- Tue, January 25 2011
- Filed under: Marketing essentials
This is the topic of the latest edition of the Inside Influence Report, which is a great read if you love psychology, behavioral economics and other fields that help us understand human behavior.
The article explores the bounds of reciprocity - the idea that you do something nice for someone in order to make them more likely to do something for you.
There are a lot of marketing ploys that seek to leverage this concept: free samples of food in the grocery store, the flowers the Hare Krishnas used to give out in airports, the address labels charities still mail with appeals. According to the article, Interflora is scanning Twitter accounts and offering to send flowers to people who Tweet that they could do with a bit of cheering up.
So how well does this work? The article says it works best with people who are open to what you’re trying to give them. Like people who look interested or don’t run away from the offer—or in the case of fundraising, donors who have given before.
The article also says it works best in North America, in many cases. It described experiments showing just how differently reciprocity works in different cultures:
In one study, two groups – one North American and one Asian – were asked to imagine that they had shared a cab to the airport with a colleague who had subsequently offered to pay the fare. They found that the North American group were significantly more willing to let their colleague pay the fare after they had offered than the Asian group were (26% v 9%).
To address the fact that the first study looked at a gift given by a colleague who was known, the researchers conducted a second study looking at the willingness to accept an unsolicited gift from a stranger. In this study the two groups were presented with an offer of a free sample of soup from a salesperson promoting a new product line in a supermarket. Again the researchers found that the North American group were more likely to accept the offer of the free soup than the Asian group. In fact across a series of five laboratory and field studies the common finding was that Asians were more likely than North Americans to refuse a small gift that is offered to them by a casual acquaintance.
The study authors explored some of the reasons why this might be the case. They suggested that one reason may be due to the more collective nature of Asian cultures where there is a tendency for people to think of themselves more in relation to others. As a result they were more likely to honor the reciprocity rule in exchanging gifts with casual acquaintances and refuse a gift they could not reciprocate. North Americans, by nature of their more individual market-based culture, were more likely to base acceptance of a gift on its attractiveness. As a result an awareness of these subtle differences might be useful in your influence attempts, especially in situations where you are seeking to develop relationships and partnerships with others from different cultures.
However there was one situation where cultural differences flatlined - when the giver and the receiver already shared an existing relationship as close acquaintances or friends.
The bottom line? If you’re going to give things away in the hope of getting something, target carefully. And pay close attention to your cultural context!