Robert Cialdini’s Principles – Reciprocity Explained

Robert Cialdini’s Principles – Reciprocity Explained


Small Psychology Lesson

Human psychology is a complex topic, but we all have something in common – as much as we think we cannot be influenced, we totally can be. And if you are a business man/woman, you have to know how to influence people, so that they not only become your customers, but remain your customers.

I do realise this sounds very salesy and pushy but I do believe that there are many ways to positively influence a customer on their journey, so that they not only don’t notice they are being influenced, but they become quite happy as a result of your influencing.

Reciprocity is one of the examples of influential principles created by Robert Beno Cialdini, professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. He describes them in detail in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

What is Reciprocity?

I’m sure we are all familiar with the word itself, however, imagine explaining it. Not so easy, is it?

Reciprocity basically describes the feeling you get after someone does something nice to you – you feel obliged to return the favour. In business and marketing, it means that if you manage to make your customer feel good even before they buy your product/service, they are more likely to buy from you when it comes to it.

Our subconscious makes 95% of our purchasing decisions – emotions take over reason almost every time!

Whatever your business is, whether you’re a fellow copywriter or you own a coffee shop, the principle of reciprocity doesn’t change. However, the way we execute it, will. For example, as a copywriter, I may offer a website visitor a free content that they might find helpful – this blog post, perhaps.

You, as a coffee shop or a restaurant owner, may offer free bread and butter when your guests sit down at the table.

girl with a glass of wine and lunch

Make your customer feel good – and more unexpected it is the better!

Treating customers with respect goes without saying – we should all smile and make them feel good, that’s standard. But if you try to go the extra mile – and it doesn’t have to cost much – you massively increase your chances that the client or customer will turn from first time to regular one.

How can you integrate reciprocity into your business?

You have to make sure you give the customer something they will have to come back for, and regularly. The easiest and cheapest way is to present yourself online as widely as possible. With that said, there’s no need to take over every social media like an invasion.

Identify the platforms where your potential customers might hang out. That can take a little while because it’s not always obvious. People interested in fitness and anything to do with food will most likely hang out on Instagram; authors and writers probably take over Instagram, Twitter, inkedIn, and perhaps Facebook. Craft enthusiasts use Pinterest. Dancers may use Tik Tok.

It may not be as straight forward, so do a little search on the platforms you use and see how many potential customers come up.

If you are just starting out, I recommend scanning your local area. What are people interested in? What are their hobbies? Make some connections with locals or create a survey! You can easily post that on social media and see what answers come back.

Very important part of establishing yourself online is a website – everyone can make one these days and you don’t have to pay anyone!

tablet with marketing tips

Website gives you an amazing opportunity to offer free helpful tips that cost you nothing (apart from the costs for the site, obviously). You can set up a blog where you share helpful tips – if you are a restaurant, share simple recipes. If you are a coffee shop, share interesting information about coffee and how is it perceived in different cultures. Fitness business can share nutrition and exercise tips.

If blog isn’t your thing, you can set up a “news” page where you can share interesting new things – especially useful for tech companies as there is something new coming out literally every day!

You may also set up a shop and sell some additional products on top your regular thing – for example, the link to Robert Cialdini’s book above is an Amazon Associate link and if you buy the book through this link, I will receive a little commission at no extra cost to you.

There are many things you can share with people and you’d be surprised that many are interested in what you have to say!

Imposter Syndrome

You are probably thinking: “Me? But I don’t know anything valuable. How can something I share be of value to anyone? I don’t have a degree, so who am I to patronize anyone?”

We all feel the same and it’s called Imposter Syndrome – a syndrome professionals get even though they can do their job very well. You probably set up a business and are thinking: “What on earth was I thinking? I don’t know anything! I should have gone to University first.”

You’d be surprised at how many public speakers are incredibly nervous before going on stage!

nervous woman

It’s normal and you will definitely experience this feeling one way or the other when you start offering some sort of services, even free stuff, such as a blog post. It’s free and if people don’t want to read it, they won’t. Don’t worry about it, nobody is going to read everything on your blog – most visitors will probably find whatever is relevant to them and leave the rest.

That’s why you should try to tackle various topics in your blog – not to attract everyone, you can never please everyone. But variety is a good thing to make people come back, because they can always find something new and interesting in your content.

What if creating content is not my thing?

Not everyone likes to write content – it takes time to research and put the words down in a way that people would relate to.

You can hire someone like me – a copywriter or a content creator. Or you can ditch the blog idea completely and create the feeling of reciprocity in your customers different way.

Try offering free trial on your services, or discounts. Popular way, especially in takeaway and coffee shops, is the concept of “every 10th visit is free”. You can mention this on your website, so that people see it even before they make a purchase. When they go past your shop one day, it’s likely that they’ll remember you offer something extra and visit your shop – this is your opportunity to show your good customer service and turn them into returning customers.

Even giving out free sweets or lollipops goes a long way – and children are not the only ones who appreciate free lollipop, trust me.

People love anything for free, however silly it may be. Of course, the more useful the freebie is the better, but even something silly like a free biscuit goes a long way – it’s different. Get your creativity rolling and come up with a cheap and funny way to make your customers smile.

Think about what would make you smile after going to a shop/restaurant/coffee shop, etc. Would it be a free glass of wine? Funky shaped biscuit? This would work really well in a sex shop, I think.

Think kids! People often take kids to places – you can offer free colouring books or stickers. Or something that occupies the kids while their mum and dad can sort out whatever they need to.

little girl with colours over her hands

Ask your friends! You’d be surprised how many crazy ideas your friends may come up with over a glass of wine.

Whatever you do, be different and have your customer in mind!

If you need any help with content, give me a shout through the CONTACT page and I’ll be happy to have a chat.

7 thoughts on “Robert Cialdini’s Principles – Reciprocity Explained”

  • HI I’m Elodie Fleming, it is a great pleasure to comment on your website..

    I have found your topic “Reciprocity principle how it can boost business” very inspiring.

    Realising the amount of information which is imparted, it has given me a new prospective.
    I haven’t heard of the book “Psychological of persuasion”.

    Sometimes we don’t ror never thought of such strategies to lure or keep customers back to our business.

    I like how your content is laid out, topically and straregionally. I didn’the have much problem moving through your site. I’m particularly drawn to to this topic,

    I’ve learned about strategies or lessonset on Reciprocity which can also be implemented in our daily lives.

    Congratulations on a job well done.

    • Thank you Elodie,

      I’m glad my content helped you and feel free to check some of my other articles – I have covered some other influence principles and will be covering more in the next few weeks.

  • Hey,

    Reciprocity basically means to me, being kind to people. With our business if we want to receive from others, then we must first give. In other words we need to be kind to our customers and clients. Being kind, or even witnessing an act of kindness makes us feel great. The reason for that is being kind gives us a shot of oxytocin in our brains and that is what makes us feel so good.

    So, if you want to feel great every day then be kind to someone, especially your customers and clients. They may not remember what you did but they will definitely remember how you made them feel.

    Thank you for sharing and keep up the great work.

    All the best,


  • You have a very interesting article here. The psychology of persuasion sounds like s like selling. How can one get beyond that feeling?

    • Hi George,

      Since it’s a marketing advice, it’s targeted for people who run their business which, I assume, include selling 🙂

  • Knowing how important it is to read what our customers need and deliver based on that is key for any business. It doesn’t matter if it’s copywrite, fitness or teaching languages. We can all relate to what you have been explaining here.

    We can switch things around and imagine when we’re the customers. How do we feel towards a business that pays attention to our needs and over delivers? We would definitely like to show reciprocity.

    Thank you very much for your useful content. I appreciate how nice it’s to follow the message you convey.

    • Hi Henry,

      So lovely of you to stop by.

      You are absolutely right – this can be applied to absolutely any business. And not just business. I think this principle should just be part of LIFE.

      Thank you for your kind words – I’m glad you found my post useful and easy to read x

      I hope I’ll see you again.

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