Imagine this …

You and a friend have just finished an epic meal at your favourite restaurant.

You ask the waiter for your check and you excuse yourself to run to the restroom. When you return, your friend is standing near the door with his coat on ready to go.

“Let’s hit up that new cocktail place for a nightcap,” he says.

You excitedly agree and head towards the cash to pay your bill when your friend says, “Don’t worry about it. I already got it. My treat.”

You thank your friend and the two of you head to the bar for more drinks. 

When it’s time to call it a night, the bartender asks how you’d like to pay. “Will it be one bill or two?”

What do you say?

In today’s edition of Why We Buy, we’re taking a look at Reciprocity – why we feel compelled to “return the favour” after we’re given something.

Let’s get into it.


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The Psychology of Reciprocity 🧠

Ya know how in some restaurants the waiter will bring a free mint with the check? Well, according to a well-known study, one free mint results in a 3% higher tip on average. And if the waiter brings two mints? That’s a 14% higher tip!

We all appreciate fresh breath, but there’s something much deeper going on here. As Dr. Robert Cialdini outlined in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, reciprocity represents a fundamental human desire to want to provide something back after something has already been received

Your buyer’s innate urge to give back is rooted in 200,000 years of human evolution. Reciprocity is instinctual because it helps us to survive and thrive in social situations.

Inside Your Buyer’s Mind🧐

Reciprocity remains one of the fundamental principles of marketing psychology. Why? Because it’s incredibly effective. 

Giving something free today goes a long way to building trust with prospects. Even if they don’t buy right away, the recipient will be more likely to buy in the future because subconsciously they feel driven to settle the score.

But reciprocity can backfire too. If people feel like your gesture isn’t genuine or that by accepting it they’ll automatically owe you something in return, they’re likely to question your motives and reject your offer.

How To Apply This 🤑

Alright, so how can we apply this right now to sell more?

Give Valuable Freebies

Freebies are a marketing staple. It could be a free sample, an extended free trial, or helpful content like a newsletter, blog post, or webinar. The more value you give, the more grateful recipients will be—and the more likely they’ll be to give back.

Create a Referral Program

When done right, reciprocity can be a virtuous cycle. If you deliver value to your audience and customers, they’ll happily refer you to others. And creating a referral or loyalty program is a great way to incentivize people to spread the word. 

Be Generous with Social Currency

Social currency (aka “klout” or “social capital”) is a powerful motivator that fuels reciprocity. 

Simply put, when other people say nice things about us publicly, we earn social currency, which raises our perceived status with others. If something bad is said, we can lose social currency. Rewarding people with social currency can generate even more goodwill than giving an expensive gift.

Daniel Murray, host of The Marketing Millennials podcast, has mastered this. Daniel uses LinkedIn to spotlight helpful tweets from fellow marketers. By presenting these marketers as experts, he’s helping them to earn social currency with his audience.

And one post from Daniel goes a long way! Note how Daniel’s LinkedIn posts get more engagement than my original tweet…

And of course, sharing useful marketing advice delivers value to Daniel’s LinkedIn audience too, who in return reward return with increased engagement and attention. 

Daniel’s strategy works. His combined LinkedIn following is nearly 100,000 he’s built a community of grateful marketers who, like me, are delighted to sing his praises 🙏

The Short of It 💥

People feel a sense of obligation to do something for you when you’ve done something for them. Reciprocity is a powerful motivator, but it can also backfire if the gesture is inauthentic. 

Look for ways to deliver value to your audience and you’ll reap the rewards. 

Until next time, happy selling!





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Written By Katelyn

Katelyn Bourgoin is the CEO of Customer Camp, a 4X founder, and a cheese lover. She lives by a simple mantra: whoever gets closer to the customer wins.

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