Written by Canon Wing

I teach entrepreneurs and organizations the proven action steps to stand out within their market, improve the perceived value of their business, and better connect with their audience through naming, branding, storytelling, and communication platforms.

March 16, 2021

The Power of Reciprocity in Branding

The decision to buy is emotional and we are going to put the spotlight on ONE of the MOST powerful emotional triggers your brand can use to win Brand Loyalty.

In 1974 Phillip Kunz, a university Professor of Sociology, and his family received 200 Christmas cards in the mail. Some of them include family photos, others include handwritten notes sending blessings and well-wishes…some notes are 3-4 pages long!

Two-hundred Christmas cards is quite a lot! It would seem that the Kunz family has quite an expansive network of friends and family, except for one thing: The Kunz family doesn’t know any of them.

You see, earlier in the year Professor Kunz decided to do a little sociology experiment to see what would happen if he sent Christmas cards to total strangers. He randomly selected 600 people and sent them all handwritten cards along with a photo of him and his family, just to see what would happen.

Why in the world would 200 people take the time to respond to a letter from a complete and total stranger? Turns out they were just following the rules. Social rules that most of us are only vaguely aware of, and yet have enormous influence on what we do. Specifically, I’m referring to the rule of reciprocity, and when you know how to use it properly, it can be a formidable branding superpower.

On the rule of reciprocity, emeritus psychologist, Robert Cialdini, says that “There’s not a single human culture that fails to train it’s members in this rule.”

Reciprocity is a natural tendency in human nature to want to offer something when something is received. But to wield this universal rule as a branding superpower there are a few key points you need to know if you want your efforts to result in Brand Loyalty.

Whatever business you are in, Brand Loyalty is your business plan.

So let’s dive right into The Three Secrets for Using the Law of Reciprocity as a Branding Superpower.

First we have: Give First, for Fun and for Free.

Brand Loyalists are people who know in their hearts that the brands they love, authentically care about providing them with real value, that will make their lives better. Your brand has a greater future to offer your potential customers, so give them a head start to reaching that greater future by being the first to initiate a relationship with them, without expecting anything in return. Offer new customers exciting discounts that get their journey with your brand well underway, or give them something that enhances their enjoyment of using your product or service. If you are a skincare company, for instance, every first purchase could include a free spa headband to keep their back while they are enjoying your product.

In order to amplify the effects of reciprocity it’s important that your brand be the first to offer something, be it free shipping, a free bonus product of your customers choosing, or even an opportunity to be charitable by donating a percentage of the sale to an important cause that betters the lives of people in need! Reciprocity isn’t just triggered by material giving, emotional giving can be as powerful.

Next we have: Make Them Feel Valued

Okay, so who doesn’t like to feel special? To feel uniquely appreciated? You can include free samples with every purchase, but to really trigger the law of reciprocity, let them choose which samples they want to receive. Now it’s a gift that they picked out themselves, and that makes it more personal to them. Whatever promotion or discount or special offer you have for them, always make sure that they know they are getting the sweeter end of the deal. Their big win is instant. Your big win comes over time, from securing that customer as a loyal member of your brand community who feels so valued and appreciated by your brand that they can’t wait to tell other people about you. Word of mouth advertising is 50x more effective than any other kind of advertising.

Another way to make them feel valued and secure Brand Loyalty, is to surprise them with free bonus gifts, personalized thank-you notes, birthday gifts, social media shout-outs, and random monthly drawings with fun giveaways. Surprising someone with a special treat is a thoughtful gesture that will draw your brand closer to the hearts of your Ideal Individuals.

The third secret is: Reach Out to the Community

Regularly share content that is relevant to the greater future your brand is helping your brand community strive toward, but has nothing to do with selling your products or services. Start seeding the conversation with potential customers who may not need or want your brand now, by caring about the same things they care about, being a part of the conversation, and showcasing how the support of your brand community is making it possible for your brand to improve the lives of others, or the health of the planet, or the welfare of animals, or any other worthy cause that is of significance to your ideal individuals. When people who aren’t ready to buy do become ready to buy, they are more likely to favor your brand if they’ve noticed that you have been actively striving to improve the world we all live in.

To win Brand Loyalty, you have to inspire trust, and that means showing your brand cares outside the context of making a transaction. Offering them emotional value outside the boundaries of making a sale, provides a positive memorable experience before a transaction is ever made.

Those are the top three secrets for transforming the Law of Reciprocity into a branding Superpower! 


As with any true superpower, reciprocity can be used for better or worse. Have you ever purchased something because you felt oddly obligated, and then walked away from the experience feeling unsettled or rather taken advantage of? Or have you ever been given something you didn’t really want or need, but you kept it just to be polite? And then next thing you know you’re being asked for some big favor in return…This way of triggering reciprocity in your customers may get you the first sale, but it will not result in the kind of experience that inspires trust and love for your brand. 

Remember, whatever business you are in, Brand Loyalty is your business plan. Brand loyalty is how to trigger massive word-of-mouth advertising, and that is how a brand can Come Out of Nowhere and Become an Inspiration to Millions.

The law of Reciprocity is in essence, an exchange of energy. To quote Oprah Winfrey, “Life is a reciprocal exchange. To move forward you have to give back.”

The final bonus secret is to: Never Take More Value than You Give.

Let the energy your brand contributes to the lives of your brand community, uplift them, inspire them, delight them, again and again and again. Make every interaction they have with your brand reaffirm to them that your brand is truly listening and actually cares about who they are and what they need. Relentlessly uphold your end of the bargain, by being consistent, authentic, and accountable.

Thank you so much for joining me! Treat this as a masterclass for becoming an Inspiration to Millions with Branding. And as always the way to becoming an Inspiration to Millions starts with our motto: Love What You Do and Love How You Do It.