Human beings are programmed to reciprocate. Whether this is literally hardwired into our neurology or whether it’s socialized into us from childhood is debatable, but it’s a fact that 99% of people respond unconsciously and mechanically to the golden rule of reciprocity. This rule, in our mind, sounds something like, “If someone does something for you, you should do something for him or her, too.” While it’s sometimes unfortunate to be on the receiving side of this equation, it creates incredibly useful opportunities for you to get what you want from people. The thing that makes it so useful to you, as a marketer, is that you can choose what you give to someone, and you can choose what to receive in exchange. I recently saw this work on myself when I joined an audiobook website called Audible.com, which is owned by Amazon.com. Audible.com has an offer where you pay $7 per month, and each month you get to download 1 free audiobook. Now, you have to ask yourself, what is the real benefit of signing up to this deal? My guess is that thousands of people do sign up for it, pay the $7 every month, and never claim the free audiobook. Audible.com probably makes a huge profit off of this campaign, because people end up spending much more money than usually would ($84 a year minimum), and then don’t even claim their products! So how on earth do they get people to sign up to this strange deal? They do it by giving you a free audiobook before joining. All you have to do is go to their website, find one book that you like, and you can download it for free. After that, you have the choice whether or not to pay the $7 a month subscription; there is no coercion here. But after someone has gotten a whole free audiobook, which probably costs next to nothing for Audible.com, they feel compelled to give something in return – and how about a $7 per month subscription? This is how the rule of reciprocity is used every day to get people from all cultures around the world to buy things that they usually never would have bought. How can you use this rule to your favor when getting someone to sign up to your newsletter, or to spread your article across social networking sites? How long would it take you to create a small gift that could be used over and over again for thousands of people? What would you do if every person who visited your website felt compelled by a strong psychological force to comply with some request of yours?
Speaking from Authority
Another thing that people are “hardwired” to respond to is authority – or perceived authority. If you can get people to associate you with some kind of authority, research suggests that about 95% of people will be willing to do absurd acts like walk into traffic, give money to bystanders on a street, or administer a 450 volt electric shock to an innocent stranger, just because you tell them to. The reason for this is that people are trained from childhood to respond to any kind of authority – authority has always been where our protection, rewards, and punishment have come from in our lives. Think about it, parents, teachers, bosses, doctors, policemen, and so forth, all expect us to obey them for our own sake. But what happens if someone simply dresses like a policeman? Or plays a doctor in a popular television show, and then is hired to promote the “healthfulness” of a coffee product in a commercial? Research suggests that compliance is effected by the associations of authority, which includes anything from a title (like M.D. or Ph.D.), to a confident-sounding voice. How can you use this effect to your advantage when selling your products or getting someone to sign up to your optin-form? Perhaps you could get a strong testimonial, or you could mention professional research surrounding your niche before pitching your sale, so that your readers associate this kind of academic authority with your product.
One of the strongest ways to convince people that your product is good is by showing them that others think that way about it. The funny thing about this is that since professional marketers know this so well today, instead of describing their product in commercials, often they spend the entirety of the commercial telling you who else likes it! We are hardwired to find shortcuts to answers by looking at the responses of the people around us. As an extreme example, like when a fire alarm goes off, most times people will fail to react to it if nobody around them reacts – everyone looks to one another to see what to do. The same thing happens with movie reviews, music, books, software products, and so on. People do have their own opinions, but more often than not, they are greatly influenced by their context. Take the example of Joshua Bell performing on his $3.5 million violin in New York City station, completely unnoticed by the thousands of people rushing past him, who altogether managed only to spare $35 for his hour-long performance. Compare this with a situation in which he is alone on a stage before two thousand guests who have each paid over $150 for their seat in the audience – to watch him play the very same piece! In which situation does he get the standing ovation? If you want your product to get the attention it deserves, sometimes you need to show that it already does get attention.