Finally, I got the chance to catch up on some books that I have bought throughout the year. One of the books is titled “Influence. The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdini, PhD (affiliate link). I know, the title sounds as cheesy as it can be, but I strongly recommend it, not just for marketers but for everyone, because it contains a lot of information about how the world works. The Journal of Marketing Research describes the book like this:
“For marketers, it is among the most important books written in the last 10 years”. Not exaggerating, it really is an amazing read.
At the beginning of the book, the author talks about the reciprocation rule, of which I was aware of in some ways, but became much more aware of its power after the way he describes it. Basically, how I understand the rule of reciprocation is when someone does something for us, and in return, they look for something more valuable than what they have given us. In the book, Cialdini gives a lot of examples from the real world, but I am not going to spoil it all for you, and just tell you one of the examples he uses.
The example from the book is from the Krishnas in the US, trying to collect donations for their monasteries. At the beginning, there was not much success and collections were small and insignificant. This changed when they started using solicitors instead of monks. The solicitors gave flowers as a gift from the Krishnas’ society to the people. Because the people accepted the gift they felt obligated to return the favour, which in this case was in the form of a donation, and usually higher than the value of the flower. The strategy increased the success of donations to the Krishna society.
So why does this happen? According to Robert Cialdini PhD, it is in us as humans, the feeling that we need to return or repay a favour or a gift. This is why politicians are not allowed to accept gifts for example. Dr Cialdini explains it like this:
“There is strong cultural pressure to reciprocate a gift, even an unwanted one; but there is no such pressure to purchase an unwanted commercial product.”
My question here is, can this be translated in digital form? Does the rule of reciprocation exist in the digital world?
I believe that it does. Here is an example. Last year (in one of these health awakening moments we have) I found and became a huge fan of a small business from across the pond started by two ladies. If you are a smoothie fan, you might have heard of simplegreensmoothies.com. The first I heard about them was on Pat Flynn’s SPI. Anyway, I loved their story and the business, so I decided to visit their website and was not disappointed.
I am not sure if they still practice the same business model, but last year they were giving out a list in the form of a .pdf file with recipes of green smoothies for each day of the week. If you wanted a plan for the full month (or was it three months) with shopping list and prep, you could pay $10 for the .pdf file.
In the first week, I got the freebie. I could have easily kept on going with the free weekly recipes as they had a great email marketing strategy and were sending them directly to my email. However, after the first week, I thought to myself, well they are doing all this great work for free, it doesn’t feel right for me not to give anything back. There went my tenner. It felt right to give the symbolic sum for the work they were putting in.
The lesson for me here is that yes, the reciprocity rule is so strong that it can be transmitted to the digital world. It might not work as well as when it is applied face to face, but it will work. We will always feel the need to repay a favour.