For years and still today, reciprocity has continued to help human beings survive in many ways, and especially in marketing, where it is used as a marketing strategy.

What is reciprocity marketing?

This principle talks about the tendency of human nature to want to offer something when something is received.

In other words, this principle brings clarity to the saying, ‘I will scratch your back if you scratch mine.’ That feeling that you are obliged to do something in return because something was done to you. Or you have to do something because something was done to you, is all this principle talks about.

The effects of this principle are vivid in our life every day. For example, consider a scenario where you buy a friend a birthday gift because during your birthday you received a gift from that same friend. Or planning to visit a friend because a month ago your friend visited you. These are some of the real-life examples that show how the norm of reciprocity works in our day-to-day life.

How does it work? The reciprocity experiment

In 1974, sociologist Phillip Kunz did an experiment. He mailed out handwritten Christmas cards, along with a note and a family photo, to about 600 randomly selected strangers. Soon enough, responses started to trickle in.

Kunz received approximately 200 replies. But why would those people reply back to someone who is a complete stranger? This is reciprocity at work. Since Kunz had done something nice for them (i.e the holiday card), many were compelled to do something in return.

Using the Principle of Reciprocity in Marketing

The strong, deeper, and longer-lasting interpersonal relationships this principle fosters within us and the communities we live in can be extended to create longer-lasting relationships with customers too. The key is making sure the law has been used well to trigger customers to behave uniquely.

For example, consider when marketers used freebies like coupons and special promotions to convince customers to make purchases. Or when lead magnets are used to lure you to share your contact details. These are good examples that make use of the principles of human psychology in marketing

Whether targeting new customers or looking for ways to strengthen the bond that exists between you and existing clients, this principle is a perfect tool when used in the right manner. You can use it to generate revenue without spending much on advertainments and as well as drive referrals. You can also use it to get more leads within a short period. But remember, this norm can also flop when executed poorly.

With that in mind, any business must use authentic approaches when trying to get a unique response from current and target customers. Well, as much as every business is looking to make a sale, it is imperative to make sure any approach is not viewed as a blatant attempt to solicit a specific response. In other words, make sure everything is implemented correctly from the start.

For example, consider a scenario where you are buying a laptop, and the salesperson shows you the computer and tells you the prices. But still, the salesman offers to add a laptop bag for free. Without a doubt, you will feel obligated to make a purchase. In this case, the salesman did not show you directly, he wants you to make a purchase, but through a freebie (laptop bag) he lured you. So, in your case, try to make everything natural. Don’t let your customers think you are after their money; otherwise, they will not purchase.

Reciprocity in Marketing: Apples

The Principle of Authenticity

These are two principles that are hard to separate, the principle of authenticity and the principle of reciprocity. They go hand in hand in marketing. If you omit one, for example, you abandon the principle of authenticity; it is highly likely your marketing approach will be viewed as a joke. This is something you don’t want in marketing.

The primary idea of using these two principles together is to help you send a positive gesture and that there is no expectation of returning a gesture. What is actually happening is making your customers believe you are giving them something valuable, so that they don’t feel they are the one giving you something more valuable. Remember the example above about a salesman selling a laptop? That is a good illustration of how these two principles work. So, if your customers think what you have is more useful, chances are, you are a step away to converting them to paying customers.

Reciprocity in marketing: special deal sign

Reciprocity Ideas for Businesses

Making sure every step you take not only influence your target customers but also allow them to reciprocate positively is a big bonus. Remember you are out to make sales. This is only possible if you win the hearts of those customers. Here are a few ideas that you may want to leverage.

  • Be the first to give. This is self-explanatory. Be the first one to give something without hoping to get something in return. Remember to offer something attractive. If possible, give something that is rarely given by other businesses. Often, you can give discounts, reward points, or coupons. The best approach is giving out at the start of the sale as this will trigger a quick response.

Further, consider offering another incentive at the end. Doing this will help capitalize on the principle of reciprocity. For example, you can promise a price cut for referrals at the end of the sale.

  • Make your customers feel special. Don’t you feel loved when treated uniquely? Surely you do feel loved. Now, imagine your customers having the same feeling. The best thing is that this is doable. For example, instead of picking rewards you think are suitable for your customers, allowing them to make the selection. Don’t limit them to what you think is good for them. Give them freedom. Doing so is a positive gesture you value them, and you are not just after money.

Reciprocity in Marketing coat

A shopping voucher is another item you can use to make your customer feel special. You make them feel appreciated by slapping them with shopping vouchers. The fact is, they will get things from your store using the voucher. But in the process, they are also likely to feel obligated to make more purchases from personal cash once the voucher is exhausted. Besides, this may trigger them to return the favor by visiting your store often.

  • Make it memorable. There are many rewards associated with making a brand memorable. One of the obvious benefits is that of increased sales. Of course, there are other benefits. So, how do you make your business unforgettable? It is simple; you just have to give that which will not fade in the minds of your customers. In other words, give something valuable and if possible, avoid cheap and flimsy gifts. A durable reward is a good option. For example, you can be offering coupons over the holidays. Most people want to have fun over the holidays while spending less. If you develop such a culture, it is highly likely your shop will be the only option during holidays even when you have no freebies. Why? Because you offered something worth at the right time.
  • Keep the relationship going. Don’t be that business owner or marketer who ends relationships at the end of a sale. Remember you need that customer in the future. So, nurturing that relationship is very crucial. One way to keep the relationship going is guaranteeing a discount for every new person an existing customer send to your shop. You can also alert your current customers about upcoming offers. Doing this will make sure you are in a position to generate more and more revenue.
  • Help the customer outside of your store. It is an excellent gesture to engage your customers, even outside your store. Doing this helps keep your brand memorable, and you may be surprised to see how past customers keep coming back. For example, you can engage your customers through informative content. Let’s say, ‘How to…’ articles. Your efforts may not pay off immediately, but sooner or later, you will start to see real results. That simple act of helping your customers outside your shop is likely to favor your business when they finally decide to make a purchase.
  • Offer customers ways to show their support. Not all the time you expect your customers to make a purchase. Sometimes allowing them to thank you in other ways is equally significant. For example, tell them to like your social media pages, to write reviews, and rate your brand. Simply, have an open mind on how your customers can support your business. Always remember the sky’s the limit. So be creative enough.

Reciprocity in Marketing: free taste sign

Types of reciprocation

The different types of reciprocation we have been talking about fall under two categories. That is emotional reciprocation and financial or material reciprocation.

Emotional Reciprocation

This is when you make others feel good or appreciated by saying things like,

  • Thank you for your time.
  • It is my pleasure to meet you or
  • It was a great time to work with you.

Whenever you say anything that causes others to feel better about themselves, they have a deep unconscious need to reciprocate in a positive or friendly way.

Material or Financial Reciprocation

Unlike emotional reciprocation, which is often expressed in words, material reciprocation tends to be physical. A good example is when you welcome a new neighbor to the neighborhood by lending him a washing machine. Such a neighbor will feel obligated to reciprocate in some way by also doing something nice.

Tips for Building and Maintaining Client Relationships

Lasting business relationships don’t happen and develop without dedicated and consistent work. It takes a dedicated amount of time and energy to build a good, robust, and lasting business relationships today.

Building a strong relationship with your customers can set you up for repeat business. But as you look forward to this and by offering incentives, it is also essential to keep in mind on how best to provide customer support and complaint resolution policies that inspire trust.

Keep in mind trust is everything. In our families, it helps us stay together and do great things as one. On the other hand, if you inspire trust with your customers, you can be sure to build a longer-lasting relationship. And yes, it is simple to build that trust by maintaining authenticity, developing mutual respect, and having a reliable complaint resolution mechanism.

Reciprocity in Marketing: we have free wifi sign

Reciprocity Examples in Marketing

Let’s review how businesses today use reciprocity to engage and maintain relationships with their customers.

Music for everyone Spotify premium free trial

Spotify Premium free trial

The Spotify Premium option offers Ad-free music streaming with offline mobile access. Now Plus a 30-day free trial for their Premium membership, which can be canceled at any time at no cost.

This makes it hard for people to stop the payment when the free trial ends, especially when it only costs $8/month.

Amazon com Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime free trial

Amazon Prime free trial offers free ONE day delivery, music, videos, The company attracts new customers by offering a free trial with no commitment required, and if you are already using Amazon, you can definitely see the savings from the delivery costs if you purchase more than 2-3 items per year.


YouTube is a perfect example of a platform offering free content in exchange for ads. However, YouTube content creators can use the platform to share their expertise in exchange for subscribers, ad revenue, etc. They also started to produce YouTube Premium and offer “Free first episode” to lure them in to continue to watch the rest of the season by subscribing to their premium subscription.


Brian Dean is pretty popular when it comes to SEO information. But if he’s giving out free information how is he making a living? Well, the primary way he’s making money is by selling SEO courses. However, he doesn’t have it showing on his website—it’s only for those who subscribe to his email. And when he’s ready to launch a course, he lets his subscribers know.

As you can see. one of the best reciprocity strategies is content marketing. Blogging provides a great way to utilize the norm of reciprocity, by allowing you to share value for free in the form of blog posts. But here is the catch, you need to focus on being genuinely useful to your audience to win their hearts.


The principle of reciprocity offers many benefits businesses can leverage. Knowing how to go about to leverage these opportunities is a big plus. Hopefully, this piece was a big bonus. Anything else you want to know about the law of reciprocity? Please let us know.

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