Everyone Wins with Reciprocity
An Effective Way to Influence Prospects and Customers
AMY ROSS, MANAGER — BRAND AND PRODUCT MARKETING
Throughout our lives, we’ve all heard that it’s better to give than to receive. But it turns out that when it comes to attracting customers, you can give and receive.
Specifically, you may want to think about the concept of reciprocity. You’re probably already familiar with its definition: “The practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit,” according to the online Oxford English Dictionary. However, you may not be as aware of its psychological implications or its role as an influencer in how people make all types of decisions, including both personal and business purchases.
Actually, a lot of research has been done by social psychologists and others on the factors that influence people to act in a certain way. Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, identified these six Principles of Ethical Influence:
- Social proof
As you can see, reciprocity topped the list of key influencers. But are we hard-wired to repay our debts? Drawing on various studies, Cialdini writes that we are, by our very nature, motivated to give something back to those people who have provided us with a gift or benefit. In fact, until we do reciprocate, we experience unpleasant feelings of being indebted; to alleviate these feelings, we are compelled to pay back those who have given us a reward.
Reciprocity: Case in point
Sociologist Phillip Kunz sent holiday cards to 600 random strangers. He received 200 cards back in response – and some of the recipients continued sending him cards for years afterward.
Clearly, the power of reciprocity as a psychological motivator can play a role in many types of human interactions. How can you use it in your marketing efforts? Here are four ideas to consider:
- Offer something first. To make reciprocity work, you have to be the initiator. In other words, you need to give something of value to receive something in return. Many businesses choose the opposite approach by running loyalty programs. (Just check out all those punch cards you’ve got lying around.) While such programs may have some value, they depend on the customer returning enough times to finally claim their reward.
- Be creative. There’s no one correct gift you could give customers or prospects to encourage them to return to you for business. With a business-to-consumer approach, you can always give promotional marketing materials such as pens, tote bags, key chains, caps and so on, and these gifts are typically well-received. But you can also follow a business-to-business route by offering some digital freebies, including Ebooks, articles, webinars and podcasts to your customers and prospects. If the recipients perceive that these materials can help them solve problems or boost their own business, they are more likely to reciprocate by turning to you for your expertise, products and services.
- Emphasize exclusivity and personalization. If it’s possible (and it often is), try to position your gift or benefit as something that’s exclusive to your recipients. Furthermore, if you can personalize the offer, so much the better. If you have contact information on previous customers or potential customers, you can use it in creating exclusive and personalized offers.
- Make the offer a surprise. Gifts and benefits seem to have more effect when they come out of the blue. So, you could decide to give customers something such as a discount code or free delivery immediately after they’ve made a purchase from you.
Do everything you can to harness the power of reciprocity. You may well end up with happier customers and improved business. That’s a win-win result.