Tapping the “Rule of Reciprocity” in Marketing

Have you ever noticed that you naturally want to return the favor when someone does something nice for you? As human beings, it’s a reaction that is wired into us, and it can be tapped as part of your marketing strategy. It’s called “the rule of reciprocity.”

The rule of reciprocity is why fitness gurus spend so much time creating free fitness videos to sell their line of dietary supplements. They give away something valuable (their expertise) for free. Then they ask their viewers to respond. “Thanks for watching! To maximize your results, purchase my [fill in the blank].”  Video watchers know they’ve gotten something of value. If they are going to buy supplements anyway, they figure, why not buy them from the person who just helped them out, even if those supplements cost more? Classic!

Another example of reciprocity is branded promotional products. Businesses give away millions of dollars in free gifts (swag) every year. Companies know that when recipients receive a high-value gift from branded hats and t-shirts to branded mugs and thumb drives, they are more likely to purchase from them later. According to the ASI’s Global Ad Impressions studies, 83% of people are more likely to buy from a company that has given them a branded promotional product.

A third example is free “try at home” programs. You offer to let customers try your product at home for free. Here you go! If you don’t like it, return it—no obligation. Companies that use this approach include True&Co (lingerie), Amazon (in-house brand), and Warby Parker (eyeglasses), among many others. Shoppers know that it can be costly to package and mail a product. Even if they return the item, they know it has cost the company something. Even though there is no obligation to keep their purchase if they don’t love it, people often do.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of the rule of reciprocity:

    1. Give the free gift first.
    2. Match the value of the gift to what you are selling.
    3. Remember that “high value” doesn’t have to mean high cost.

How could you tap the rule of reciprocity in your marketing initiatives? Come up with a good fit, and let’s give it a try together!

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