How Reciprocity Strengthens Brands
A psychological phenomenon known as reciprocity is a powerful inclusion in the brand marketing toolkit.
In 1960, Alvin Gouldner wrote the preeminent paper on the topic, which began with a quote from the Roman philosopher Cicero: “There is no duty more indispensable than that of returning kindness…all men distrust one forgetful of a benefit.” In other words, people feel obligated to reciprocate.
Dr. Robert Cialdini, featured the phenomenon years later as one of his six principles of persuasion where he defined the importance of reciprocity like this: “It gives us great power in a situation by being able to determine the tone of the interaction by doing it first. If we want a positive attitude, we give a positive attitude first. If we want free communication, we begin by giving free communication, and so on. It gives us the ability to get the sort of interaction that we are hoping for in exchange. The tone that is set, from focus groups to brand messaging is the thing that comes back most frequently.”
The Most Powerful Form Of Branding
In a world in which consumers are almost never disconnected from their digital devices, and digital referrals are fundamentally more influential than paid advertising, the obligation to give back what has been given to us is the most powerful form of branding.
Top executives of passion brands seem to understand the power of reciprocity in the most purely positive ways. Kevin Plank, the CEO of Under Armour, for example, referred to the power of giving “a free gift with purchase.” His core philosophy is that Under Armour products should help athletes perform better, not just look better. So he strives to give more value than what his customers pay for.
The value equation becomes out of balance in a good way. Reciprocity motivates their customers to evangelize for the brand, both online and on the ball field.
Human beings want balance. The need for reciprocity coupled with ubiquitous digital connections turn customers into digitally-enabled evangelists who spread the brand message much more effectively than any form of paid media.