How to Apply the Principle of Reciprocity in Marketing

The principle of reciprocity has and continues to help human beings survive in many ways. Marketers who are able to use this principle today in their marketing strategies have a reason to smile. When used well, this principle does pay off very well.

Why is reciprocity important in business?

reciprocity in marketing

An experiment conducted by sociologist Philip Kunz back in 1974 is a good illustration of how this principle works in real life. Kunz mailed out well-crafted Christmas along with a family photo and note to about 600 completely unknown people to him. After a while, responses started to flow in. He received about 200 replies. Remember, these are people Kunz never met or talked to before.

Today, this principle is also evident in our life every day. For example, consider when you are looking forward to visiting your friend because he visited you sometimes back. The fact you are willing to give something back because you received something clearly shows how the principle of reciprocity works.

What is reciprocity in marketing

marketing strategy

So, how does this principle work in marketing? In marketing, this principle is used to trigger customers to behave in a certain way. For example, when building your email list, you can give your target customers something they need (like eBooks or whitepaper) in exchange for email addresses. The key here is giving your prospects something irresistible that will help you nurture a longer-lasting relationship.

Additionally, you can leverage this principle to get more and more customer referrals. When you give your current and new customers something they really need, there is a high possibility they will refer their friends. Not forgetting, you can use this principle to get more leads very quickly.

Is reciprocity a value?

It is crucial to note that the principle of reciprocity can backfire in marketing if executed haphazardly. A professional approach is required for this principle to pay off. Overdoing or focusing on unprofessional approaches only leads to undesired results. That is not something you want to happen when working hard to take your business to another level.

Consider this example; you visit a phone shop to buy a new phone. The salesperson shows you a phone that is within the range of your budget. He further offers to add gives you a free screen protector. Without a doubt, you will feel obliged to make a purchase. Here the salesperson did not show you directly that he wants you to buy the phone, but through a free item (screen protector), easily lured you.

As you can see from the above example, it is hard to think the salesperson is after your money and that why you made the purchase. Now to be successful in marketing, never let your customers think you are after their hard-earned money. Always show them the value of what you are offering.

The principles in reciprocity in marketing

think outside the box

There are two principles in marketing that go hand in hand: the principle of authenticity and the principle of reciprocity. Never separate them; if you do, your marketing approaches are likely to be seen as a joke.

These two principles work together to help you send a positive gesture that you are not anticipating anything in return. Additionally, they also help you bring your prospects closer by making them believe what you are giving them is of much higher value.

Types of reciprocity

word of mouth marketing

Reciprocities are either classified as emotional or material (financial).


Emotional reciprocity


To put it simply, this is when you make others feel appreciated or good by saying things like;

  • It is my pleasure to meet you
  • Thank you for your time
  • It was great to work with you
  • Gestures of assistance without a material object involved also count as emotional reciprocation.

By saying things that make others feel good, they feel the need to reciprocate in a friendly manner.

Using emotional reciprocation in your business will make your customers feel valued and that can encourage them to stick around for long.


Material/financial reciprocity


Material reciprocity refers to anything physical. For example, when you welcome a new neighbor in your neighborhood by lending him a cleaning machine. Such a neighbor will feel obligated to reciprocate by offering something.

Financial reciprocity can be anything such as referral programs or loyalty programs, and other rewards given in return for specific purchases.

What are some reciprocity ideas for your business?

do something great

How do you win the hearts of your target customers and trigger them to reciprocate positively? Here is how:


Be the first one to give


Be the first to offer something without hoping your prospects will give something in return. Make sure to provide something valuable that will trigger them to reciprocate positively. For example, give coupons or discounts at the start of the sale. Giving at the beginning of the sales triggers them to respond quickly. You can also offer other incentives at the end of the sale. For example, promise them price cuts for new referrals.


Make them feel valued


Can you remember we mentioned about emotional reciprocity earlier? Make good use of this type of reciprocity. Other ways to show your customers you value them include:

  • Allowing them to pick rewards that suit them: Avoid restricting them to only those rewards you think are good. Give them the freedom to choose.
  • Give them shopping vouchers: Shopping vouchers allows your customers to buy from your store. In the process, they may feel obligated to make more purchases from your using their cash. Not forgetting this can trigger them to return to our store more often.
  • Surprise them with free gifts, in-store refreshments, thank you notes, or anything else that will make them feel valued.


Help your customers outside your store


Engaging your customers outside your store is a good idea that can take your business to another level. By simply helping them, they may feel obliged to visit your store often. One way to engage them outside your store is by creating “how-to articles.”


Make it memorable


There is no doubt there are rewards associated with making a brand more memorable. So how do you make your business unforgettable? It is simple. Just give your customers something that will not fade in their minds. For example, slap them with coupons over the holiday.


Keep the relationship going


Maintaining a good relationship with your customers is very crucial, and something you need to consider very seriously. Remember, you need them tomorrow. Here is how you can nurture that relationship:

  • Reward referrals: Always reward existing customers for every new customer they send your way.
  • Start a loyalty program: Reward existing customers for purchases and other brand-building actions.
  • Notify existing customers of upcoming offers through text alerts, newsletters, or email blasts.


Allow your customers to show their support


How? For example, you can allow them to leave reviews, like your social media pages, rate your brand, or refer new customers. Don’t just limit them to making purchases.

Examples of reciprocation marketing


Here are examples of how businesses use reciprocity to engage and nurture relationships with their customers.




YouTube offers free content in exchange for ads. This allows content creators to use the platform in exchange for revenue, subscriber, etc. When YouTube started to produce premium paid content, they launched a “free first episode” promotion to entice people to continue to watch the rest of the season by subscribing to their premium subscription.


Spotify Premium free trial


Spotify offers its users a free one-month opportunity to listen to music from anywhere without getting interrupted by ads. To make sure you pay at the end of the trial period and you don’t stop payments thereafter, they charge you $8/month. is not only an ebook software creator but provides tools, such as, video and audio transcription. Their main goal is to provide their customers ways to repurpose their content. If you’re doing video marketing, chances are you’ll want to transcribe that into text and possibly repurpose your content as an article. You can later convert your article into an ebook where you can provide resources to your potential customers. They are not trying to sell you products, but they are creating products that can bring value and increase content ROI.




SEO RANK SERP is an SEO agency. However, if you look at their content, it’s loaded with helpful content to help you do SEO. If you do not have the time you can always hire them, but if you look at their content strategy, they provide real actionable items to help you do SEO and not just try to sell you to their services.


Crazy Coffee Crave


Crazy Coffee Crave uses free guides to show its readers how to make coffee. They use high-quality content in exchange for product recommendations and amazon affiliates. They rely on their readers to make purchases using their links when they do want to purchase anything coffee related.

Wrap up

The principle of reciprocity offers a lot of benefits your business can leverage. However, these benefits can only be leveraged when everything is done right. This includes how you inspire trust, nurture longer-lasting relationships, how you resolve customer complaints, and so on.

The primary goal of using this principle is to make sure your customers behave in a way that will benefit your business positively. Hopefully, you enjoyed reading this piece. Still, have a question about the principle of reciprocity? We are here to answer any questions.


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