How to Use the Principle of Reciprocity to Grow Your Business Faster

People feel an obligation to do something for you when you’ve done something for them.
This is known as the principle of reciprocity.

You’re more likely to buy a gift for someone who bought one for you.

You’re more likely to invite someone to your wedding if they invited you to theirs.

You’re more likely to buy something if the seller gives you something for free.

Those free samples at Costco are more than just a fun membership perk — they serve as a catalyst for your purchasing decisions.

Reciprocity is a powerful psychological principle that can help you to grow your business faster.

Reciprocity is a powerful psychological principle that can help you to grow your business faster.

Research proves that reciprocity can be powerful. Sociologist Phillip Kuntz conducted a study in 1974 testing out reciprocity tendencies in complete strangers.

Kuntz mailed approximately 600 Christmas cards out to people he had no relationship or contact with.  He wanted to know how many would feel obligated to return the kind gesture.

As it turns out, he received around 200 cards in response.  One in three of the card receivers were influenced by the Principle of Reciprocity enough to initiate action.

The Behavioral Insights Team tested the principles of reciprocity differently.

A group of investment bankers was asked to donate a day of salary to charity. While many complied, researchers found that when the request was accompanied by a bag of candy, the number of bankers who opted to donate doubled. That is a very small investment for a big payoff.

Bankers weren’t the only ones influenced by sugary treats. David Strohmetz of Monmouth University conducted an experiment with his colleagues on service tips in relation to reciprocity.

The experiment, set in a restaurant, showed that waitstaff could increase tips by three percent when they bring candy along with the bill.

Tips jumped up to a shocking 14 percent when customers were offered two pieces of candy and rose even further (21 percent) when the wait staff delivered a single piece of candy and returned a minute later to give another piece because it had been “such a great table."

How Your Business Can Use Reciprocity To Grow Faster

1. Give customers and prospects a gift before you ask for something.

Giving something first can seem counter-intuitive, but offering a gift or service without the expectation of something in return can be profitable.

As we previously mentioned, Google Music offers free trials to new users. Google doesn’t ask consumers for any type of commitment before letting them access the free trial:

Google offers a four-month free trial to new users of its music streaming platform.

Google acutely knows that if you invest four months into streaming music on their platform (which can include building personalized playlists, radio stations), you are much more likely to continue the service.

2. Use reciprocity effectively to boost your content marketing efforts.

The goal of content marketing is to share valuable, relevant, and consistent information used to attract and retain an audience.

This type of marketing is naturally reciprocal.  You create meaningful content to share and the audience and readers show appreciation through engagement.  It is the epitome of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine“, and an essential tool for all businesses.

73 percent of consumers are impacted by a brand’s content marketing when making a purchase decision.

73 percent of consumers are impacted by a brand’s content marketing when making a purchase decision.

3. Avoid the urge to push for a quick sale – nurture the relationship instead.

Ever have a salesperson work so hard for your sale, only to disappear as soon as you have signed on the dotted line?

Don’t be that business. 

Gaining a single sale is a short-ended achievement. Investing in a client’s experience and relationship with your business can yield consistent sales and the probability of the client sharing your business with others.

As we previously mentioned, continue to nurture the relationship by offering first-time customer discounts and communicating with your e-mail list about upcoming sales and promotions.

4. Ask customers to provide feedback about your business.

If you run the type of business where word-of-mouth referrals are important, ask your customers to post reviews on Google, Yelp, and other review sites. Such reviews can be critical to businesses, even if they come from total strangers.

As we emphasize in our guide on how to start a business:

Have early customers post their rave reviews everywhere that matters – your website, your social media platforms, and anywhere else where other potential customers will see them.

Reward those early fans with special treats – access to special events, promotions, or discounts are always great, but even a handwritten thank you card can go a long way in turning a fan into a lifelong follower.

And if your business has an amazing mobile app, you have a potential gold mine of reciprocity.

Clients who download and regularly use an app you provided are very likely to provide a rating when asked.  Timing is key for this type of action. You must give the user ample time to review, use, and form an opinion of an app before asking for feedback.

Basecamp used this principle to show how their customers felt before and after using Basecamp.  A well-used application will get client reviews. Psychologically speaking, the user will feel obligated to provide the feedback requested, because they are using your product. 

The psychology of reciprocity can serve as a powerful marketing tool. Find a way to incorporate it into your sales and marketing.