From Adam Smith onwards, gratitude has been held as invaluable to societal functioning in view of its role in helping individuals maintain their reciprocal obligations to one another. The purpose of the current research is to use current conceptions of gratitude derived from work in social psychology to test whether simple descriptions of hypothetical organisations could systematically differ in the extent to which they elicit gratitude, and subsequently, whether gratitude would mediate behavioural intentions towards these organisations.
In two studies, participants read vignettes describing hypothetical organisations that systematically differed in the extent to which the services they provided were costly to the organisation, of high value and provided out of a genuine desire to help. Perceptions of these dimensions, feelings of gratitude and behavioural intentions towards each organisation were subsequently measured.
The appraisal group manipulation significantly affected consumers’ behavioural intentions towards these businesses, and the majority of these relationships were mediated by feelings of gratitude towards the organisations.
These data indicate that gratitude not only mediates customer responses to relationship marketing investments, but may also be integral in marketing communications’ role in converting non-customers to customers. They also indicate that marketing communications should stress that an organisations services are of high value, of cost to the organisation and provided out of a genuine desire to help.
This paper shows for the first time that the same cognitive appraisals that underpin feelings of interpersonal gratitude mediate responses to global evaluations of organisations. This considerably broadens the situations under which gratitude had previously been considered to operate and argues for the inclusion of gratitude in understanding how marketing communications and relationship management are used to influence consumer responses.
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