As marketers, we invest vast amounts of time and money in triggering desired responses in our target audiences. Whether our goal is to acquire new customers or retain existing ones, our ability to influence human behavior will always be the barometer of our success.
To succeed in marketing, we need a solid understanding of psychology. After all, how are we supposed to guide human behavior if we do not understand the psychological triggers that shape it?
One of the most straightforward principles of consumer psychology to understand is that of reciprocity, as it’s a defining factor in what it means to be a functional human being. Reciprocity is the tendency of people to want to return a favor.
Even before our ancestors descended from the trees, a powerful desire to reciprocate already existed in our DNA, if you weren’t a “co-operator” and refused to give to those who gave to you in the past, you would soon find yourself banished from your social group. Our species will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid the feeling of being indebted to others.
If you’ve ever invited someone you don’t particularly like to dinner just because they have previously hosted you, you have succumbed to the irresistible power of reciprocity.
Why do companies send you gifts and samples? Why do fundraisers for charitable and religious organizations offer you flowers or free copies of their magazine? They do it because they know that once you have received something from them, no matter how trivial, you will be much more inclined to do something in return.
A solid understanding of the principle of reciprocity is a potent weapon to have in your marketing arsenal. If you are ready to supercharge your customer acquisition strategy and build more profound and more durable relationships with your existing clients, then read on.
1. Treat every customer as an individual
While your overarching goal is most probably conversion at scale, never forget that the numbers that represent your click-through rates, add to cart or purchases, are made up of individual human beings with their own attributes, likes, dislikes, and demographic makeup.
With reciprocal marketing, personalization is vital. You must make every effort to make the recipient of your gift, free sample, or handwritten note to feel that the item is for them and them alone.
Consider the following two scenarios for an online perfume retailer:
- You include a random 5ml perfume sample with every purchase.
- You match the sampler with another line of the brand of perfume purchased along with a handwritten note – “Hi Jane, I thought you might like to try this. Emma”
In scenario one, if you are sending random samples to a large enough group, the law of averages states that you will probably get lucky some of the time. It is a very hit and miss approach, and I see it everywhere.
In scenario two, through a little bit of attention and personalization, Emma has converted Jane from a purchaser into loyal, long-term customer and brand advocate.
2. Always be the first to give and then keep giving
While a thank you page is still a great place to insert your tracking pixel, this simple, automated recognition of a purchase is not going to engender feelings of warmth and loyalty in your new customer.
Instead, present your new customer with a genuine reason to shop with you again – for example, a coupon code that valid for a highly related purchase.
Again, using our perfume store as an example: If your customer just purchased 50ml of Eau de Toilette by Brand X, send them a coupon code for 30% off a 100ml bottle.
Reciprocity shouldn’t end when a customer responds to your offer. You must always be looking for opportunities to continue to strengthen your relationships by providing further reasons for your customers to keep coming back to you.
3. Don’t forget that reciprocity works both ways
Not all your customers are destined to be vocal ambassadors for your brand. With a little tweaking of the principle of reciprocity; however, you can incentivize them to bring customers to you. How? Give them something of value in return for doing what you want.
incentivizing engaged users to refer their friends and family in return for 500 megabytes of increased storage. If Dropbox knew only one thing about its users, it was that they wanted online storage for their files. This smart strategy involved offering these users more of what they demonstrably desired in return for something the company wanted – growth.
Properly executed, the principle of reciprocity has the potential to supercharge your sales. By aligning your business goals with every human’s instinct to reciprocate, you will see a significant bump in your marketing ROI in the short-term. You will also create the foundation to build strong relationships with engaged buyers with a much higher lifetime value.