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Give a Little, Get a Lot: The Creole Tradition of Lagniappe

Give a Little, Get a Lot: The Creole Tradition of Lagniappe

Saturday mornings as a kid tend to seem a little outside of reality as we grow older. It’s hard to believe that once upon a time, we wore our pajamas until noon, watched cartoons unsupervised while our parents slept in, and had no qualms about calorie counts as we poured another bowl of sugary, delicious cereal. The only thing that could possibly make a day like that better was being the sibling who scored the prize inside the cereal box… A small token that meant the world to us when we were still bright-eyed, bushy-tailed youths. 

From Cracker Jack boxes to offers for a free syringe of Botox with your next cosmetic surgery, we’ve been trained to keep an eye out for the “Prize Inside” of the products and services we buy. Often, it’s so tempting that a ten-cent investment on the side of the business can convince us to pay $1.00 more for their product over another. 

Mark Twain’s Surprising Insight on Marketing

In 1883, Mark Twain published Life on the Mississippi, a memoir of the time he spent piloting a steamboat along the Mississippi River. His descriptions of the people and places he travelled are poignant and insightful, giving us a slice of Americana before the nation was ravaged by the Civil War. 

On his time in New Orleans, he recounts:

“We picked up one excellent word—a word worth travelling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word—”lagniappe.” They pronounce it lanny-yap

It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a “baker’s dozen.” It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure… When a child or a servant buys something in a shop—or even the mayor or the governor, for aught I know—he finishes the operation by saying—’Give me something for lagniappe.’

The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of licorice-root, gives the servant a cheap cigar or a spool of thread, gives the governor—I don’t know what he gives the governor; support, likely.”

Engraving from Twain’s book depicting “Lagniappe

To this day, the culture of the Lagniappe — giving a little something extra to your customer — is still alive and well. It’s a cultural experience in Louisiana, and one that helps breed the hospitality the south is so well-known for. 

Jon, one of the co-founders of NATIV3, recounted: “My personal recollection is that when we would walk to the fireworks stand as kids and buy our stuff, the person would always hook us up with an extra pack of firecrackers as lagniappe.”

These stories so far, of Saturday cartoons, steamboat pilots, and fireworks stands, are a testament to the power of words like “gift,” “free, ” and “extra.” When customers feel like they’re getting more bang for their buck, these experiences stick with them. 

Cajun Tradition, Modern Marketing

When you run a business, your main concern, first and foremost, is people. Without relationships, you might as well close up shop. It’s why companies like NATIV3, and other marketing firms that help brands reach customers, exist. It’s why Super Bowl commercials make you cry and your favorite shoe brand sends you coupons on your birthday. When we scratch away all of the flash, glitz, and stratagem, we’re left with the basic human need of creating connections. 

Lagniappe is a state of mind that helps you make those connections more powerful and more meaningful. It’s about treating your customers like they were your favorite cousin or your best friend’s mom. It’s about giving them the feeling that they are cared for by your brand, even when they know that they are only one of the hundreds of people you work with everyday. 

Figuring out the best way for your personal brand to run in a way that honors this Cajun tradition really comes down to what it is that you’re marketing. 

In our field, it looks a lot like being on the phone with clients at 6:00 on a Friday night or sending out a mock landing page before they sign a contract. Sometimes, it’s unpaid hours of perfecting a website or waking up early on Sunday to design a last minute, but opportune, ad campaign for Monday morning. 

For others, it’s sometimes the more traditional “Prize Inside” that makes the most sense. My favorite makeup brand (shoutout to Glossier!) includes a seasonal sticker in their shipments that changes every three months. Guess who, like clockwork, makes an order between $100-$150 four times a year? 

Hint: It’s me.

Would it be easier, faster, and probably cheaper to grab makeup at Wal-Mart while I’m there anyways? Sure. Would I score that sweet, sweet sticker? No. That menial little extra means a lot to me, though, so I come back to them time and again.

You don’t have to live in Cajun country to celebrate your customers with the Lagniappe tradition. You don’t even have to spend money. The only requirement is that you give a little more than the expected. 

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