Give and thou shall Convert: Adding Reciprocity to your Email Marketing

We’re pulling out the Caldinis for all you email marketers out there!

Who hasn’t heard about the six scientific shortcuts to persuasion? More popular than a daytime soapie and twice as effective, they are the key to gaining and converting subscribers.

In this series, we’ll take you through some of these persuasion life-hacks that you can use to hack your way to email marketing success!

The Principle of Reciprocity

You have to give a little to get a little!

Have you ever noticed that just before you pay your bill at a restaurant, your waiter presents you with a small gift – often in the form of candy or a mint?

I bet you’ve never sat back in your chair and wondered why. You were probably too traumatized by the three digit number on the small piece of paper informing you that you’re going to be broke.

Well according to numerous psychology researchers, the mere action of giving this small gift has a subtle effect on how much you’re willing to tip!

Psychologists boil this down to three factors:

  1. It puts you in a slightly better mood and thus helps you empathise with the waiter
  2. It influences you to be more lenient in your evaluation of their service
  3. It appeals to your nature to give something back – in other words, your reciprocity!

Simply put, reciprocity is the obligation to give once you receive. The waiters in the experiments enjoyed double the tip amount for one mint (3%), quadruple the amount for two mints (14%) and went as high as 23% when the waiter provided extra gifts unexpectedly!

Sweetening Email Marketing

Now how can you apply this fact to email marketing?

According to Caldini, the above principle of reciprocity works best when something is freely given, personalized and unexpected.

In every email that asks users to take an action – whether it be clicking on a link, buying a product or sharing information – you should offer a small gift or offering. These gifts can be downloads, discounts or even entertaining videos, however, they should be seen as having some kind of inherent value in order to be effective.

Email service providers have many tools such as personalization and segmentation to make readers feel special. Here’s 3 core ideas how each can contribute to the principle of reciprocity in email marketing.

1. Send resources of interest to different segments of your subscriber base

Email service providers offer powerful segmentation tools that allow senders to send unique content to each segment. This means you can send resources appealing to individuals based on their age, location or any other demographic you can think of!

The above example was an email sent to my inbox a week after I signed up for a Search Engine Optimisation webinar. As you can see, it’s filled with useful resources based on my previous action of signing up for an SEO webinar.

The links lead to more content on SEO and eventually a signup page for more information or even services related to SEO.

2. First Contact: Offer personalized discounts with unique coupons and offers.

By offering personalized coupons you essentially offer a personalized, unexpected gift to the recipient – and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a coupon! It could be a free trial or free service – anything that gives a discount or trial of something that would otherwise cost the user something.

Using Email marketing automation software with this principle will increase engagement tremendously because the gift you’ll offer will be based on whatever actions they took on your website or email.


I’m sure readers are familiar with the above email, but it’s an example that everyone can relate to.

LinkedIn offers a free trial of their premium services – which gives you information of other applicants in an attempt to give intelligence on what your competition is like in the professional market.

3. Continuing the Reciprocity Cycle with the Last Offer


After your recipient has performed the action you’d like them to perform, it’s a good idea to send another email with a different gift as “thanks”. This gesture not only keeps the conversation going, but it also creates a “cycle of reciprocity” encouraging further business in the future.

email marketing newsletter

Closing the cycle is exactly what this email does.

After signing up, the landing page informs you to look out for an email with a small gift inside – which turn out to be three! Such a “gift” is somewhat unexpected yet valuable to the subscriber as they’re signing up to an email marketing tips website.

This makes it a great example of continuing the reciprocity cycle and encouraging further information.

Let’s Recap

  • Reciprocity is a basic principle of human psychology 
  • Marketers can use this to their advantage
  • Email marketers can use reciprocity by offering useful, personalized and unexpected “gifts” to their subscribers due to the tools at their disposal.

There are many other psychological quirks that marketers take advantage of daily that can be incorporated into an email marketing campaign.

Can you spot any more in your inbox?

Mark Brown

After doing film making, freelance copy writing and marketing Mark has joined GraphicMail as copywriter. With a love of the strange, artistic and technological, Mark's interests are as varied and peculiar as he is. Mark loves to express his flavor on paper... or flickering screen to keep his readers informed and entertained."