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Much Obliged - the art of reciprocity

Commuting home from work the other night I was a approached by an unusually dressed man “Hi, I am from {church name irrelevant}, we just wanted to give you this, it’s a gift”. Before I had anything to say he was gone and I was left standing there, flicking through this book and a little confused. Most would say that this falls under the heading of healthy missionary work but when I realised that this man had made me feel a little fonder of his approach (and potentially being more open to a request for donation in the future) that I theorised that it may be something a little more intentional.

Reciprocity relies on the inherent idea that people tend to feel debt to return a favour when something has been given to them. You see this with marketing samples in shopping centres and taste testers in coffee shops – the principle that started the success of these small gifts was the unconscious debt that one feels and therefore becoming more likely to purchase an actual item.

In 1974, sociologist Phillip Kunz conducted an interesting experiment on this sense of obligation. He mailed out handwritten Christmas cards with a note and a photograph of him and his family to approximately 600 randomly selected strangers. Shortly after mailing the cards, responses began to arrive. Of the 600 people, Kunz received nearly 200 replies – all with kind notes back to him – a perfect stranger. This is reciprocity at work.

So how can you work this into your website?

I often have the conversation with clients that it is sometimes better to give away online more than you are comfortable with. Being generous in an anonymous setting changes the dynamic of your site from being a “sheep in the flock” to a site that cares about its visitors and in-turn will have a relaxed, trusting and eventually much more loyal sales relationship.

This inner feeling of “I can’t just give them that..” is a powerful voice, however and many websites resort to getting people to fill out forms or give their details before they get their free stuff . The problem with this however is that what they get for free is not immediate and they need to give first prior to getting anything. This often annoys the user and makes it more likely they they abandon the site.

The real amazing part about this psychological phenomenon, however, is that it does not have to be of equal or greater value to the item you are trying to persuade people to buy. To activate this spirit of “favour” or “indebtness” in a web environment all you need to give is something of value and the higher the value the stronger the feeling.

A few things that you might offer (no strings) free on your site to encourage this reciprocity principle include:

  1. E-Books
  2. DIY Videos
  3. Articles and How-to's
  4. Calculators and helpful apps
  5. Write Articles, Newsletters and give tips

These things, positioned correctly on your website, will contribute to a feeling of trust and change the perception of your website and business. This in turn will motivate stronger engagement and make your ongoing “marketing story” and customer conversion an easier/seamless conversation to have.

So when you are next analysing your website, think about what you have done to increase the intrinsic anonymous value of your business because, trust when we say - you will be thanked in kind.

At Smartersites we use this principle to assist E-Commerce sites improve their overall engagement with clients. Please contact us today to find out what we can do for you. 

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