What the Law of Reciprocity Means for Marketing and How You Can Use it to Build a Successful Campaign
As humans it is hardwired into our brains that getting something means giving something in return. Whether it is gifts or favours, our drive to reciprocate is so ingrained sociologists call it the Law of Reciprocity.
Businesses have long tapped into this principle to engage with their customer base and generate revenue. But before we get down to the nuts and bolts of how this principle can be used in marketing, let’s look a little more closely at what is going on with this unwritten social rule.
Say you just moved into your new house. There are boxes everywhere and your new neighbor comes over with a pot of chili and a friendly smile. Two weeks later they ask you to keep an eye on their dog for a couple days while they are gone. What do you say? You could say no, but doing so will likely leave you feeling uncomfortable. That is because social norms, and even the wiring of our brains, tell us favours need to be returned. We want to give something in return for getting something.
The Psychology Behind Reciprocity
Back in 1971, Professor Dennis Regan of Cornell University conducted a famous “Coca-Cola” study on reciprocity behaviour. Participants in the study were told they were evaluating paintings. Once the participant was comfortably settled in the room, Dr. Regan’s assistant Joe, would leave and 50% of the time return with two soft drinks, giving one to the participant. After the participant had evaluated a few paintings and was ready to leave, Joe would hand them a note asking them to buy raffle tickets. The participants who were given a free soda bought twice as many raffle tickets as the ones who did not receive a soda.
Similarly, when sociologist Phillip Kunz mailed out handwriting Christmas cards, along with a note and family photo, to 600 complete strangers he received over 200 notes, cards and photos in return.
Why? Reciprocity behaviour at work. In both cases the recipients felt compelled to do something in return for the unexpected gift.
This is both normal and natural. And is the guiding principle behind many successful marketing campaigns.
How Successful Brands Use The Law of Reciprocity
Free samples at the mall, return address stickers from a non-profit, free trials or subscriptions and those piles of trade show “swag” are all examples of reciprocity-driven marketing. The company is giving you something in hopes that you will buy from them in the future. It works. But, as you probably already guessed, not all strategies are equally effective. Any strategy that moves beyond reward and seeks to manipulate should be reconsidered. No one likes to feel pressured and your marketing push may actually drive customers away.
Personally, I love free samples at the market. They show me the vendor really believes in their product and give me a chance to try without risk. That little bit of cheese on a toothpick leaves me much more likely to buy from them in the future.
In contrast, non-profit mailers with guilt-inducing copy and a set of free stickers make me want to get off their mailing list.
Reciprocity marketing done well is all about rewarding potential customers before they make a purchase.
How to Use Reciprocity in Your Marketing Campaign
There are four guiding principles behind a successful reciprocity-based marketing strategy.
- Offer something first
Don’t wait for potential customers to make the first move.
- Offer something valuable
An offer that exceeds their expectations creates a reciprocity response.
Find out what your target audience likes and let that guide your offer. Make your customer feel special.
- Use a Second Smaller Request
In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, social scientist Dr. Cialdini tells the story of how he was approached by a kid selling circus tickets for $5 each. Cialdini gently declined. The kid then replied, “If you don’t want tickets, how about our $1 chocolate bars?” Cialdini bought two bars and then realized what had happened. That second smaller offer can be hard to resist.
Ready to Earn Your Customers With a Little Creative Giving?
We’re here to make it happen. Find new customers, create brand loyalty and earn those all-important customer referrals. devEdge Internet Marketing has a 9 year track record of effective, ethical marketing results. We might be able to put our experience to work for you. Give us a call today and get ready to create a buzz.