48;
t(105) = 3.05, p= .003; version 2: M = 4.67 vs. M = 5.48;
t(106) = 2.94, p= .004). Second, consistent with H3, partici-
pants who received a financial acknowledgment with a $.01
prosocial bonus felt similarly appreciated as participants
who received a verbal acknowledgment (M = 5.14 vs. M =
5.48; t(111) = 1.26, p= .211). Participants who received a
$.01 prosocial bonus also felt directionally more appreci-
ated than participants who received a $.01 traditional bonus
(version 1: t(117) = –1.61, p= .110; version 2: t(118) = –1.53,
p= .129). Note that consistent with random assignment, the
website review length did not differ significantly across
conditions (F(3, 234) = .93, p= .429) and therefore cannot
account for any of these findings.
Discussion
Study 4 replicates the trivialization effect (H1) and further
shows that the trivialization effect is eliminated when the
financial benefit is prosocial (H3). From a practical perspec-
tive, Study 4 is important because it suggests that managers
may be able to avoid the trivialization effect by directing
small financial benefits toward charity rather than toward
customers. Study 4 also suggests that it is not sufficient for
the firm to acknowledge that the financial benefit provided
in the financial acknowledgment is too small, as this strat-
egy failed to mitigate the trivialization effect.
General Discussion
Across seven studies, we demonstrate that receiving an
acknowledgment with a smaller-than-expected financial
benefit can lead consumers to feel less appreciated than
receiving no financial benefit. We refer to this finding as the
“trivialization effect” and to such smaller-than-expected
financial benefits as “trivializing compensation”—a novel
and useful construct for both managerial practice and
theory. We examined the size of the trivialization effect by
conducting a meta-analysis of 615 participants across the
seven studies in this article.10The weighted average effect
size (using Cohen’s d) was .69, which represents a medium-
plus effect size according to Cohen (1992). As such, the
trivialization effect is clearly substantial.
Furthermore, we demonstrate that this effect occurs
because offering a financial acknowledgment leads con-
sumers to evaluate the firm’s response in part according to a
different standard—whether it meets their financial benefit
expectations—rather than solely according to whether the
message content meets verbal norms associated with proto-
typical gratitude expressions (Studies 2a and 2b). Accord-
ingly, when the content of a message adheres to norms of
verbal gratitude expressions (Lambert, Graham, and Fin-
cham 2009), including a smaller-than-expected financial
benefit backfires. However, when the content of the mes-
sage violates norms of verbal gratitude expressions (Study
2a) or when financial benefits meet or exceed expectations
(Study 2b), the trivialization effect dissipates.
Given the importance of financial benefit reference
points in contributing to the trivialization effect, we demon-
strate that the effect can be eliminated when consumers are
exposed to financial benefit reference points that are lower
than the financial benefit provided by the firm (Study 3). In
addition, we demonstrate that the trivialization effect can
also be eliminated when the financial benefit is offered in a
prosocial form, which may be less susceptible to compari-
sons with high financial benefit expectations (Study 4).
Managerial Implications
Communicating appreciation to one’s customers is crucial,
particularly within the context of an ongoing relationship
FIGURE 4
Study 4: Effect of Prosocial Benefit on
Trivialization Effect
5.48
4.65 4.67 5.14
Verbal
Acknowledg-
ment
Financial
Acknowledg-
ment with
$.01 Bonus
(Version 1)
Financial
Acknowledg-
ment with
$.01 Bonus
(Version 2)
Financial
Acknowledg-
ment with
$.01 Prosocial
Bonus
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
Feelings of Being Appreciated
(1 = “Not at All,” 7 = “Very Much”)
Notes: The trivialization effect is mitigated by the firm providing the
financial benefit in a prosocial form (H3). The error bars refer
to standard errors of the mean.
10We included a verbal acknowledgment condition and a finan-
cial acknowledgment with a small financial benefit condition from
each study for the meta-analysis. Specifically, we included the fol-
lowing conditions: both conditions from each of Studies 1a–1c,
the adherent no bonus condition and the adherent bonus condition
from Study 2a, the 0% discount condition and the 5% discount
condition from Study 2b, the verbal acknowledgment condition
and the financial acknowledgment with 5% discount condition
from Study 3, and the verbal acknowledgment condition and the
financial acknowledgment with $.01 bonus (version 1) condition
from Study 4. Additional details are available upon request.
between the customer and the firm. Given our findings, what
guidance can we offer to a manager aiming to acknowledge
customers effectively? Our research suggests four consider-
ations for managers as they plan their course of action.
First, it is important that managers do not underestimate the
value of a simple verbal acknowledgment that adheres to
verbal norms (Lambert, Graham, and Fincham 2009). As
our studies show, a verbal acknowledgment can be better
than a similarly worded financial acknowledgment so long
as the message content meets verbal gratitude expression
norms and the financial benefit is smaller than expected.
Second, managers should conduct market research to
understand people’s expectations of appropriate financial
benefit levels. Study 2b shows that, ideally, amounts that
exceed the expected financial benefit should be used so that
managers can reverse the trivialization effect. Indeed, Study
2b’s findings do not support an alternative account that
people simply react more negatively to financial acknowl-
edgments than to verbal acknowledgments. Rather, offering
a financial acknowledgment can be a beneficial way to
acknowledge loyal customers for their support, provided
customers’ financial benefit expectations are met.
Third, when expectations are high, unstable, or difficult
to measure, a firm that aims to offer small financial benefits
should craft communications that prompt consumers to con-
sider lower reference points. For example, as Study 3
shows, communications may list a range of possible benefit
amounts such that the highest benefit amount corresponds
to the amount the firm offers. If firms use this strategy, they
should manage the distribution of benefit amounts such that
most consumers will be given a reference point lower than
the amount they actually receive. Our research suggests that
this strategy may help consumers feel appreciated and value
the small financial benefits provided by firms.
Fourth, as Study 4 shows, a firm that wants to offer
small financial benefits should consider offering consumers
the opportunity to direct the financial benefit to a prosocial
endeavor. Our findings suggest that a prosocial-oriented
approach can salvage small firm expenditures and effectively
communicate the firm’s appreciation. Furthermore, prior
research has suggested additional benefits to a firm for engag-
ing in prosocial behaviors (Varadarajan and Menon 1988).
Notably, both recent managerial advice pieces (Corstjens
and Lal 2014; Young Entrepreneur Council 2014) and
recent managerial actions at some companies suggest that
many managers continue to struggle with how best to
acknowledge loyal consumers (Co 2012; Lyon 2012; skh
2013). Although managers are likely to think that violating
verbal norms in their acknowledgment messages would not
make sense, they might not think about the likelihood that
adding financial benefits would trivialize their customers’
efforts. Indeed, in an additional study (available upon
request), we find that laypeople actually anticipate the
opposite of the trivialization effect—that is, when asked
whether they would feel more appreciated with a verbal
acknowledgment or a financial acknowledgment with a
small financial benefit (i.e., in a joint or comparative
evaluation mode in which each person views both types of
acknowledgments, which may be the predominant evalua-
tion mode managers face; Hsee 1996; Hsee et al. 1999; Tan-
ner 2008; Weaver, Garcia, and Schwarz 2012), they thought
that they would feel more appreciated if they received a
financial acknowledgment. As in many other areas of con-
sumer research, people may not always have the correct lay
intuitions about how managers can acknowledge consumers
without trivializing their efforts.
Theoretical Contributions and Future Directions
The present research offers the important theoretical contri-
bution that a firm’s method of acknowledging consumers
can alter the evaluation standards that consumers use to
judge the firm’s action. Specifically, making an acknowledg-
ment financial rather than verbal by including a financial
benefit shifts consumers from evaluating the acknowledg-
ment on the basis of adherence to verbal norms alone. Instead,
consumers also focus on whether the financial benefit
amount meets their expectations and average this evaluation
with their evaluation of the acknowledgment’s adherence to
verbal norms (Anderson 1965; Gaeth et al. 1990; Weaver,
Garcia, and Schwarz 2012; Yadav 1994). Note that in this
research, we assume a simple averaging model, which is
consistent with much prior research on evaluation of multi-
component stimuli (Anderson 1965; Gaeth et al. 1990;
Weaver, Garcia, and Schwarz 2012; Yadav 1994). However,
further research might examine whether a simple averaging
model or a weighted averaging model (the latter of which
can be used to model an anchoring and adjustment process;
Einhorn and Hogarth 1985; Hogarth and Einhorn 1992;
Johnson and Puto 1987; Yadav 1994) better captures the
evaluation of financial acknowledgments.
In showing the trivialization effect, we also believe that
our work prompts careful consideration about the general
application of the expectancy disconfirmation paradigm:
although a financial acknowledgment is objectively closer
to financial benefit expectations than a verbal acknowledg-
ment, the inclusion of the small financial benefit can lead
consumers to feel less appreciated. Thus, it is not always
the case that satisfaction will increase as financial benefits
become closer to quantitative expectations. To increase sat-
isfaction as financial benefits approach quantitative expec-
tations, managers must be confident that no other possible
standard (e.g., verbal expression norms) was cued in the
absence of the financial benefit.
Drawing on the importance of financial benefit refer-
ence points in contributing to the trivialization effect, this
article also illustrates two strategies to eliminate the trivial-
ization effect. We theorize that the trivialization effect may
be eliminated when a prosocial benefit is offered because
the utility provided by giving a prosocial benefit is fairly
insensitive to the quantity of benefit actually provided
(Hsee and Rottenstreich 2004; Imas 2014; Small, Loewen-
stein, and Slovic 2007) or because a prosocial benefit is
more likely to be evaluated according to low financial refer-
ence points (Cialdini and Schroeder 1976; Estrin 2013). In
addition, consumers are likely conditioned to think of the
cumulative effects of small amounts of money directed
toward prosocial causes. Further research could aim to dis-
entangle these possibilities.
86 / Journal of Marketing, May 2015
Should Firms Use Small Financial Benefits? / 87
In the present research, we varied either adherence to
verbal norms (holding financial benefit constant at a
smaller-than-expected level; Study 2a) or adherence to
financial benefit expectations (holding message content
adherent to verbal norms; Study 2b). However, further
research could jointly vary these two factors through an
extension of our proposed multicomponent averaging
model. It would be particularly worthwhile for future stud-
ies to examine what happens when the message does not
adhere to verbal norms but the financial benefit is larger
than expected: Can a large enough financial benefit over-
come a lack of adherence to verbal norms? Scholars could
examine these and other possibilities through the lens intro-
duced herein. In addition, we also note that there are many
ways that a message may fail to adhere to verbal norms that
we do not examine here (e.g., length, personalization) but
that might be explored in further research.
Finally, we focused on felt appreciation as a key depen-
dent variable throughout our studies. The types of acknowl-
edgments that we examined across our studies are those that
firms commonly use as part of customer appreciation or
loyalty programs designed specifically to communicate
firms’ appreciation for their customers (Valenzuela, Mulki,
and Jaramillo 2010). Accordingly, appreciation is the most
immediate outcome that the focal messages would be
expected to produce. In focusing on felt appreciation, we shed
light on factors that shape felt appreciation within marketing
channel relationships. Given the strong theoretical and
empirical associations between felt appreciation, well-
being, satisfaction, and various indicators of relationship
commitment (Geyskens, Steenkamp, and Kumar 1999;
Hoffman and Lowitt 2008; Reis et al. 2000), a better under-
standing of how firms’ actions affect felt appreciation is
important for marketers interested in building stronger rela-
tionships with their customers.
Appendix A: Main Stimuli for All
Studies
Study 1a: Hotel Field Study
Dear Sir or Madam,
Thank you very much for your time and support in pro-
viding this feedback for our company.
We really appreciate it, and your feedback will be help-
ful to us.
We [verbal acknowledgment condition: “wanted to send
you this note”; financial acknowledgment ($.05) condition:
“will give you $0.05 (a nickel) at the end of this study”] to
thank you for all the time you spent.
Sincerely,
[Hotel Conference Center’s] Management
Study 1b: Competitor Feedback Study
Dear Sir or Madam,
Thank you very much for your valuable time and support
in providing this review of our competitors’ websites! We
know that you may have spent quite a bit of time doing this.
We are sending you [verbal acknowledgment condition:
“this brief note”; financial acknowledgment ($.01) condi-
tion: “a $0.01 additional mTurk payment”] to tell you how
much we value your time and support.
Sincerely,
Pure Coffee & Tea Founders
Study 1c: Dining Establishment Study
Dear customer,
Thank you very much for your time and support in pro-
viding this feedback for [Dining Establishment].
We really appreciate it, and your feedback will be very
helpful to us.
We wanted to send you this note to thank you for all the
time you spent. [verbal acknowledgment condition: N.A.;
financial acknowledgment ($.05) condition: “We will also
give you $0.05 (a nickel) to thank you for your time.”]
Sincerely,
[Dining Establishment Parent Company]
Study 2a: Varying Adherence to Verbal Gratitude
Expression Norms
Adherent to Verbal Gratitude Expressions Conditions
Dear worker,
The management team at [Business School] would like
to thank you for looking at our website and providing your
feedback on how we can improve!
We truly value all that you have done to support us, so
we wanted to send you [verbal acknowledgment condition:
“this note”; financial acknowledgment ($.01) condition: “a
$0.01 mTurk bonus”] to tell you how much we value and
appreciate your help.
Sincerely,
[Business School’s] Management Team
Nonadherent to Verbal Gratitude Expressions Conditions
Dear worker,
The management team at [Business School] is required
to send this automatically-generated message to all indi-
viduals who complete the website review task:
Thank you for taking the time to look at our website and
for providing your feedback. We are sending you [verbal
acknowledgment condition: “this note”; financial acknowl-
edgment ($.01) condition: “a $0.01 mTurk bonus”] today
mainly because it is mandatory for us to offer recognition.
Sincerely,
[Business School’s] Management Team
Study 2b: Varying Adherence to Financial Benefit
Expectations
Dear customer,
Thank you very much for your loyalty to our store
through your frequent purchases and your positive word-of-
mouth to other customers. We truly value all that you do to
support our business, so we wanted to send you [0% dis-
count (verbal acknowledgment) condition: “this note”; 5%–
40% discount (financial acknowledgment) conditions: “this
coupon for 5-40 percent off your next purchase”] to tell you
how much we value and appreciate your support.
Sincerely,
[Store]
Study 4: Prosocial Benefit
Dear Sir or Madam,
Thank you very much for your valuable time and sup-
port in providing this review of our website! We know that
you may have spent quite a bit of time doing this.
We are sending [verbal acknowledgment condition:
“you this brief note”; financial acknowledgment with $.01
(version 1) condition: “you a $0.01 additional mTurk pay-
ment”; financial acknowledgment with $.01 (version 2)
condition: “you a $0.01 additional mTurk payment”; finan-
cial acknowledgment with $.01 prosocial condition: “a
$0.01 donation to Feeding America (a hunger-relief charity)
on your behalf”] to tell you how much we value your time
and support. [financial acknowledgment with $.01 (version
2) condition: “(We truly appreciate your help and realize
that this small payment cannot begin to compensate you for
all of the time you spent providing a review.)”]
Sincerely,
A. Williams
Fifth & Falls Store Manager
88 / Journal of Marketing, May 2015
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Loyal Customers,” Small Business Trends, (February 10),
(accessed March 4, 2015), [available at http://smallbiztrends.
com/ 2014/02/ways-to-thank-loyal-customers-virtually.html].
90 / Journal of Marketing, May 2015
APPENDIX B
Study 3: Marketer-Provided Financial Benefit
Reference Point
A: Verbal Acknowledgment Condition
B: Financial Acknowledgment (with 5% Discount)
Condition
C: Financial Acknowledgment (with 5% Discount) with
Lower Reference Points Condition
Web Appendix
1
Should Firms Use Small Financial Benefits to Express Appreciation to Consumers? Understanding
and Avoiding Trivialization Effects
Peggy J. Liu, Cait Lamberton, Kelly L. Haws
Web Appendix
APPENDIX W1: ADDITIONAL STIMULI FOR STUDIES 1A, 1B, 1C, 2A, AND 4
Study 1a: Hotel Field Study – Customer Review Questions
1. How many total nights have you stayed at [hotel conference center’s name]?
2. How many total meals have you eaten at [hotel conference center’s name]?
3. Have you ever visited [hotel conference center’s name]’s website? (yes, no)
4. Compared to other full-service conference centers or hotels that you have visited before, how
does [hotel conference center’s name] compare? (1 = much worse to 7 = much better)
5. What are some things you like about [hotel conference center’s name]?
6. What are some things you dislike about [hotel conference center’s name]?
7. Please write a one-paragraph review of [hotel conference center’s name] for potential future
patrons. You can write both positive and negative things - please be honest.
Note: The hotel conference center’s name has been removed for its anonymity.
Web Appendix
2
Study 1b: Competitor Feedback Study – Website Review Form
Review form (page 1) Review form (page 2)
Review form (page 3) Review form (page 4)
Web Appendix
3
Study 1c: Dining Establishment Study – Customer Review Questions
1. How many total meals have you eaten at [dining establishment’s name]?
2. Have you ever visited [dining establishment’s name]’s website? (yes, no)
3. Compared to other dining places that you have eaten at on [university’s name]’s campus, how
does [dining establishment’s name] compare? (1 = much worse to 7 = much better)
4. Please write a one-paragraph review of [dining establishment’s name] for potential future patrons.
You can write both positive and negative things - please be honest.
Note: The dining establishment’s name has been removed for its anonymity.
Web Appendix
4
Study 2a: Varying Adherence to Verbal Gratitude Expression Norms – Website Review Form
Review form (page 1) Review form (page 2)
Review form (page 2 continued) Review form (page 3)
Note: The business school’s name has been removed for its anonymity.
Web Appendix
5
Study 4: Prosocial Benefit – Website Review Form
Home page
Review page
Web Appendix
6
Web Appendix
7
APPENDIX W2: DEPENDENT VARIABLES FOR ALL STUDIES
Study Dependent Variable
1a
Appreciation index:
After receiving this note, how appreciated do you feel by [conference center’s name] for providing
customer feedback?” (1 = not at all appreciated, 7 = very much appreciated)
After receiving this note, how valued do you feel by [conference center’s name] for providing
customer feedback? (1 = not at all valued, 7 = very much valued)
After receiving this note, how satisfied do you feel with [conference center name’s] response to
acknowledge you for providing customer feedback? (1 = not at all satisfied, 7 = very much satisfied)
1b
Appreciation index:
After receiving this note, how appreciated do you feel by Pure Coffee & Tea for what you have done
for its business? (1 = not at all appreciated, 7 = very much appreciated)
After receiving this note, how valued do you feel by Pure Coffee & Tea for what you have done for
its business? (1 = not at all valued, 7 = very much valued)
After receiving this note, how satisfied do you feel with Pure Coffee & Tea’s response to what you
have done for its business? (1 = not at all satisfied, 7 = very much satisfied)
1c
Appreciation index:
After receiving this note, how appreciated do you feel by [dining establishment parent company’s
name] for providing customer feedback?” (1 = not at all appreciated, 7 = very much appreciated)
After receiving this note, how valued do you feel by [dining establishment parent company’s name]
for providing customer feedback? (1 = not at all valued, 7 = very much valued)
After receiving this note, how satisfied do you feel with [dining establishment parent company’s
name’s] response to acknowledge you for providing customer feedback? (1 = not at all satisfied, 7 =
very much satisfied)
2a
Appreciation index:
After receiving this note, how appreciated do you feel by the [business school’s name] management
team for your help?” (1 = not at all appreciated, 7 = very much appreciated)
After receiving this note, how valued do you feel by the [business school’s name] management team
for your help? (1 = not at all valued, 7 = very much valued)
After receiving this note, how satisfied do you feel with the [business school’s name] management
team’s response to your help? (1 = not at all satisfied, 7 = very much satisfied)
2b
After receiving this email, how appreciated would you feel by the store for all that you do for its
business? (1 = not at all appreciated, 7 = very much appreciated)
3
Appreciation index:
After receiving this note, how appreciated do you feel by the store for all that you do for its
business? (1 = not at all appreciated, 7 = very much appreciated)
After receiving this note, how valued do you feel by the store for all that you do for its business? (1 =
not at all valued, 7 = very much valued)
After receiving this note, how satisfied do you feel with the store for all that you do for its business?
(1 = not at all satisfied, 7 = very much satisfied)
4
Appreciation index:
After receiving this note, how appreciated do you feel by Fifth & Falls for what you have done for its
business? (1 = not at all appreciated, 7 = very much appreciated)
After receiving this note, how valued do you feel by Fifth & Falls for what you have done for its
business? (1 = not at all valued, 7 = very much valued)
After receiving this note, how satisfied do you feel with Fifth & Falls’ response to what you have
done for its business? (1 = not at all satisfied, 7 = very much satisfied)
Note: Study 2b was conducted prior to the other studies. We switched from a one-item dependent
variable to a three-item dependent variable after conducting study 2b.
Web Appendix
8
APPENDIX W3: ITEMS MEASURING ADHERENCE TO VERBAL GRATITUDE EXPRESSIONS
NORMS
1. How sincere does this note seem to be? (1 = not at all sincere, 7 = very sincere)
2. To what extent does this note communicate in a way that’s appropriate in this context? (1 = not at
all, 7 = very much so)
Note: These items were used in pre-tests described in footnote 4, as check for verbal acknowledgment
condition in study 1c, and as manipulation check for verbal acknowledgment conditions in study 2a.
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