Welcome to the latest installation of our weekly blog series – Psychological Hacks for Marketers. Each week we will introduce a new shortcut that the consumer’s brand takes and how the crafty marketer can take advantage. Last week’s topic was Urgency.

This week we are discussing:


The principle of reciprocity is a simple one – as human beings we feel a need to give when we get. When someone does something for us, we have a tendency to want to do something for them in return.

Companies and brands have long understood that they can use this principle to influence consumers in their decision making process. By giving consumers something for nothing, they make it more likely that those same consumers will make a purchase in the future.

Let’s look at a few ways that your company can deploy marketing tactics that take advantage of this behavior:

  • Many companies use the principle of reciprocity for loyalty purposes. Hotels and airlines will offer freebies in order to tempt travelers to choose them again in the future. The key is to go above and beyond what is expected. When a customer gets something they were not expecting, they may feel that they owe you more business in return.
  • Free samples and free trials are another way that companies trigger reciprocity. By giving something away for free, you make it more likely that a customer will choose to purchase in the future. Services like Spotify offer 30 days for free and by the end of 30 days, they get people to sign up for a paid subscription.
  • One oft-discussed experiment saw restaurant patrons increase the size of their tips when they were given free mints after dinner. One mint led to a 3% increase in tip value. Two mints meant a 14% increase.

In order to take advantage of reciprocity, you should remember to do two things.

First, you need to give before you get. Give for no reason other than to give otherwise it will be clear to everyone what you’re doing.

Second, make it easy for customers to reciprocate. After you have given the customer time to acknowledge the “free gift”, ask for something in return. It may be future business, membership, a purchase, etc. If you don’t ask, you don’t get in return.

When deployed effectively, reciprocity can create more loyal customers who are truly happy with their experience.