What is Reciprocity and How Can I Use it in Marketing?

Marketing evolves a lot around human behavior. What do people do? How do they spend their free time? How to they react to certain words, colors, situations? How are they influenced by other peoples’ behavior?


Being able to understand how people act and react is the key. A business that is familiar with and uses reciprocity is a business that has a great advantage.


So what is reciprocity and how does it benefit your business if you incorporate this principle in your marketing strategies?


What is reciprocity and how can I use reciprocity in marketing?



The definition of the principle of reciprocity


The Cambridge Dictionary defines reciprocity as follows: “behavior in which two people or groups of people give each other help and advantages”.

If somebody gives you something, you feel obligated to repay them – it’s as simple as that.


Reciprocity examples in real life


Reciprocity, the need to give back to somebody who gave you, is something that we do without realizing.


Did you promise to take care of your parents when they grow old just like they took care of you when you were a child? Then you practiced reciprocity.


Has your friend ever invited you over for dinner and you felt a bit bad because of all the food and drinks she prepared? I would bet you wanted to repay her, so you invited her over to cook for her as well.


Or, for example, if you work overtime, your employer pays you for that time even if that is not something you have included in your work contract.


Many times in real life we feel the urge to give back to people who gave us something first. We might see them as nice and kind when they give the thing to us or help us and they claim they don’t want anything back. And that’s why, often, we feel the urge to find a way to reciprocate one way or another.


So how can a business or a marketer use this principle when communicating with a (potential) customer?



What is reciprocity in marketing?


If you’re contemplating whether or not to use reciprocity in your marketing, consider the value you have to invest and the value you’d get back. How much can you afford to lose if not everyone feels the need to reciprocate or they don’t reciprocate the way you expected?


Here are a couple of examples of reciprocity in marketing:


· A telecommunications brand offers you the first month fee-free, if you sign a contract with them for 12 months instead of just 6 months.


· You’ll get 50 % off on a copywriter’s course or a webinar, if you sign up for their newsletter.


· A coffee shop gives a piece of chocolate with each cup of coffee. Will you choose this coffee shop or the one that doesn’t give anything? And will you want to leave a tip for the waiter who brought you your coffee with a small chocolate?


· A stand in a supermarket gives away free cheese pieces of a new cheese brand. They have more cheese packed conveniently right next to their tray.


In all of these cases, most customers will feel like they want to buy something from this seller since they’re kind enough to give them a discount or something for free.


But notice how different the outcome of these examples can be for various business. If you sign a contract for a mobile number for 12 months, the company will lose one month’s worth of your phone calls and messages, but you’ll still give them 11 months’ worth. Most likely, you’ll also extend your contract at the end as well, because, let’s be honest, do you want to go through all the struggle of changing your number and signing new paperwork again?


But a cheese stand, that might be a different situation. How likely is it for shoppers to pass by it, try a piece of cheese, take one and pay for it and stick to this cheese each time they buy one? Would they only buy it that one time to repay for the free cheese? And is that enough for the company?


Always consider what your business goals are and how you can use reciprocity to your advantage.


It’s also worth considering how you want to present the offer you’re giving your potential customers, because, if it’s interesting enough and they’re happy, they can also tell their family and friends about it.


A piece of chocolate with your morning coffee might be pleasant.

But is it pleasant enough for you to tell all your friends that from now on you only meet up with them at this coffee shop? Maybe yes, maybe no.


It’s you who knows your business and your target audience best.


Reciprocity in B2B marketing


The example I used with a copywriter’s webinar is the perfect example of reciprocity in B2B marketing.


If your clients are business like you, you’ll need to step up your reciprocity game and think WIIFT?

WIIFT = What’s in it for them? or WIIFM? = What’s in it for me? is a question you need to ask when selling anything (or buying anything).


So how will it benefit your customers if you give them a free e-book or a discount for your webinar? Well, of course, it will save them money on a resource that will (hopefully) help them make more money.


They might then feel obligated to repay you and buy another book from you – but this time, full price. Or subscribe to your newsletter or recommend you to another fellow business owner, etc.


Affiliate marketing works in a similar way – you want to post an “ad” of your business on another business’ website. They let you do it, but of course, you want to reciprocate – and so you pay them a percentage of each time your link turns into a conversion (e.g. a click on the link, a purchase after clicking, and so on).


There are various examples of reciprocity strategies in B2B marketing and plenty of advantages, such as cost sharing, opening up to wider audiences, experience and knowledge sharing, social proof and higher sales.


And who wouldn’t want that?



Your Target Audience Wants to Pay You


They definitely do, once you show them what you can offer them – that’s a basic business rule.


If you know your audience, know what they want and what they react well to, it’s going to be easy to know what exactly to give them – so they want to repay you.


And if not, test what works best.


At the end of the day, as long as you and your marketing stay true to your brand, you can’t go wrong.

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