How much do you love your clients? If the answer is "a lot," then you should consider throwing a client appreciation event. If the answer is "not at all," then you should still consider throwing a client appreciation event. Your loyal client base is the reason that your business can, well, stay in business, so it’s important to express gratitude.

Some people would argue that great customer service and a "thank you" at the end of every transaction is enough, but that’s just expected and doesn’t provide any real added value. These client appreciation event ideas can help retain customers and cultivate new prospective clients. Beyond that, offering occasional fun activities for your top clients is just an all-around good time.

Why Have a Client Appreciation Event?

Client appreciation is a lot more than simply thanking your customers. Whether you’re a long-standing company or a new business (think: local restaurants, retail shops and real estate firms alike), these kinds of events are a great boost to any marketing strategy. The more people like the perks you’re giving them, the more likely they are to talk about your brand, and word of mouth is extremely powerful.

A client appreciation event can also be used to collect important customer data, and offering rewards in exchange for email addresses or social media shares can be an excellent strategy to build a solid mailing list or to get budget-friendly promotion. Remember that email lists can be crucial to a fledgling e-commerce business since it’s 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than other digital methods, like Twitter and Facebook.

Beyond promotion, giving your customers gifts out of appreciation is statistically proven to increase spending. A study by German professor Armin Falk found that donor letters with a free gift raked in 17% to 75% more donations than letters that didn’t come with free stuff. Another study in the American Journal of Psychology found that including candy with a restaurant bill increased tips.

What Makes a Successful Client Appreciation Event?

Though there are a wide variety of client events you can throw — from sporting events to exclusive sales — successful client appreciation events all have a few things in common. The best client appreciation events should:

  • Be unique: Standing out in competitive industries is extremely important. For example, if your competitors are all throwing Labor Day BBQs, there’s a fair chance that your customers might get confused about whose BBQ they went to which year. You won’t retain the positive association for which you worked.

  • Have substance: There’s only so much intellectual substance a golf outing or baseball game can provide, but if you’re doing a lecture-based client event, it’s important to provide real insight your customers may not already have. For example, if you’re running a makeup brand whose clients are makeup artists, they probably don’t need a class on the best way to apply winged eyeliner. Instead, focus on emerging industry trends that are engaging and provide something new.

  • Foster connections: Don’t underestimate the social aspect of a client appreciation event. This is a chance for clients to meet like-minded people who are sometimes even important professional connections. Group activities like sporting events or guided discussions can help attendees form important bonds.

  • Ask clients for advice: You can use customer appreciation events to learn how to better serve your clients. Where else are you going to have so many of your top clients in close proximity in a laid-back environment? Asking your clients for advice could improve your performance and lead to more sales down the line.

So, how do you turn these concepts into a solid event in which customers actually want to participate? Try these client appreciation event ideas.

1. A Social Giveaway

Customer appreciation events that play out over social media are a great option for businesses that have clients all around the world because if it takes place on a computer, nobody is left out. One popular social media strategy is to do a giveaway that’s based around a social share campaign. The product you give away adds direct value for the customer, and the sharing helps promote your business. To make things streamlined, most companies choose to run a hashtag campaign or call for retweets, reposts and shares across a single platform.

This type of campaign was tested by Pizza Hut in 2013. The brand aimed to help customers who didn’t have Valentine’s Day presents for loved ones by offering $20 gift cards and a Pizza Hut perfume (which is somehow stomach turning and amazing at the same time) to select users who tweeted with the hashtag #LastMinuteLovers. This campaign was unique and fun, and it showed customers that Pizza Hut had their back.

2. A Snail Mail Campaign

People generally hate getting mail if only because mail is littered with junk and bills. On the other hand, people love getting free stuff. You know what makes checking the mail a whole lot better? When you find free goodies and a warm thank you instead of a credit card statement.

In the era of email, a snail mail thank you can go a long way, but make it special by handwriting a note. You can include things like coupons, limited low-cost items like koozies or lapel pins and even memes. This stuff all helps push social sharing and gives the thank you extra meaning.

HubSpot had great success with a campaign of this sort using the hashtag #CustomerLove. The tech company sent handwritten thank you letters and limited-edition gifts to some of its top partners and clients. This prompted them to share photos of what they received on social media, offering free word-of-mouth promotion.

3. Throw a Party

Nobody really wants to go to a networking event, but it is a necessary evil. Customers do value building professional connections with other like-minded people, and a party is the perfect pop of excitement for an otherwise standard (read: boring) networking event. While you don’t actually need a specific reason to throw a cocktail hour, you can always opt for a holiday party, which does foster those warm, fuzzy, festive feelings. Just make sure to keep religious traditions out of it so no one is excluded — a client event is not the time to fight back against the war on Christmas.

Parties aren’t the most budget-friendly option, especially when you add booze, but you can scale it however you want. Some companies hire professional event planners or rent out local restaurants, while others throw a small gathering in their office. We see the former a lot with beauty and fashion brands, which throw exclusive launch parties for top buyers and Instagram influencers. The guests are treated to a lovely affair where they’re absolutely pampered and given tons of free swag (about which they inevitably post online), but they also get to form connections with other influential people, so it’s a win for everyone.

4. Throw an Anniversary Event

Throwing an event on an anniversary brings your customers together every single year to celebrate with your company like you’re family. It’s a great way to not only make your customers feel appreciated but to make them feel like they’re part of a community. This kind of event doesn’t have to be lavish to be worthwhile. A simple summer BBQ can give prospective and long-standing customers a free bite to eat, some good music and some great conversation.

For example, convenience store chain 7-Eleven does the anniversary event like no other. In celebration of the company’s name, the chain has offered free small Slurpees every year on July 11 (i.e., 7/11) since 2002. This works for a number of reasons: It makes consumers feel appreciated, it brings them into the store where they’re likely to spend money and it’s completely budget friendly since Slurpees are inexpensive products.

5. Have a Friendly Competition

If you’re looking to use a customer appreciation event to retain customers, it’s important that your client base associates your business with good times. The best way to make that happen is to incorporate play into your event — and how do adults play? Sports. There’s nothing that creates camaraderie like a friendly sports competition.

There are two ways you can go about a sports-related customer event: You can either host a game in which clients participate or offer tickets to a game as a prize. The former helps build a community around your brand, and the latter makes customers feel like they’ve won something big. Honestly, what top clients wouldn’t want tickets to even just a minor league baseball game?

Whether you’re hosting a baseball game, a golf outing or a round of kickball, you can also use this sort of customer event to raise money for charity. Simply donate a specific amount to a specific charity depending on which team wins. Make sure to also offer prizes to the customers who are playing, and you might want to get a T-shirt cannon to shoot out free swag for those in the stands.

6. Happy Hour Keeps Customers Happy

If there’s one thing people love more than free swag, it’s free drinks. A company happy hour can bring in new clients while giving old clients the type of perk that makes them choose your company over and over again. Just make sure your happy hour is memorable so people associate it with your brand and don’t get it muddied up with the numerous after-work drinks they grab from people trying to sell them stuff. Try:

  • Throwing a wine tasting: Cheese pairings are a bonus to all customers who aren’t lactose intolerant. It’s important to consider customers’ dietary restrictions when having a food-based event.

  • Bringing in the local craft beers: This is great for a local business because it puts an emphasis on local pride. People love to celebrate their hometowns.

  • A fancy cocktail hour: It’s fun to dress up and mingle. Keep it budget friendly by only offering a couple signature cocktails.

7. A Members-Only Sale

Customers love the idea of exclusivity, and they feel really valued if they believe you’re giving them something that not everybody has. This is why a members-only sale is a great option to not only boost sales but to make customers feel like they’re getting a great deal.

This type of customer appreciation event can be run in the store (National Customer Appreciation Day falls in April, so that’s not a bad time to give it a whirl), but it can also take place online. Coupons can be emailed to everyone, from your top spenders to your mailing list subscribers to the people who interact with you the most.

Many brands have seen massive success with this, but Spotify has it down to a science. The brand regularly gives top fans (i.e., the people who use its streaming service the most) exclusive access to their favorite bands’ concert tickets. Everyone loves to cut the line, and this ensures that top fans never face a sell-out because they’re getting seats before the general public.