Why do we have such a knee-jerk reaction to reciprocity?

Why should you care about reciprocity in marketing? Here are 3 right ways to make reciprocity an effective marketing technique...
Two cartoon hands holding a handful of Love Hearts sweets with phrases on them such as cutie pie and hug me

I’d been thinking about this more and more recently… and then it really jumped out at me while I was watching my kids unwrapping their presents with so much excitement and expectation on Christmas Day.


Why should marketers care about reciprocity?

It’s purely and simply human nature.

You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

I’ll give you a gift if you give me one too.

I’m no Grinch but the concept of exchanging goods and the psychology behind it fascinates me. Especially in marketing.

Reciprocity is also Dr. Robert Cialdini’s first (of seven) universal principles of influence.

This is a great example of reciprocity… and the impact of a waiter giving you a free mint:

"In the study, giving diners a single mint at the end of their meal typically increased tips by around 3%. Interestingly, if the gift is doubled and two mints are provided, tips don’t double. They quadruple—a 14% increase in tips.

But perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that if the waiter provides one mint, starts to walk away from the table, but pauses, turns back and says, “For you nice people, here’s an extra mint,” tips go through the roof."

Dr. Robert Cialdini

So simple. (And I’m 110% that over-tipping diner.)

There’s a feeling of guilt and a sense of obligation to reciprocate… and reciprocity is an effective marketing technique when it’s done the right way:

  • Offer something first (for free!) This can be a discount, special offer, or an ungated download, packed with valuable insights and actionable tips.
  • Make them feel special. Personalise your messaging, ads, and emails. You can send a personalised note or a gift box in the post as a non-digital, tangible offering. (It’s all about adding that extra thoughtfulness to help you stand out.)
  • Maintain the relationship. Those who accept the offer, download the guide, reply to your email, like, share, and retweet your content will more likely book a call, sign up to a trial, or buy your product if you maintain the relationship by offering more free stuff (strategically, of course), and utilising your top-notch email communications to stay in touch with them.