You’ll be familiar with the reciprocity principle in marketing if you’ve ever received a free sample, a gift from a charity, or been accosted by Scientologists / Hare Krishnas / Jehovah’s Witnesses. All of these people want to give you something, whether it’s a free pen, a flower or a copy of their magazine. They want to give you something because they know that you’ll find it much more difficult to resist when they ask you to do something for them. They’ll follow up their gift with a request for money, or for you to come to one of their meetings.
Robert Cialdini outlines in his brilliant book Influence why this works. Why do these groups know that if they give you a tiny something, you’re much more likely to do something for them, even if you don’t want to, even if you don’t like them? Cialdini says that we’re hardwired from caveman times to reciprocate if someone does something for us, that we must do something back. In ancient societies people gave away something to their neighbours, often in elaborate gift giving ceremonies, as an insurance policy. If I give something to you, you’ll help me out if I have difficulties. Or if I give something to other members of my tribal group, someone, maybe even a different person, will give back to me at some point. Lewis Hyde shows how this gift giving is enshrined in folk law and deeply embedded practices in his book The Gift, where he discusses whether we should see art and creativity as a gift, or as a product for sale.
Gifts need to have some value
How does this apply when you’re selling high value goods and services in a much more complex market place? How does it help you when your customers are much too sophisticated to be taken in by a freebie?
The reciprocity principle is so deeply embedded that we need to take it seriously for marketing of all kinds. But we need to be a little more subtle about it, as people have become reluctant to take the obvious freebies, as we don’t see them as gifts any more. I don’t see those promotional packets of mints and the other junk I get in the party bag after a conference as a gift any more. I expect the mints, and am disappointed that I didn’t get more chocolates. They’re my right, not a present someone has given me.
Andrew Nash, who runs Sussex Promotions, encourages businesses to give away higher value branded items such as this lipstick holder with mirror or Swiss Army knife, if they want people to see it as a gift. I’d be impressed if someone gave me one of these, and I’d keep it and use it every day.
“Being nice” gifts
Gifts don’t have to be physical tangible items. I know one person who was very successful for years in selling something which was out of date compared to his competitors, simply because he was wildly effusive every time he saw you, and insisted on being first at the bar. Because he’d been welcoming, and bought me numerous glasses of wine, I recommended him to people before I really thought about what he was selling. His investment of a few hundred quid on entertaining probably brought him in thousands of pounds of extra work each year.
Maybe your gift is a favour to someone. This is something skilled politicians use all the time. They will offer you some kind of advancement, maybe a contract they can put you forward for, someone they can put you in touch with. As with any gift giving, this can be done in a spirit of generosity, where I do something to help you, maybe by recommending your services because that’s my gift to you, freely given. Or it can be done in a mean spirited, controlling way. I’ve noticed several people pretend to offer me something which could lead to big chunks of work since I’ve become President of the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce. Funnily enough, the large contracts were not forthcoming, and I then worked out that this was just political manoeuvring to get me on to their side. I’m wise to this now, but it did take me a while to work it out.
Here are some ideas of things you can do in a clear and ethical way to use gift giving as part of your marketing:
- Thank people with a little something if they do you a favour. If someone recommends you for a job, or does something to help, send them a little something.
- Don’t overpower people with gift giving, or they will become uncomfortable. An ex client of mine had used small scale gift giving really well, but then blew it by sending one of her clients an Xbox 360 at Christmas. It was too much, and her client felt like she was being bribed. The contracts dried up after a while.
- Be generally generous. At Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce, we have 60 business people, including me, who all donate our time to helping the Chamber run smoothly. We’re all making the gift of our time and expertise to create something bigger, but we know that we’ll get profile and kudos back from this.
- Give away your knowledge. When I write this blog, I’m giving away lots of my know how – the business tips I give here are often inspired by something I’ve advised a client about and charged them £115 per hour for. In Julia Talks, I’m giving it away to you for free. Now, partly that’s because I like the sound of my own voice, and partly it’s because writing the blog helps me to develop my thinking, but mostly it’s because I know that people respond to this generosity – they’ve got something useful, and then when they need my know how for their specific business situation, they’ll come to me for some business advice and support. Won’t you?
This is the second in my series of marketing tactics and ideas – suggestions for you to use in marketing your business. This one is about referrals and how to get the right ones.
If you’ve been networking for your business and meeting lots of lovely business friends who are going to sell your services for you, why not make your life easier for your referrers by telling them exactly who you would like them to recommend you to?
Make a nice clear document explaining what it is you do, and the chief characteristics of the people you would like to buy from you. If I was doing a very short version of this for the Joy of Business, I’d explain that I help people with small businesses to grow into bigger businesses by advising, mentoring and coaching. I’d like to meet people who:
- Have had a business for a while, but are ready to grow it and make some decent money.
- Want to know the best way forward, and if they’re doing the right thing.
- Want some practical support on how to develop their business from someone who has done it before.
- Have the capacity to earn at least 50k a year, and probably want to earn more than that.
- Are at a key growth stage with their business.
Once you’ve done this, get someone who knows nothing about your business to check it for you to see if it makes sense, and if you’ve put the commas in the right places. And then email it to the nice people you’ve been meeting while you’ve been networking. Print it out and take it along with you when you have a networking cake date to give to people. Personally, I’d just do it in Word with my logo on, and print it out on my cheapo printer, but if you’re more of a design/creative/fancy sort of person you could get some little books printed pretty cheaply, and then people would be more likely to keep them.
Right, I’m off to practice what I preach, and do a longer list to send out to all my networking mates. By the way, if you recognised yourself on that list of people I’d like to meet, you might want to come and have a coffee and a chat about what’s happening with your business. You never know what might happen…
I was just arranging to meet up on a cake date with the lovely Jacky Misson. Jacky suggested that we meet on the 20th December because she’s finishing all her “proper work” the week before and spending the week up until Christmas just going for coffee and meeting up with business friends.
I thought this was a lovely idea – and one I want to copy and share with you. Too often, we find ourselves being very unproductive in that last week before the holidays, but Jacky’s idea means that you can still wind down before your break, and in a week when not a lot is going to be happening, but be productive because you’re gettting together with people who can help you and your business.
I commend the idea to you all
I’ll be doing a few talks in October, so if you’d like to come along and hear some of my stories about business, these are the ones to watch.
City Forum is a half day of ideas generation, discussion and planning for your thoughts about how Brighton should be. I’ll be on the panel at the culmination of the event to talk about the ideas which have come forward during the day, and how we take some of them forward. I’m pretty sure I’ll be talking about action, implementation and the role of businesses in the city.
This is a good event if you’re a Brightonian and want to be involved in how the city develops. If you’re just interested in networking for your business (and there’s nothing wrong with that) it’s not the one for you.
If you fancy it, find out more and book a ticket. It’s free.
Brighton Chamber Spotlight Supper
I’m one of the serial entrepreneurs speaking at this Spotlight Supper on the 19th October. A serial entrepreneur is someone who keeps setting up and running new businesses, not someone who has muesli for breakfast. Actually, I’m both, but I’ll resist temptation to repeat this very poor joke, and talk about my experience of running businesses since I was 23, and how I’m now running the Joy of Business and Tender Winner at the same time.
This is a good one for business networking in a friendly environment, with some pretty tasty food at the Hove Kitchen. It’s £16 for Chamber members. You are a member, aren’t you – otherwise it’s £28. Come along, it’ll be fun.
E-Thursday – Internet Entrepreneurs
The very next day, I’ll be on stage again at Sussex University’s E-Thursday, chairing a panel of online and digital business people who will be sharing their stories, and giving tips about how to run an online business. This should be a good one, book here to come along.
Lewes Hive is a new co-working space in Lewes. They’re running a series of lunchtime events and on the 27th October, I’ll be talking about how to enjoy being busy without killing yourself with hard work, and my experiences of building successful businesses while still having time to eat cake in the sunshine. It’s a fiver to come along and check out the Hive and hear me speak.
Looking forward to seeing you there
I’ve spoken at length about the Joy of Networking and how important it is for business. In essence, networking is about meeting the right people, and staying in touch for mutual benefit.
Today, I want to talk about one of my principal pleasures in life – cake dates. A cake date is a term I’ve stolen from Pete Jenkins over at e-Advantage and means going for coffee (and of course a cake) to find out more about a potential client/referrer/interesting person/business friend. Or to keep in touch with someone who is already an old client/referrer/interesting person/business friend.
Here are the cake date tips
These are just my cakes!
Do make sure that you talk business as well as catching up on the gossip. Do your research, read their blog, check them out on LinkedIn for mutual contacts and to find out more about their background. This gives you a better idea of what they’re about, and gives you chance to ask very specific questions about areas of their work which might have some synergy or overlap with what you do.
Be ready to tell stories about your business which shows how you work. I often ask people who their ideal client is, so that I can see how I might be able to make referrals and help out. And of course, then you can say who your ideal client is as well.
Be prepared to ask daft questions if you don’t understand something, and don’t be all British about asking about money. If you’re going to refer someone, or ask them to make referrals for you, you do need to understand how much they charge, otherwise you’re going to be barking up the wrong potential customer trees for them.
Spend an hour on talking about business, and then be prepared to head off. That way the cake date doesn’t eat too much into your day, and you can still afford 15 minutes for more social chit chat at the end of the date.
And do follow up and email to say that it was good to catch up so you’re reinforcing your message, and have a chance to be helpful again by sending them useful articles, contacts of other people who might be useful, etc.
And if you hit it off, add this person to your list of top referrers (see my Joy of Business system of networking) so you make sure you stay in touch and have a long and fruitful relationship.
Where to eat cake
I’m compiling a list of suitable cake date venues in Brighton, Hove, Sussex and London. They need to have excellent coffee, good cake and be quiet enough so that you can have a conversation without having to shout, or without the rest of the cafe hearing what your daily rate or current business issues are.
Where would you recommend for a cake date?
The delicious cakes shown above come are made by the delightful Jen Lindsay-Clarke at the amazing She Bakes If you ever need a fancy cake, give Jen a call