shutterstock_226765561Brands that give their customers something for free can reap the benefits ten-fold if they are clever, writes Ger Walsh and Graham Carroll.

The art of reciprocity in business is a practice that every organisation should be using to its advantage.

This simple and effective approach is tried and tested. It will reward loyal customers, attract new customers and create that positive emotional connection between a brand and its consumers.

While simple in nature, there are a few things that need to be adhered to when implementing it in different environments. But first let’s look at how it can work.

The art of giving something of value that costs the consumer nothing is an act of reciprocity.

The principle of authenticity must go hand-in-hand with the principle of reciprocity. Now let’s be honest; deep down we all know that a business, no matter how altruistic it portrays itself to be, is really looking to make a sale. We get that and it’s OK, customers don’t resent a business for doing what a business needs to do. However, customers do react negatively when a business’s outreach is clearly one-sided.

What marketers need to understand about our tendency to want to give back is that it’s often strongest when the recipient feels that the gesture is sincere in its attempt to thank or serve, and that there’s no expectation of a return gesture.

Dr Robert Cialdini included this principle in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. He listed it among six that contribute to one’s ability to influence others.  When describing the principle of reciprocity, he shares a case study in which a waiter’s tips increased by 3% when diners are given a mint, and 14% when they’re given two mints. When the waiter left one mint with the bill but quickly returned to offer a second mint, the tips increased by 23%.

Aside from the basic concept of reciprocity, what we learn from this case study is the power of the unexpected gift. When customers are singled out and made to feel that they’re special, the likelihood that they’ll respond more favourably increases dramatically.

So now that we understand some of the principles of how it works let’s look at some examples of how it works in real life circumstances.


In calibration with the VW team we were tasked of attracting customers to the dealer network showrooms in the quieter months of the year. The solution we came up with was Volksfest.

From concept to delivery all things “German” was the theme of the evening with costumes designed for our promotional staff, German food and drink served and live German bier Keller music playing at the event.

This event rolled out across the VW dealer network nationwide in the months of October and November and allowed VW clients to interact in a relaxed and informal atmosphere and learn about the new model cars available.

This series of events attracted in excess of 3,500 customers to the VW showrooms in winter months and had dealers raving about its success.  This is reciprocity at work in the retail environment.

Keoghs Crisps

Keoghs Crisps approached us and asked us to create an on street activity to promote the Keoghs Crisps brand and to celebrate National Potatoes Day. We created a farm yard set complete with milk churns, hay bales, a tractor and provided entertainment with magicians, face painters, balloon artists and performers.

This gave Keoghs an opportunity to promote and sample their various crisp flavours in a high footfall area while interacting and entertaining the public, helping create that positive emotional connection with a brand.

The day was huge success. We sampled over 3,000 packets of Keoghs crisps and we had huge interest from mainstream media with picture appearing in the national press.

This is reciprocity at work with a brand.

So when your brand represents itself authentically and the public get a chance to interact, you create a level of trust. Bloggers do this very well by giving away information that is of high quality and something consumers can actually use. This allows them establish themselves as someone of credibility. They are also showing that their intent is not to just get into the customers’ pockets.

While the “law of reciprocity” is hard-wired into us, most people aren’t stupid. If the law is exploited as a tactic, it will be seen as such and it won’t work. At least it won’t work for long.

The right way to gain maximum benefit is to use it sincerely and for the right reasons: to help others and to grow your relationships.

Ger Walsh is founder and managing director thinknblink and Graham Carroll is its sales director.

 In association with the APMC


First published in Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ October Issue 2016)© to order back issues please call 016611660

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