Reciprocity in marketing: How to apply this principle

By Ari Vivekanandarajah / August 13, 2020
Reciprocity in marketing

Do you remember the first time you moved into your neighbourhood? I remember one of my neighbours coming in and introducing themselves and giving me something baked. I think it was cookies. Gun to my head, I’d say chocolate chip.

That’s not the point, though. What I remember is the gesture.

I recall one of them saying to me “We saw you moving in and thought we’d come see if you’re all set. If there’s anything you need, just give us a holler.” 

They shook hands and introduced themselves – a husband, wife, and kid. I was pretty overwhelmed with the whole moving aspect and was in the middle of dozens of boxes with my stuff, but I remember being touched by their kindness. 

While I’d like to think I’d help just about anyone, I noticed that, thereafter, I did go out of my way to say a quick hello, have a chat or offer a hand anytime they needed something. 

This behaviour doesn’t surprise me because it’s rooted in basic human psychology; it’s what we call reciprocity. In the field of social and personality psychology, it’s an innate trait and tendency that humans have to repay in kind what someone else has done for them.

Beyond social dynamics, reciprocity has a heavy hand in the digital marketing and advertising field. Let’s do a quick dive into why this is the case.

The art of reciprocity in marketing

The principle of reciprocity is the natural tendency of humans to offer something in return, when we receive something. While it was, in many ways, a means of survival for humans in the past, reciprocity in marketing is now a popular business strategy.

You can observe this phenomenon in action when businesses offer something valuable to current or potential customers in return for them performing an action that helps their business. The key is using the principle well to trigger customers to behave in the way you desire.

This trick can help you create stronger and longer-lasting relationships with customers just as it does within the communities we live in.

Reciprocity at play in marketing

For a quick look at this principle in play, take a look at this offer Spotify is advertising. 

This offer allows listeners to enjoy ad-free music streaming with offline mobile access for a month, which can be cancelled at any time. The principle of reciprocity in marketing at play, here, will prompt users to pay for the premium account once the trial ends, especially when it costs only $10 a month.

The free trial play is a popular trick in the marketing world and one that is well-used by businesses to increase customers, on one hand, and improve revenue generation on the other. 

Businesses also use this free-offer strategy in different ways. You can offer a sample of a new product or service when someone makes a purchase from your business. As often seen on social media, brands organise giveaways to increase their follower base.

These strategies, however, need to drive real value in order for your audience to feel indebted to you. That is when this principle of reciprocity in marketing would really work.

Free content = Increased customer interest

Executing reciprocity in marketing through content marketing is an excellent strategy, in my opinion, because it costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads. The challenge is to focus on adding value to your audience in meaningful ways.

Methods such as blogging, video, podcasts, free eBooks, and whitepapers are a few great ways to utilise this principle of reciprocity in marketing. This is because you are essentially giving away value for free.

When your content helps your readers enjoy certain benefits, they will be grateful to you and are more likely to reciprocate. They will choose your services or products, recommend you to others or even do something as simple as providing their email address, making them a lead worth pursuing.

Use reciprocity in marketing to solidify your hold on the market

The principle of reciprocity in marketing is especially relevant in today’s digital landscape. Think about it – all successful digital marketing tactics follow this ‘give, give, give and get’ formula. You never think about asking anyone for anything, today, until you have first given them something of value.

At Hype Insight, we constantly leverage our efforts to help businesses drive value to their customers. We incorporate the principle of reciprocity in marketing into our client’s marketing efforts to generate leads, improve customer relationships, and increase profits.

If you’re thinking about using the principle of reciprocity in marketing, always remember to drive value. 


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