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E-Marketing Performance Blog

How Giving Away Free Stuff Online (and everywhere else) Can Work

There are many cultural forces built into every society that has ever existed on the planet.  Some are stronger in certain societies than others.  One of them is called the rule of reciprocity.  It says that a person (or group) should try to repay what another person has provided.  More simply put, if someone does something for you, you have a natural tendency to want to do something for them. 

Why we feel it

This characteristic was naturally built into the human soul because we were designed to be communal beings that cooperated with each other in one accord.  It creates a natural interdependency that makes this possible.  Granted, any singular person or group’s condition/environmental factors can cause this characteristic to be thwarted to different degrees.  But, overall it is inherent in everyone.

It’s that feeling you may get when you don’t want to go buy Christmas presents for your family, but you know they’ll be bringing you one.  Or the feeling you get when you forgot your wallet and your friend picks up the tab.  You feel like you owe him something.  With closer relationships, this rule takes a different form.  While you no longer feel that it’s necessary to calculate who has given more or less, there is a reciprocal expectation that both parties practice a willingness to provide what the other needs, when it is needed.  When one party doesn’t practice this, the relationship becomes unstable and unhealthy.

How we can use it

OK, enough psycho-babble.  How does this apply to online marketing?  Simple.  When you give away stuff to people, they are more likely to buy from you.  But, here’s the trick.  You can’t just give away SOMETHING for free.  That something that is done for another must have certain characteristics to make it very highly effective.  Here are some major ones…


Reciprocation Principles


While the rule of reciprocity can be used to manipulate people into decisions they truly wouldn’t want to make if they had full disclosure, it can also be used ethically to serve the customers of your business in ways that are memorable, bring value and communicate your dedication to serve them in special ways.  When you do this, your sales will increase.

Tagged As: Sales

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