Reciprocity – sometimes thought of as ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ – is learned human behaviour, a psychological principle,and a social construct. It’s the power of reciprocity that makes a person feel obliged or indebted after a favour. If we’re offered something, even if it’s something small, even if it’s from someone we don’t like, it makes us more likely to return the favour, or comply with a request of theirs later.
No wonder marketers love it.
The norm of reciprocity in marketing
The way this would apply in a marketing campaign would be to have a potential customer feel as if they’ve been helped in some way by the company trying to sell them something. The potential customer is then compelled to buy from the company as a way of returning the favour.
A business could offer free samples, or a free gift, even before a person has purchased. “Why should I give something away for free?!”I hear you cry. Well, a free gift creates a feeling of indebtedness, which can become an obligation to then go on to buy. Rewarding loyal customers before they’ve shown any loyalty.
Some helpful tips, for free, to get you using reciprocity in your campaigns
Yes, these tips are helpful. And did I mention they’re free?
Give a little
Most of us find it quite difficult to pass up on something if it’s being offered for free. Running ads that offer a little freebie to tap into that human behaviour could encourage a potential customer to want to return the favour when they accept your giveaway. Even if all they give you in return is their attention, that’s great for brand awareness, and might turn out to be a conversion at a later date.
Let them know they count
Know what’s better than a freebie? A personalised freebie. Marketing’s all about the bottom line, but your customers are more than just numbers on a spreadsheet. Show them you care by letting them choose their own free gift, for example. Or by adding a personal touch like a handwritten note. If a customer feels valued, they’ll reciprocate the favour; maybe with a purchase, or maybe just with a shout out on social media – which is great for brand awareness!
Manage your own expectations
If all this feels a bit manipulative, it’s because it kind of is. But if you can do a good deed without expecting anything back, you’ll build a long term trust between your brand and your customers. I’m doing it right now. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be delighted if this bit of insight into using reciprocity in marketing convinced a business to employ Browser Media as its marketing agency, but I don’t expect it.
A customer may not be in a position to reciprocate (or convert) immediately, and that means you have to stick in their minds, often for some time. A free sample is the easy option, but is it memorable enough? It could be as simple as novel or eye catching packaging, or maybe it’s a supportive social media campaign, or a collaboration with a complementary brand to really enhance that free gift and make it unforgettable. You need to stick in people’s minds long after they’ve accepted their freebie so they still think of you when they’re ready to convert.
Keep at it
The reciprocation, or the conversion isn’t the end of it. Of course you know that. But with just a touch more effort, you could really encourage that lasting relationship. Scribble down a thank-you-note (to keep it personal), throw in a thank-you-gift (to keep it memorable), or pass on a thank-you-referral-code which will reward your new customer and a potential new customer, and employs word of mouth marketing, which is a very powerful tool!
To apply reciprocity, you must give first
Reciprocity is a deeply ingrained psychological principle of behaviour, and to use it effectively in marketing, you have to accept that it isn’t always going to be effective… that is, to use true reciprocity, you have to make a personal, unexpected first move with integrity, and wait for your potential customers to hopefully return the favour.