"I give to you -- and you give to me"

friday, 9 december of 2011

"I give to you -- and you give to me"

When Cole Porter wrote this opening line to his song TRUE LOVE, he never imagined I'd use it to open today's Lawyer Marketing Alert.

The concept of giving and receiving is the principle we call reciprocation. The best discussion I have read is in Robert Cialdini's book INFLUENCE, first published in 1984 by William Morrow and Company.

Cialdini is a social psychologist and professor at Arizona State University. Back in the old days, in 1971, I had the good fortune of taking a social psychology class from Bob. Then, in 1985, right after his book came out, my wife, Stephanie, hired him to speak at a convention of nurses and diabetes educators.

Much of the following information comes from Bob's book, which I recommend as a classic on the subject of persuasion. His discussion of reciprocation and other principles is fascinating, partly because it contains the results of research studies that demonstrate the power of the principles.

In his book, Bob outlines six principles that persuade people at the sub-conscious level. Reciprocation is only one. In the marketing programs I create for lawyers, I build all six principles into our marketing message. In this way, our message persuades prospects at both the conscious and sub-conscious levels.

To quote Bob, the Rule of Reciprocation says: "People try to repay in kind what another person has provided us."

Here's the principle in action:

If I send you a birthday card, will you send one to me? Chances are good that you will.

If my wife and I invite you and your spouse to dinner, can we expect a similar invitation from you? Probably.

Here's the question: Why do we feel obligated -- sometimes deeply obligated -- to return the favor?

One reason is because we put negative labels on people who don't. We call them moochers, ingrates, or just plain greedy. So, to avoid being tagged with one of these labels, you and I go to great lengths to repay our debts, whether in cash, favors or gifts.

In fact, psychologists report that the rule of reciprocity is so strong that people return favors even if they don't like the other person -- just to relieve their tremendous feeling of obligation.

If you ask someone to do something and the other person says, "I'll call in a few favors," that person is telling you he has done favors for people from whom he now expects repayment.

Let's look at how reciprocation is used:

Free Samples That Aren't Free. In a grocery store, an attendant gives you a free sample of a new cheese. He/she explains that the company wants to see if shoppers like it. But the free sample's beauty -- (or power, depending on whether you're handing out cheese or eating it) -- is that the cheese is also a gift. As a result, the small cheese sample engages the reciprocity rule.

On the surface, the attendant appears to want to tell you about the new product. But underneath, he/she also stimulates your sense of obligation, which is inherent in the gift.

After customers receive a small taste of the cheese from the smiling attendant, many shoppers find it hard to simply walk away. So what do they do? They buy some of the cheese, even if they don’t like it. Why? To rid themselves of the sense of obligation.

You might say that they follow Newton's third law of motion: "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." (I knew someday I'd work that law into a conversation. But I never thought it would take me 37 years.)

Bottom Line: The customers eat the cheese, a gift they receive. The customers buy the cheese, a gift they give to the attendant and manufacturer.

One more example:

A person, company or group can trigger your sense of indebtedness by giving you a gift, even if you don't want it.

According to Cialdini, the Disabled American Veterans reports that its direct mail campaign requesting donations usually produces an 18% response. But when they include those personalized address labels in the envelope, the success rate nearly doubles to 35%. So even when the DAV gives us a gift that we might not want, we still respond to remove the burden of obligation.

One catch: Reciprocation does not work as well in a commercial setting. People feel less obligated to you when the reason behind your action is for a business purpose.

Here's how you can use the rule of reciprocation in your law firm:

1. Offer to send prospects free information by mail. Don't say that you hope they will do business with you because you sent the information. Instead, emphasize the you-to-me nature of your offer -- the fact that you're providing this information as a favor to help them and their family (or company) make good decisions. The more personal you make the offer -- and the more valuable the materials you send, the stronger their desire to return the favor.

2. Offer free information and advice through an article or ongoing column in the newspaper. The more you emphasize how much you want to help your readers, the more they will want to help you in return.

3. Offer free seminars so prospects can receive your information and advice in person. Don't say you're presenting a seminar as a community service. "Community" is so impersonal. Don't say you're presenting the seminar to get new business. Instead, emphasize that you're offering seminars so you can help people understand how to solve their problems. Or so you can help executives better manage their companies. The more person to person your offer, the more you benefit from their reciprocation.

4. Offer your free newsletter, either in print or by e-mail. Emphasize that you send it as a personal favor to friends and prospects on your mailing list. It's your gift to them -- and it's free. (Yes, I know all gifts are free. But this is marketing, so it pays to say both.)

5. Free web site. Point out that you have put information on your web site to help people who have legal problems. Whether you're targeting consumers or business clients, you're targeting people. And the more you emphasize your desire to help people -- as individuals -- the more reciprocation works for you.

6. Offer to add new people to your mailing list. Your message is: I offer you this information as a personal favor to you. In exchange, I hope you'll tell your friends so they'll join my mailing list, too.

You can see one way I use reciprocation by visiting my web site. On the opening page, below my picture, go to the message entitled "Hi! Welcome to My Web Site." In the third paragraph, I explain the favor I already did. Then in the fourth paragraph, I ask for a favor. To use Cialdini's term, mine is an uninvited favor because no on asked me to do it. I took the action myself.

Another way of getting someone to comply with your request is to turn the tables. I first heard Bob explain this when he spoke to my wife's group of nurses.

Bob gave this example: A nurse goes into a patient's hospital room and tries to persuade the patient to take his pills. To engage the rule of reciprocation, Bob suggested nurses say something like this: "I'm asking you to take those pills because I know, if I were in your shoes, you'd do the same for me." Even this hypothetical situation engages this powerful rule.

When you recommend that a prospect take action, you can use the same line: "I'm asking you to (take whatever action) because I know, if I were in your shoes, you'd do the same for me."

You can use the rule of reciprocation in negotiations, too. If you make a concession, you trigger a sense of obligation in the other party to also make a concession. I give to you -- and you give to me.

The rule of reciprocation works in so many settings. And you can trigger it in so many ways. I've hardly scratched the surface here. For a full discussion, order Bob's book or borrow it from your local library.

By the way, I hope you know that I provide this Lawyer Marketing Alert as a personal favor to you. It's my gift to you. And it's free.


© Trey Ryder

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