We all know the expression, “It is better to give than to receive.” Turns out, giving is also smart marketing.
According to Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D., author of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” human beings are conditioned to reciprocate when someone does something for them. This is a good thing overall for society, and it applies even when the gift or favor is unsolicited. In fact, we are conditioned to accept the gift (even if it is not wanted) and then to repay the person who gave it to us.
This trait can be exploited by the unethical, who will set up situations where they are “giving” with the intent of creating a feeling of obligation on the part of the receiver. However, it can be used by ethical marketers to establish relationships with new customers.
Have you ever bought a product after receiving a free sample? The sample gave you the opportunity to try something new, but it also stirred a need to reciprocate-even if you were not consciously aware of it. This is especially true if you received the sample directly from a person, such as a tasting at a supermarket, rather than anonymously, such as through the mail.
Cialdini points out another aspect of the reciprocity rule related to repaying concessions. If I make a concession to you, you will feel obligated to make a concession in return. Any good negotiator recognizes this technique, which Cialdini refers to as rejection-then-retreat. You see this in action when a salesperson first offers a high-priced item. When the customer declines, the salesperson responds, “Well, if you are not interested in that, how about . . .” and suggests a lower-priced alternative. Many customers will respond affirmatively to the salesperson’s counter offer, not realizing that the second item is what the salesperson was expecting to sell to them. The first suggestion makes the lower-priced option more attractive.
Every good negotiator knows that to get what you want, you should always ask for more. Asking for things you do not expect to win-and perhaps do not even want-gives you room to make concessions. And those concessions trigger the reciprocity reaction.
How can you use reciprocity to make your marketing more effective?
Offer products and services at various price points. Not only can customers get exactly what they want this way, it gives you the opportunity to present a lower-priced option if they do not want the “deluxe” version.
Give customers something free. It can be a product sample, information or a service, such as a free initial consultation.
Product demonstrations can work well to create a desire to reciprocate. For example, many makeup vendors will provide a free makeup application and lesson. Although the customer is not required to pay, they typically buy at least some of the products they were shown.
Information makes a good free item because it scales easily, meaning that it may cost little or no more money to distribute information to a large group of people than a small group. You may offer information through a free seminar or educational session, tutorials, FAQs and articles on your web site, or print and electronic newsletters and reports.