What is Reciprocity in Marketing? How Do You Apply To Your Business4 min read

“Reciprocity is a deep instinct; it’s the basic currency of social life.” – Jonathan Haidt.

The principle of reciprocity is giving something in return for something gained. Regardless of the character of individuals, they are more likely to do something for someone that helped them in the past (despite the nature of the assistance received).

From the perspective of marketing, reciprocity alludes that people are more likely to favor a business that did something for them. For example, offering them a service at no charge. There’s that feeling of indebtedness that comes with receiving something without having to pay for it.

Just think about a free software trial. This is a great example of marketing reciprocity in action. In this case, the potential customer is able to test the software, hence, maximizing the trial they were given for free. If the experience was positive for them they are more likely to upgrade to the paid version.

Many businesses use the principle of reciprocity in their marketing campaigns. You may want to do so as well if you are looking to decrease costs and improve your revenue base.

How to Use the Principle of Reciprocity in Your Business

balanced stones

To apply the principle of reciprocity in your business you need to understand a little bit about human behavior. Never give away more than you should – remember it’s a business, not a charity organization. Your focus therefore should be to create that feeling or desire to return the kindness received. If you’ve been able to accomplish that you will start to see an upward trend in sales.

Below are a few tips that can assist you in applying the principle of reciprocity in your business:

Make the first move

black chess piece on chess board

It’s always better to be the one initiating the act of giving. You stand a much better chance of getting a favorable response when you take the first move. And your ‘gift’, whatever it is, should stand out from the crowd. Giving the same free offer as your competitors will not make a great impression. Hence, it will not get you the reaction you want (namely more sales).

Don’t wait until a customer decides to purchase before you make them an offer. While giving something for free at the end of a sale is great, it should actually be done way before that, essentially before any transaction has occurred.

Keep the communication channel open

man using IP phone inside room

A lot of businesses make the mistake of abruptly cutting ties with customers after a sale is completed. The problem with this is that the customer feels that you are only in it for the money, that you don’t care about them or their needs, which results in them moving to your competitors.

You should strive towards cultivating a long-term relationship with your customers. It puts not only your brand in their subconscious, but as well creates a true loyalty toward your business whereby the idea of moving to another brand can create an uneasy feeling or sense of guilt – a clear case of the principle of reciprocity at work.

Avoid offering gifts

person holding red and white love print gift wrapper

It’s common to see businesses offer gifts to customers. Yes, it’s a business, but customers are human – they can perceive hidden motives behind gifts despite how well-wrapped such gifts might be.

You should instead create a system where your customers are able to easily stay in touch with you. For example, a newsletter where you can offer exclusive discounts, rewards, product updates, etc. While these are not ‘gifts’ per se they still are something of value you are giving to your customers that others would not have access to. Remember, the principle of reciprocity is about giving without having any intention to receive.

Offer unsolicited help


When you go out of your way to help a customer with a challenge that is unrelated to your business you are investing ahead in yours. Customers never forget brands that provided assistance to them when they were in dire need.

For example, if you have an online store you can create content that can help customers in their day-to-day business activities. However, make sure that you clearly identify your target audience so that you can find the best way to assist them. If for instance you’re targeting nursing mothers you can consider offering tips on how to get a better night’s sleep.

Pamper your customers

two women sitting on bed holding soft-tube

The principle of reciprocity will only work if your customers feel good by the service received. If customers are pleased with how you handled their request they won’t forget in a hurry. This of course can increase the probability of them coming back for more.

Final Words

Getting customers to feel appreciative towards your business doesn’t require moving mountains for them. It’s the small things that always warm the heart. Be kind, be courteous, be different, and watch the principle of reciprocity in action.

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