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The Art Of Reciprocity In Marketing

Written by Ken Gaebler
Published: 9/30/2014

Human beings have an innate urge to give something back in exchange for something received--and that makes the psychology of reciprocity a powerful small business marketing tool.

"There are no free lunches." It's a cliché that we've all heard or repeated at one time or another. But in fact, the everything-has-a-cost concept is so deeply ingrained in our psyches that it impacts the way we relate to brands and creates opportunities for businesses to tap into a powerful marketing tool.

Reciprocity and the Power of Free

In a recent Business2Community report, Elliot Simmonds discussed the mechanics of reciprocity marketing--a practice in which businesses give away free gifts or tokens (think promotional pens or product samples) to win favor with prospects and potential customers.

According to Simmonds, there are several things companies can do to increase the marketing impact of the reciprocity concept using branded promotional items and other types of gifts:

  • Gifts aren't always tangible. Reciprocity isn't always about giving away physical gifts. Non-tangible gifts like time, expertise or conversation can sometimes be just as valuable for generating goodwill with prospects.
  • Avoid expectations. Never give away anything with an expectation that the recipient will give you something in return. Simmonds points out that gifts will help business relationships develop more quickly--but they won't create relationships that wouldn't have occurred on their own.
  • Perceptions matter. Consider how the recipient will perceive the gift. For example, if you give a prospective client you don't really know an outrageous gift (e.g. a new set of golf clubs), it will likely make them feel psychologically unsettled.

It's also important to note that the reciprocity principle doesn't just apply to clients, customers and prospects. A recent Fast Company article discussed how reciprocity and the psychology of gifting can also be used as a tool for retaining valuable employees. By offering the right perks, employers can make it easier for workers to stay with the company for the long haul.

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