Original insights in international business and marketing

A Powerful Business Lesson from Cajun Country


A few years ago I was introduced to the word “Lagniappe” (pronounced Lah-Nyap).  And just like Mark Twain in 1883, who described it as a word “worth traveling to New Orleans to discover,” I too fell in love with lagniappe and its meaning.

Although commonly used today in the Gulf region of the US, the word traces its origins to Spanish and even further back to the Quechua Indian language. A lagniappe is essentially a small gift from the merchant to a purchasing customer.  It’s modern day equivalent is the 13th doughnut offered by the baker when you buy a dozen.  According to Merriam-Webster, a lagniappe is “something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure.”

I bring this up because there is something both magical and universal in the word and what it represents.  The idea that a transaction or exchange is rewarded with a little extra.

As consumers we are constantly on the lookout for deals and value.  Deep down, however, I think that we are a bit afraid of being ‘had’ or of being a ”sucker.”  The highly transactional, fixed price, “what you see is what you get” world we live in has also lost some of its charm and, dare I say, it’s humanity.

The lagniappe is the symbol or the assurance that the merchant is on your side, that he or she values you and that they are prepared to forego a little bit of profit to make the customer feel good and (hopefully) return.

I think the lagniappe concept can teach us something important in today’s business world.  The idea that every transaction – or even every interaction – can be accompanied by a token gesture of unsolicited generosity.  Think about how much good such small gestures could do to customer satisfaction and loyalty!  How would you feel if you got a wink and a small cookie sample with your next Latte at Starbucks?  A free set of floormats for your new car?  How about a free box of disposable accessories with you next medical device purchase?  Or what about even sending a box of chocolates as a “thank you” to a regular contributor on your website?

In a world where customer retention is so important and so much more cost-effective vs. acquisition, doesn’t it make sense to inject some lagniappe into how you run your business?

Have you received a lagniappe recently that made an impression?

Got any ideas or examples of how the lagniappe can be used in business today?  Share a comment.

photo credit: dasroofless via photopin cc

3 comments on “A Powerful Business Lesson from Cajun Country

  1. Sudario Alonso
    February 6, 2013

    Hi Andrew, i agree with you, what we see is what we get and this culture is growing. If we take the famous Apple as example, when we buy a phone or a tablet with them we are pushed to buy extras such as covers, protectors, ear-buds with speakers and so. But the lagniappe still exists in big markets where merchants still maintain their customer relationship more human, places like fruit stands or small town bakeries. What i experience today is companies sending you something only when they screw up, if and when they send something, as well as, we need to prove that we are valuable customers so we can have any benefits in the future. W are giving lagniappe instead of receiving and companies expect this from consumers like you and me. Maybe that is why there is no more customer loyalty. Nice article! =)

    • Andrew Hyncik
      February 6, 2013

      Well said Sudario. I could go on for hours about how so many companies are missing the point and the opportunity to turn satisfied purchasers into devoted customers. It doesn’t take a fortune and it isn’t complicated. Too many businesses are focused on acquisition/hunting that they forget to invest in retention/farming. We all know that converting an existing customer is far easier and far more affordable than getting a new one. So why isn’t more being done to nurture the relationship? You are absolutely right that most companies are still too focused on damage control. That’s when they play all nice with customers. But the point of Lagniappe is to be generous from the very beginning because you want to, not because you have to. A small gesture of unexpected kindness or generosity can fundamentally alter the nature of the relationship. We need to empower people in the organization to give back in the name of building stronger personal relationships, not transactional ones. People are hungry – desperate – for touches of kindness and humanity in our virtual world. I think that the companies which explicitly reach out to their customers with lagniappe in mind will earn disproportionate returns (through loyalty, favorable reviews/comments, repeat purchases, endorsements, etc…) than those who don’t. After all, brand equity is not just made out of all the things you say about your brand but also from what you do and how you behave. Cheers.

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February 2013

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Andrew Hyncik

Andrew Hyncik

Parifornia is the creation of Andrew Hyncik, an experienced International Marketing executive who's lived and worked for over 20 years in both Europe and North America.

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