How to Use the Principle of Reciprocity to Market Your Business

Is it better to give or to receive? It's okay - we all secretly think it's better to get. Who doesn't like or want presents?

A very small amount of people - but the majority enjoys gifts and surprises. So, how does that relate to marketing?

Well, you may have realized that every time you click through to a site now, especially a blog, you get a pop up that says "Enter your email for a free PDF".

Or a free 20% off coupon and the like. Why are people giving away things for free? How do businesses that give away products in person not go out of business from the cost of the pens or other promotional items?

It's called the reciprocity principle and it seems to be working.

Want to know more about it and how to make it work for you? Read on below.

What is the Reciprocity Principle?

Let's do an experiment. Think back to the last time someone you weren't expecting got you a gift and you didn't have one for them. What did you feel when you had nothing to reciprocate?

Dread, panic, the need to run to the store? That's the idea that when we're given something, we need to give something back. It's ingrained in our society.

We don't want to seem selfish and like we don't think of others. But you can't be prepared for every situation like this. Unless you're in marketing.

The Psychology

Why does this happen in our brains? Well, there's a psychologist that calls the phenomenon an "unexpected gift".

He carried out an experiment with free mints at a restaurant. If the waitress brought no mints with the check, the tip was one number. If she brought enough mints for everyone, then the tip was higher than with no mints.

However, if she brought enough mints, then went back and got more, the tip was even higher. It retained that high value if she didn't bring enough mints, then went back to get more.

That doesn't sound like the situation above on the surface. But, the diners brains registered the mints as an "unexpected gift". In return, they gave her a gift back - a higher tip.

Was it because they felt guilty that she was giving them something? Probably not, it's just a mint. Instead, they felt like her customer service was higher than expected and they rewarded her for it.

So, if you give, you can generally expect to receive.

How to Use Reciprocity Marketing

Now that you understand that the human brain is wired to give back when given something, let's talk about what you can give.

The best way to explain it is through examples, so here are two to help you wrap your mind around it.

Example 1:

Let's say you run a mommy blog and you often feature different types of toys for a specific characteristic. Maybe you have an autistic child and you review autistic-friendly toys.

To make money you use an affiliate link program. The customers click through your link, buy the product, and you get a cut.

But how do you deliver a gift or value to them? Well, you could ask the company you're affiliating with for a discount code. Then when a reader comes to a product page, they enter their email and get the code for that product.

It doesn't have to be a big discount, some is better than none, correct? You're not only delivering them valuable content, but you're saving them money.

That's a win-win for them. But what does it get you? Well, in theory, the customer will like your blog and the discount. They'll click through your link and you "get" the commission from their purchase.

First, you gave, with your time creating the post and the discount, and their purchase gets.

But what if you don't sell or affiliate products on your site? You're not out of luck.

Example 2:

Same blog situation above, but in this example, you don't review toys - you write about autism parenting tips. Maybe you post about games your child likes or the toys they play with.

The purpose of this blog is to give information. So how do you give more than that?

You could offer a free PDF download that gives the subscriber content only available through that download. Maybe it's your top ten games and how to play the list.

It doesn't so much matter what it is. You're giving them free and rare content, and they "give" you their email. You put them in your funnel and they subscribe and click to your posts.

Now you "get" more web traffic and earn more with your ads or links - however you make money.

Is the principle of making more sense now?

The One Trick

There's a trick or a strategy to pulling all this off. You can't let the client or reader know that you want something back from them. This needs to seem like a selfless offer of service.

Yes, if they know anything about marketing, they'll know what you're up to. But that doesn't mean they won't respect your hustle.

You want the content that you give to not take away from anything you do. Yes, you could charge $1.99 for that PDF but to what end?

Would that two dollars really make or break your business? No. You create content to give away that makes people want to buy your other content.

It's a tease, not the whole cow.

Making it Work for You

Now that you've got a handle on the reciprocity principle, how do you plan to use it? Will you create a free PDF, ask your affiliate partners for a discount?

What about giving away logoed promotional items in person? Yes, this principle works both on and offline.

Whatever you do, remember that you shouldn't lose business from this practice. You want to show people you care about them so they care about you back.

It's really that simple.

Want to give people something in person at a trade show or a fair? Check out these logoed pens. They'll think of your "unexpected gift" every time you use them.