How Reciprocity Boost Your Digital Marketing Strategy?

Beneath the ever-evolving technology, digital marketing is still aimed at flesh-and-blood targets with real, human tendencies. One of those is the tendency for reciprocity. Learn how you can harness this aspect of human nature to achieve authentic conversion and growth with your digital marketing efforts.

The Principle/Norm of Reciprocity

Human nature tends to be moved to give/do something in return for something that was given or done, to be moved to respond. If a friend gives us a pair of tickets to an event we’ve made no secret of wanting to go to, most likely, we’ll think of something equally generous to give or do for them in return. If a restaurant in our neighborhood gives us a coupon for “1 free drink of your choice” if we dropped by for dinner and/or told our friends about them, chances are we’ll have our next family dinner or catch-up dinner with the gang there, and tell others about the place.

That is the principle of reciprocity.

The concept of reciprocity has been a subject of research in both personal and social psychology since the 1960s, notably the research of sociology professor Alvin Gouldner; and it was an underlying assumption in the 1974 experiment by sociologist Phillip Kunz.

Professor Gouldner explored how cooperative interaction between two individuals benefits them and proposed “the existence of a universal, generalized norm of reciprocity,” and Dr. Kunz sent out handwritten Christmas cards—accompanied by a note and a family photo—to about 600 randomly selected complete strangers, roughly 200 of whom replied.

Reciprocity is rooted in the human instinct and mechanism for survival: its benefits proved crucial for us to survive as a species. And as far as psychologist Robert Cialdini is concerned, “There’s not a single human culture that fails to train its members in this rule.”

Reciprocity in Marketing

The value of authenticity

These two things are worth keeping in mind, always:

1. Aim for meaningful reciprocity—the kind that goes hand-in-hand with authenticity.

While you may be aiming to inspire a certain sense of indebtedness in a prospective client, you don’t actually want to chase after them demanding that they give you something back.

Rather, focus on making clients see that you are giving them something valuable—that way, they don’t come away with that sense of having given you something of far greater value.

And that indebtedness you’re after? That comes easy once people sense authenticity, and with a significant degree of trust established, they will be more likely to return the favor the next time around.

2. Strive to be genuinely helpful/useful to your audience.

In other words, be difficult—no, impossible to dismiss as not worth their time. They have to be able to get something from you that, even if they may not have an immediate use for it, it will nevertheless stay on their mind as they revisit some shelved plans or start developing new ideas.

The two types of reciprocity

To successfully leverage the norm of reciprocity in marketing, ensure a healthy combination of these two:

1. Material/financial reciprocity

  • Loyalty programs
  • Referral programs
  • Rewards given in return for certain purchases or actions

2. Emotional reciprocity

This involves giving others a boost of positivity or a much-welcome sense of being thought of. Lines like the following can generate a great amount of goodwill.

“Thank you for your time.”

“We’re very happy you’re here. Tell us what you need.”

“We are here anytime you need to talk.”

The Benefits of the Norm of Reciprocity in Digital Marketing

No doubt, the norm of reciprocity will benefit your brand in just the way you dream of—as long as you have the right approach, and your digital marketing agency is on the same page with you and is just as committed to achieving authentic growth for your brand. Remember: authenticity, reinforced by best practices (see below).

So with the right approach, leveraging the norm of reciprocity as a driving factor in your digital marketing efforts helps you:

  • Generate good leads
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Improve customers’ brand experience
  • Raise engagement levels
  • Increase your conversion rates
  • Build stronger relationships
  • Enrich your brand story
  • Increase your revenue
  • Move closer toward industry leadership

Reciprocity Best Practices in Digital Marketing

As you go over the list below, it will become obvious that these best practices actually also apply to marketing in general, which is why it’s important to be consistent in all your marketing campaigns. The way you do digital marketing should complement the way you do other forms of marketing. Consistency, after all, is also a major factor in building trust with customers.

✔ Be the first to give (without expecting anything in return).

What you do get in return can range from immediate conversion (i.e., purchase) to referral to attention—which can ultimately lead to conversion over time.

However, before you start offering freebies, discounts, rewards, etc., take a minute to consider whether you’re giving something truly unique to your brand using these familiar methods.

It’s not just about being the first to give something—more importantly, it’s also about being the first to give something rare that is chosen with care to give future customers an idea of just what to expect from your brand. And one way to do that is through content. Valuable content makes for effective digital marketing, so be sure not to miss this opportunity.

Remember: when you make the first move and offer something that’s truly useful for free, people can’t help but feel that sense of indebtedness towards you. It’s human nature.

✔ Make customers feel valued.

Thoughtful consideration of your prospective, as well as existing, customers elevates your digital marketing efforts and helps you establish relationships based on trust and respect.

Personalization is a great way to show that you’re invested in them, that you’re happy to give them attention by either writing them a personal note, inviting them to your digital marketing events that include activities that resonate with them, creating content that speaks to them rather than just urging them to buy.

✔ Give/do something memorable.

Offer something worthy and meaningful at the right time, while keeping in mind that some things don’t require a specific occasion. Rewards and discounts can be especially significant when enjoyed on special days, like Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, or a birthday.

✔ Offer value beyond your product/service.

This helps make your brand memorable. Remember, content can help significantly raise the value of your brand. Optimize your products’ or services’ greatest features by integrating them into content that’s useful to customers.

Keep in mind, though, that with the content aspect of your digital marketing strategy, you’ll need to play the long game. And you need your partner digital marketing agency to stay focused on your game plan so every content they create for you is of value not just to your current customers, but to the future ones as well.

✔ Nurture the relationship.

Customers value engagement. You’re in it for the long haul, and your digital marketing agency will ensure you have a consistently engaging digital marketing strategy. For starters, ace these three ways to maintain a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship with customers.

  • Reward referrals with a guarantee of a discount, credit, or some other form of reward for every new person an existing customer sends your way.
  • Start a loyalty program to reward your customers for purchases and as well as for any actions that contribute to your brand building efforts.
  • Give your customers a heads-up on upcoming events and offers via email blasts, newsletters, or text alerts.

✔ Give customers a choice in how they can show their support.

It’s easy to lose them if you don’t give them a choice. Don’t get too focused on getting them to purchase your product or service—not right away anyway.

Instead of making a purchase, they can:

  • Like your social media pages
  • Write reviews
  • Refer new customers to you
  • Rate your brand (or a specific product/service)


Authenticity, usefulness, consistency. These all translate to value, and they are all crucial to the success of a reciprocity-driven digital marketing strategy. So dig deep and look beyond the easy and the obvious to come up with something unique and indispensable.

Live your digital marketing success story with the support of a digital marketing agency who understands the value of shared goals and the importance of not losing the plot.

Contact Purple Cow today, and tell us what you need.



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