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I'm a fan of Dr. Cialdini's work on social influence, and have always wondered how the 6 weapons of influence featured in his book can be applied to ecommerce.

A post by Dean Rieck inspired me to look around for successful ecommerce examples that have managed to implement these principles in their marketing.

Question: Should you give away stuff for free?

Yes! Here's why: Reciprocity.

When you give away something first for free, if it’s helpful, people feel a real sense of indebtedness towards you.

This indebtedness has a significant effect: Your subsequent requests would make them much more likely to return the favor.

These are 3 main ways you can utilize Reciprocity effectively:
A. Offer something first: Allow them to feel indebted to you.
B. Offer something exclusive: Allow them to feel special.
C. Personalize it: Make sure they know it’s from you.

Now, here are 10 examples that you can analyze and copy!
1. Copyblogger
2. Helpscout
3. Spotify
4. Moz
5. Hubspot
6. Sparring Mind
7. Buffer
8. Red Bull
9. Uber
10. Converse

  • LM

    Lincoln Murphy

    about 5 years ago #

    I love that Cialdini is getting so much love lately. And reciprocity is super-awesome... but it would seem the people throwing around his years of work have not actually studied his work.

    I get it, though. Cialdini's research is a great jumping off point for marketing articles and we all know that "citing research" or saying "because, science" helps get your point over with the audience.

    But the fact is that most people writing about - and especially "using" most of the principles of persuasion (PoPs)- are doing so with a fundamental misunderstanding of how this stuff really works.

    This may seem like I'm nit-picking here, but when it comes to this stuff, details matter.

    In order to invoke reciprocity, you must give first. Period. It's that simple.

    Then the other person will feel the need - due to the way our brains work - to repay that by doing something for you, giving you something in return, or telling someone else about what you did for them (and thus invoking other PoPs).

    The article says "give first," but then goes on to give examples that don't conform to that very simple - yet critical - rule.

    If you ask someone to do something (anything) before you give them something, you're back to neutral. They did the thing, you actually then owed them something, and you provided that thing. Done. No more reciprocity.

    Are other PoPs activated? Sure. Liking is one... you gave them access to an e-book and taught them a new tactic, cool. But rest assured, they do not owe you anything at that point.

    So every example here of a Free Trial doesn't count.

    A Free Trial is in no way a gift; you're trying a product before you buy it. If you don't buy, you can't keep using. How is that a gift? Reciprocity doesn't apply here unless you provide an unexpected gift in the free trial process, which would be cool and would certainly work to invoke NEW reciprocity, but that's not because of the trial itself.

    What about signing-up to get something with your email address or creating a "marketing account" - you know, an account that serves no purpose but to get your contact info and give you access to "free" resources? NO! Not a reciprocity-invoking tactic. They gave you their email and they get something in return.

    How can you know if reciprocity will be invoked? If they give you their email and you didn't give the thing you said you would, will they be upset? If yes, you owe them... no reciprocity will be invoked. Nice try.

    Some of the examples - handing out Red Bull and Uber stepping in during the bus strike - may invoke reciprocity as long as they come off as genuine.

    • SH

      Samuel Hum

      about 5 years ago #

      Hi Lincoln, thanks for writing such a thoughtful response. You really got me thinking.

      I deliberated quite a bit about whether to use free trials as examples. On one hand, I saw it as you do- that a free trial is simply "trying before buying". On the other, I've definitely felt a strange sense of obligation towards some of the free trial products I've tried. I receive drip campaign emails, and I do feel like I ought to reply to them, though I'm not technically obligated to.

      So I think it's more complicated than it seems. Whether a free trial is a gift or not seems to depend on the pre-existing beliefs and views of the person it is given to. I also like your idea of giving something unexpected during the free trial!

      That said, I feel like your perspective is incredibly valuable and important. Would you be okay with me updating the post to include your point of view, paraphrased? With full attribution, of course!


      • LM

        Lincoln Murphy

        about 5 years ago #

        Yeah, you can totally include it with attribution and a link to http://sixteenventures.com... that would be awesome.

        That said, I'm not sure it's actually that complicated... in fact, it's relatively simple. To use Cialdini's words, the PoPs work because they're the "click-whirr" mechanical response in the simple part of our brain. We don't have to think about this stuff, it just happens.

        I think it's marketers and others who want reciprocity to behave in certain ways so they over-"think" and otherwise complicate it these ideas.

  • VV

    Visakan Veerasamy

    about 5 years ago #

    I've always underestimate the effectiveness of reciprocity. I personally used to like to think that I can get "something for nothing" if I were just willing to take advantage of all the free stuff these people give out. But I'm really bad at being stubborn about not giving back. Also, I might end up referring people to others along the way. (Definitely done this for a lot of blogs, etc.)

    I wonder how dramatically marketing would change if we could measure second-order and third-order effects. Reciprocity surely pays dividends in ways that aren't immediately obvious.

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