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Test the Reciprocity Rule


Finally had the opportunity to start reading Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B Cialdini, PH.D.  This is a national bestseller and, “For marketers, it is among the most important books written in the last 10 years,” says the Journal of Marketing Research. It discusses a plethora of ideas and hypothesizes that would be great to test in various online scenarios.

The one theory that has really stuck with me is the Rule of Reciprocation.  Dr Cialdini’s describes the Reciprocity Rule as:

One of the most potent of the weapons of influence around us. The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.

Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule and the rule has many opportunities to backfire and contradict.  However, I think that conducting tests that reference this concept is worth a go when trying to beat current controls.

Two great opportunities to apply this rule in a test setting are when offering a free trial for a product or service, and fundraising opportunities.  Both can apply test approaches when focusing on conversion lifts.

When attempting to “collect on what we have provided” after a free trial, we need to focus efforts on restating the value and benefits of the FREE product or services provided.  We have ultimately sacrificed profit, time and resources to provide value.  This needs to be noted, in any final stages of a free trial process.  The key is the balance between value and soft sell.

I hope that throughout the free trial process, the benefits have been routinely noted, whether through daily or weekly tips to optimize the free trial, free product samples or daily options to explore the product features, like a test drive.  You should be hinting at the fact that this product is superior due to a number of benefits that one cannot, should not, live without so that it has been a part of the consumer’s routine.

Now, as you near the end of the free trial period, the angle of a messaging cadence needs to prepare the user to get out the credit card.   Here are some good tactics to implement a reciprocity rule test approach:

  1. Restate benefits + $$$ value delivered to date.
  2. Establish a point person who has walked the free-trialer through the entire process.  This gives a face to whom the customer will say “yes” or “no” to.
  3. Offer to refer a friend who may be interested in the same value that we provided you.
  4. Apply social proof in numbers.  For ex: 5,000+ people are happy subscribers or owners after the free trial; why aren’t you?
  5. Continue value after the point of sale that relates to industry or environment surrounding the product = win-back through continue value.

The question then begs to be asked:  Is the reciprocity rule working?  Are we motivating free-trialers?  Is this approach (when delivering value) outweighing the friction and anxiety that normally prevents purchase?  If you have provided enough value to where the free-trialer absorbs the value of your product, and obligation supports their purchase decision, then reciprocation rule = purchase.

Isolate and test this via Group A (control experience) vs. Group B (test experience via reciprocity rule).

Another example, outside the free-trial space that would be worth a test is in the non-profit industry.  Sure, return address stickers are great, but let’s say we go a step further and pull in dynamics to an email campaign.

For example:  You rescued a pet from your local animal shelter.  A great email campaign would repurpose that experience, sending a picture of the pet, reminding the rescuer of all the great things that pet brought to their home, and oh by the way, we request an annual contribution to the organization that made it all happen.

Test these ideas and see for yourself if this approach is worth considering.  The least you can do is try it, document it and reply to me with results.  It is the least you can do after receiving such good ideas.