Ever wonder why we feel so obligated when it comes to returning a favor? Or why we buy the cheese after we get the free samples at Costco? Or why it’s so hard to say no to a request after someone has been nice to us?

In 7 Persuasion Pillars, I lay out the seven psychological tactics used in marketing and reciprocity is one of the most popular – and frequently used – tactic on the list.

So what is reciprocity and what drives us to return favors, open emails, send Christmas cards or buy something we don’t want, especially when we think we’re in control of what we do each day?

This week, I’m sharing the secrets of this mega powerful persuasion strategy and why your business absolutely needs to incorporate it into your marketing plan.

free samples

The Rule of Reciprocity & Why It Works

The rule of reciprocation states that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. And since reciprocity rarely happens immediately, we are obligated to future repayment and in effect, feel indebted until that repayment is made.

It’s such a strong rule of behavior that social and cultural scientists have witnessed its effects in vastly different cultures around the world. In fact, scientists have yet to find a culture that does not practice this rule.

And it’s a psychological trigger that we have absolutely no control over. That’s right, it’s completely automatic.

So what’s this have to do with marketing, you ask?

Well, a lot.

As a marketing tactic, the “free sample” has a long and successful history. From brick & mortar shops to online businesses, the free sample is a smart technique for acquiring new customers.

Free samples can be physical products, food samples or even “opt-ins” (like this one right here).

The beauty of a free sample – aside from informing and educating the customer – is to prompt a natural sense of indebtedness in the person when they accept the free gift.

And while opt-ins work wonders for the rule of reciprocity to work, so do cleverly crafted refund policies.

The sense of indebtedness doesn’t occur just from gifts but also from trial uses. Most customers will feel indebted when they’ve even partially consumed a product, making refunds less common in all types of sales. 

Give them a sneak peek, $1 trial or other behind-the-scenes taste of what you offer and nine out of ten people won’t ask for a refund and nearly half will opt-in to the more expensive sales offer in your sales funnel.

Finally, the rule of reciprocity enhances the chance that we will comply with a later request whether we like the person or not. That means that it doesn’t matter if someone is a raving fan or newbie who knows nothing about you, the rule still applies.

How to Craft an Irresistible (And Value-Driven) Freebie

Now that you understand the psychology behind the free sample strategy, how can you use it in your business to influence and educate?

Freebies like e-guides, video series, checklists, templates, audio files, and mini-courses are great examples of opt-in freebies used for online businesses.

But in order to make your freebie a frequently downloaded and treasured resource, you’ll need to do these three things first:


Freebies are a dime a dozen these days. Pop on to anyone’s website and my bet is, you’ll find a freebie in less than 15 seconds. 

When creating a freebie (checklist, guide, audio, challenge, video series…), think quality not quantity.

Pack whatever your giving away with so much value that the person receiving the free gift can’t help but trust, like and respect you.

Value is Queen and whatever you create, make it worthwhile to your ideal audience!


So many entrepreneurs get hung up in the smallest of details, they end up procrastinating or pushing off work because it’s not “perfect.”

Let me tell ya, perfection is a lie!

As a serial perfectionist, Type-A overachiever, I’ve spent my whole adult life re-framing the ideal of “perfect.” The solution that’s worked for me?

Make it great, not perfect.

This means do your best, whether that’s hire a copywriter or designer to snazz it up, or work your way through YouTube tutorials if need be. It means putting your best work out there, not holding back and giving it your all.

And then publishing it!

Edits, iterations and redesigns can be done later. For now, focus on doing your best work and don’t let the idea of perfection hold you back.


So many people are fearful of sharing their expertise online.

What if someone steals my work?

Am I giving away too much upfront?

These are common concerns and I’m going to challenge the status quo (so typical, I know) by saying this:

Do not hide your greatness behind generic landing pages or fluff-filled sponsored posts.

Sharing your brilliance with the world – whether that’s by blogs, videos or interviews – will only amplify your expertise and help you stand out online.

So many entrepreneurs ask for emails or opt-ins with vague promises and even worse free content. They keep all their “secrets” for paid clients when they should be sharing that knowledge and making a name for themselves.

When asking for someone to opt-in for your high value free gift, lead them there with thoughtfully written blog posts, how-to videos or value-driven content that solidifies you as an expert in your field.


If you want a captivating and compelling freebie that helps your business stand out in a sea of online sameness, then grab a copy of the BrandStory Blueprint below. With its easy to implement exercises, you’ll create a brand story that attracts raving, paying clients in no time. Download your copy and get started today!


It's time to stand out and make the money,
meaning and impact you know you are capable of.

Download the Brand Story Blueprint to get started with story today!

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