As was discussed in a recent article, building brand loyalty with your customers is a great long-term strategy for the success of the business. There are a lot of ways to build brand loyalty, such as rewards programs or by having a reputation for corporate responsibility. Business owners and marketers should never forget their customers are people. And just like with most people, a simple thank you can do a lot to build strong relationships. New research confirms that showing appreciation to customers can help build brand loyalty.

But how do brands say "Thank You" to their customers that is more meaningful and authentic than what's printed on the receipt or on a plastic bag? A recent study from TD Banks found surveyed consumers about this topic and identified some of the best ways to show appreciation to customers.

Interestingly, even in the digital age, most people prefer to be thanked in person. According to the TD Banks survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers, 84 percent of people still prefer an in-person thank you, especially if it's accompanied by a gift

Obviously, this can't be done for every customer. Imagine waiting in line to buy gas and the clerk stops to shake the hand and thank everyone for buying some candy and pork rinds. But small business owners that want to show appreciate to major clients or important members of their team should consider showing their appreciation in person when possible.

Though an in-person "Thank You" isn't feasible for every customer, there are other ways to show customers appreciation and the survey gives some indication which are the most popular. The researchers noted that Regardless of how gratitude is expressed, consumers agreed that appreciation should be conveyed by saying thanks directly to the individual recipient (60 percent) and personalized (44 percent).

The previous statistic is of particular interest to companies that use email or direct mail marketing to send appreciation messages to a large number of recipient. Using personalization features will make the message seem more authentic.

On the simple end, marketers should make sure to include the person's name in the message. For example, "Dear Ms. Smith" is more meaningful than "Dear Donor" when someone is being thanked for their contribution. Similarly, being able to include the amount they donated in the message makes the appreciation more genuine.

For companies with larger marketing budgets and lots of big data on their customers, this level of personalization can get amazing. For example, just as some retailers use algorithms to decide on the best offers to include in a marketing email for each recipient, the same can be done with appreciation rewards (e.g. personalized coffee mug for shopper who buys a lot of coffee through retailer).

The research from TD Banks suggests that using these forms of appreciation-based marketing works well with younger and older demographics. According to their report, Millennial and Gen X, consumers like freebies (39 percent and 38 percent, respectively). And though Baby Boomer are little less enthusiastic about freebies, one in four (25 percent) liked the occasional free gift from companies.

Circling back to the previous article about brand loyalty, the TD Banks study offers more proof that brand loyalty still matters. Among all the people surveyed (i.e. all age groups) roughly one third of respondents said they prefer their thanks in the form of points or miles.

According to their press release on the report, "An old-fashioned thank-you note has gone the way of dial-up. Only seven percent of millennials and 4 percent of Gen Xers like receiving a written thank-you note from a brand, while email moves the needle for only 3 percent and 7 percent, respectively."

In the end, the study shows us that saying thanks hasn't gone out of style, but it's all in how you say it. Business owners that want to keep their customers happy and coming back for years to come should consider some of these new ways to show appreciation.

For more recent news about consumer preferences, read this article on "The Compelling Case for Content Marketing."