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The reciprocity principle

In psychology, there’s a thing called the reciprocity principle. It looks at relationships and speaks to the human tendency to want to give something back when something is received.

Like if someone invites you to their birthday, you may feel as though you should invite them to yours in return. The same if someone buys you a beer at the bar… often the recipient will get the next round in as a gesture of thanks and acknowledgement.

People feel obliged to do something for you when you’ve done something for them.

Brands can use this principle effectively to help build customers, relationships & advocates. By offering something of value – whether physical or experiential (or whatever).

Then, of course, there is something the brand wants in return for being the cool brand that they are. Reaching out for this after the gesture is more permissible & bound to receive a better (tolerated) response than if they bombarded the customers to begin with.

Basic stuff, right?

But there are many brands who still ignore this reciprocity principle – but never mind those brands – there are some reality checks and some relationship management required for the brands that do practice this, yet push their luck.

But your brand is not a person

There’s an exercise in marketing that often asks, “if [brand x] were a person, what kind’ve person would they be?”

The answer is almost always a very irritating person…

Let’s run a scenario:

if I was to buy someone at the bar a drink because I thought we’d get along, and then I asked, “how does it taste?”…

and then later asked, “can I have your contact details to ask you about some other stuff I REALLY think you’d be good to hear from about? BTW, I promise I won’t give your number to any of my mates”…

and then messaged him, “hey mate, it’s your pal from the pub who bought you that delicious beer! Just wanted to check whether you remember the name of it? Or if you’d ever buy that drink again? Or if you’d recommend it to your other mates? Or better yet, could you introduce me to your mates?”

This person would think I’m a weirdo & he’d be very correct – that’s weird.

This is the same, realistic expectation brands need to adopt when they perform the same stunts – people feel obliged to give you 15 seconds of attention for your deed, but that’s all. Push it any further and you could very well blow it all together.

Buy me a beer, don’t make it weird.

Author Valentine Mick

Ad man and basic fuckwit

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