The Social Psychology for Marketing Series (Part 4)

By Wired Messenger Email Marketing

Using Reciprocity in the give and take world of email marketing

Tsze-Kung asked, “Is there one word with which to act in accordance throughout a lifetime?” The Master said, “Is not reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others

— Confucious 

Confucius was a Chinese philosopher, teacher and political figure  who lived in the 6th century BC and whose thoughts, expressed in the philosophy of Confucianism, continue to influence Chinese and world culture today.

Confucianism seeks harmony in the socio-political sphere and emphasises the proper cultivation of relationships at all levels within the family, among friends, business and society at large.  So what does this former bookkeeper and founder of confucianism have to do with email marketing? We will come back to the Master a little later in the article and find out.

In Part 3 of this series found here Using Authority to subordinate your less than effective email marketing strategies we continued to build on the work of Robert Cialdini.  We explored in depth how persuasion principle #4, from Cialdidn’s seminal work, Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, can be leveraged to affect better outcomes in email marketing.

The article outlined the concept of how human beings have a natural tendency to obey without question when authority factors are present.  Cialdini describes the brain as a “short cut machine” which essentially means humans make decisions based only on a subset of information and not on all of the information and details available. 

In summary the Authority principle operates on the presupposition that those in positions of authority wield greater wisdom and power, and therefore complying with those individuals leads to the best course of action in any given circumstance.

The article concluded with the following:

Like all of the secrets, tips and best 

practices listed in all of the articles in 

this series Wired Messenger is happy

to extend these to you at now charge. 

Which leads us to our next subject in

the series…..

The tactic used to conclude the article about was Reciprocity and is the subject of this installment.

Merriam-Webster defines Reciprocity as

1 :the quality or state of being reciprocal : mutual dependence, action, or 


2 :a mutual exchange of privileges specifically :a recognition by one of two 

countries or institutions of the validity of licenses or privileges granted by the  other

For the purposes of this article we are going to be discussing the concept of the Norm of Reciprocity which is slightly differentiated but related to the concept Confucious speaks to above.

In social psychology terms, Cialdini argues that people are hardwired to give back to others the form of a behavior, gift, or service that they have received first. For example,if a friend invites you to their party, there’s an obligation for you to invite them to a future party you are hosting. If a colleague does you a favor, then you owe that colleague a favor. And in the context of a social obligation people are more likely to say yes to those who they owe.

Ciadini argues that the best demonstration of the Principle of Reciprocity comes from a series of studies conducted in restaurants – AKA the Restaurant Study. The study outlines the common practice at restaurants where a waiter or waitress gives the patron a gift at about the same time they bring the patron the bill. For example, a liqueur, a small desert, or perhaps a simple mint.

The study explores the following question. Does the giving of a mint have any influence over the amount of gratuity a waiter or waitress receives?  Most people will say no. But that mint can make a surprising difference. In the study, giving diners a single mint at the end of their meal typically increased tips by around 3%.

Interestingly, if the gift is doubled and two mints are provided, tips don’t double. They quadruple—a 14% increase in tips. Ciadini asserts that perhaps the most interesting of all is the fact that if the waiter provides one mint, starts to walk away from the table, but pauses, turns back and says, “For you nice people, here’s an extra mint,” tips go through the roof. A 23% increase, influenced not by what was given, but how it was given.

Therefore, the key to using the principle of the Norm of Reciprocity is to be the first to give and to ensure that what you give is personalized and unexpected.

How to apply Reciprocity in email marketing

The principle of the norm of reciprocity works best when something is freely given, personalized and unexpected.

Give to Get:

The obvious play here is: For every email that asks users to take an action like clicking on a link; providing customer data such as a mobile number; or buying a product; consider offering a small gift of value. These gifts can be downloads; discounts; free temporary access to a paid subscription service;  or educational videos. To reiterate, they should be seen as having some kind of inherent value in order to be effective. These can be more transactional in nature and the more personalized the better.

The not so obvious play here is give something of value to your most loyal customers for no perceived expected reason. 

In action:

Wired Messenger works with a number of restaurant and fast food chains. We recently advised a company to use email marketing to accelerate efforts to capture customer data to fuel their mobile marketing channel and better establish a 360 view of their customers.

We designed a staged email marketing campaign to ascertain the mobile numbers of their patrons and to subsequently gain individual permission to market to those numbers.  The campaign consisted of giving a targeted list of customers upfront gifts of actual value with “no ask in return” at the time of offer. Once the customer executes the offer they are subsequently asked for a mobile number and the permission to market to that number all in an above board and ethical manner.  

And this sort of ethical posture is consistent with the overall approach to this series of articles. We’ve been saying it over and over: These secrets,tactics and tips should only be used in an ethical fashion and we always have and always will promote their use in that manner.  

We’ve put that in writing.

Which leads us to our next subject in the series….

Until then 

Tsze-Kung asked, “Is there one word with which to act in accordance throughout a lifetime?” The Master said, “Is not reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others

— Confucious 


Tsze-Kung asked, “Is there one word with which to act in accordance throughout a lifetime?” The Master said, “Is not reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others

— Confucious 

—The Savvy and Ethical Email Marketer

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