You don’t get something for nothing.
Take this blog. I spend my time writing and promoting posts, sharing thoughts and advice on life as a freelance copywriter. And I don’t get paid for it.
But I still expect a return. It’s nice to see my subscribers list growing. It’s lovely to get some feedback. It’s great that people share my website through social media, and Google (reluctantly) starts caring about what I do.
If I didn’t believe that blogging delivered some kind of return, I wouldn’t do it. I have better uses for my time.
So you get to read the blog for free.
But not for nothing.
And it turns out that giving something away is a particularly potent form of persuasion.
Give something away , get something back
I’ll give you some excellent copy, and you can give me some money.
That’s the reciprocation at the centre of every copywriting agreement, and every commercial transaction ever. It’s built into the way a capitalist culture works.
Let’s skip right back to cavemen. Ogg will swap his wife for your slab of meat. It’s a fair reciprocal arrangement (although I’m not sure Mrs Ogg would feel the same).
The idea of giving something and getting something in return has been around forever. No matter how hard we try, we can’t escape that.
But not every reciprocal event is direct. It’s not always as simple as a trade. Even when you’re altruistic and give something away without expecting something back, you get something anyway – a willingness to return the favour.
And that’s where it becomes useful to copywriters and marketers.
Get something free for free
Today, I received an email from .rising, an online news portal centred on digital marketing.
I’d never heard of them.
The first thing the email did right is focusing on a specific target audience. Funnily enough, that’s people who are interested in digital marketing.
The subject line (“Your invitation to .rising – unmissable digital marketing news”) tells me everything I need to know but, more importantly, makes it clear that this email applies to me.
When I opened it up, I was delighted to find that I’d been given a free subscription to the site. Somebody’s taken the time to set that up, so I don’t even have to fill out the online form.
Because, you see, filling out that form is all I would have to do. As I understand it, my free subscription entitles me to receive emails, which I could receive anyway if I’d ever discovered the .rising website.
They call it giving me a free subscription. Some people would call it subscribing me without permission.
So why am I still subscribed?
Reciprocation is about balance and relevance
So far, I’ve not had to do anything to become subscribed to the .rising mailing list. I haven’t had to fill out the box on the website, or confirm my email address.
It’s just started arriving.
Meanwhile, somebody at .rising has ventured onto Mailchimp and imported a batch of addresses, or added them manually.
They’ve done more than I have. And that makes our relationship feel unbalanced. I feel like I owe them a bit of my time.
That wouldn’t work for everyone. But it’s worked on me because they’ve combined relevance and careful targeting with the technique of reciprocation.
Now, on some level, I feel like the least I can do is receive a few emails, see what they’re like. I can always unsubscribe in a week.
They’ve done the marketing part, by selecting people who would probably be interested in what they’re offering, and using (even inadvertently) a powerful persuasive technique.
Now they just need to do the really hard part – deliver.