The Law of Reciprocity and how it could help your business

As humans, we're wired to basically want to return favours and pay back our debts. In short… to treat others as they’ve treated us.

The law of reciprocity is a great tool for boosting your business. Here's what it is and how it works.

Dr Robert Cialdini has spent his entire career researching the science of influence, earning him an international reputation as an expert in the fields of persuasion, compliance, and negotiation.

His books, including Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion have shaped marketing and sales throughout the world.

Direct response marketers consider his book the ‘101’ of marketing and where anyone who wants to generate interest and desire in their products and service must start.

He created a list of 6 ‘laws of influence’ which marketers and sales consultants (who are smart) are familiar with and know how to bring into their sales processes:

1.      The Law of Reciprocity

2.      The Law of Commitment and Consistency

3.      The Law if Liking

4.      The Law of Authority

5.      The Law of Scarcity

6.      The Law of Social Proof

Cialdini’s first principle of persuasion states that we human beings are wired to basically want to return favours and pay back our debts. In short … to treat others as they’ve treated us.

This idea of reciprocity tells us that people by nature feel obliged to provide discounts, concessions or others forms of reciprocity to others if they’ve received favours from those others.

Psychology explains this by stressing that we humans simply do not like to feel indebted to other people.

Using these laws is ethical, as long as the claim you make is true. If you’re easily offended by the idea of there being a sales process in place for a business to increase its sales, then it’s probably best to stop reading about the law of reciprocity.

Marketing is all about persuading people to buy the product or the service of the business. Brand advertising is not using Cialdini’s laws. Direct response marketing does.

Direct marketing is giving value in return for action from the market. That action can take the form of:

  • A person opting into a web site in return for a free ‘something’ and thus becoming a prospect
  • A prospect receives an opportunity to join a webinar, by opting into the registration page for the webinar
  • The marketer sends an email with a link to a video containing content that helps the prospect
  • The marketer writes a blog containing great value for their market
  • The marketer posts a link on their facebook page about something they have that may be useful, like a checklist, and fans can click on the link and go to the checklist

All of these examples require the prospect to do something—to take some action.

As a result of this, they become more engrossed with the interaction, they follow the story you tell them, they enjoy the value they receive and they attach high-value to you and what you’re about.

Given we can’t compete with ‘brand advertising’, this sounds like a great way to go.

And all of it relies on Cialdini’s laws—all of them.

The Law of Reciprocity in Marketing

What if you offer something cool in return for an individual’s contact details? This will then give you the opportunity to build a relationship with them over time. Not everyone is ready to make a buying decision straight away. But over time, by giving great value, when they are ready to buy, you are going to be positioned as a much stronger contender for being chosen than the competitor who only sent one piece of information.

A great example of this is what we do (and it works really well):

Let’s say that you run a popular blog that offers its readers highly actionable and practical information that makes their lives better. It’s offered for free, and all they have to do is visit your site and absorb the details. Based on this, your visitors are going to feel more obligated to buy something from you.

A great example of this is Digital Marketer. You can check out their blog here.

What if you have the prospect’s contact details, and you want them to see you as a trusted advisor? You could invite them to a webinar, like this:

Man turning whiteboard page

All of these examples share one commonality—they are using the law of reciprocity.

By providing something great to someone, the marketer is creating the tension within the prospect that the relationship is out of balance. To put things back into balance, the prospect will have to take some action, of some type.

This action can take the form of:

1.       Telling people how great it is

2.       Buying something

3.       Continuing to follow the emails/posts etc and ‘like’ articles

Whatever the action, it is the prospect reciprocating for what the marketer has done for them.

Is there all there is to sales? No, of course not. The product or service must be great, and desired. There are competitors you need to stand away from and never been seen to be one of many. There’s the importance of the follow up process you have, and your ability to repeat this cycle for everyone with consistency.

But it does increase sales.

We have many people comment to us, ‘I loved everything you sent me. Especially the chocolates.’

And this: ‘You have shown the most interest in me of all the schools I looked at. Of course I had to choose you.’

And this: ‘You guys are different to the rest. You care.’

All of this forms a picture in their minds of how it will be once they’ve joined.

The key, of course, is to ensure that this is true!

The Law of Reciprocity at its Heart

Since I began coaching, I’ve given away my best stuff, for free.

I didn’t do it to ‘get' clients.

I did it because I was so grateful that people appreciated what I had. I fell in love with giving, because it felt so good.

As a result of this, and not by design, people began to come to me in droves. Coaches would demand to know how I became so successful.

Very few actually acted on the answers I gave. I received (often!) comments like this: ‘But if I give my best stuff away, why would anyone buy from me?’

That mentality is why I succeed.

That’s it, right there. So many people are so worried about what they have, and fear losing it, they hoard it.

They don’t see that by giving it away, they become an irresistible force.

It’s simple. If most people are hoarding what they’ve got, I’m going to do something else.

I call it the Law of Zag.

If marketers are going to zig, I’m going to do something else.

As a result of this, more marketers in our industry are learning the power of giving, and are doing it.

So we’ve moved our ‘free line’ even further out, and are now giving away valuable intellectual property to people who are not students.

This has the effect of raising the bar on the ‘free line’ (more must be given to be seen to be valuable and trusted), and also, it means we have to get better to be able to match what we give with even more value when someone joins us.

I consider this a complete win for our members.

I love the law of reciprocity.