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Give before you take: How the principle of reciprocity applies to mobile marketing

When it comes to mobile marketing, there is such a thing as too much, too soon. Consumers have a very personal connection to their mobile devices, and many are rarely more than 5 feet away from their device at all times. While push notifications are known for high engagement rates among users, to get users to opt in marketers need to first prove that they will offer value, says Raluca Budiu, senior researcher at Nielsen Norman Group, a user experience consulting firm.

"Users will be tempted to say no when they are asked if they want to receive push notifications and the app has not yet gained their trust," explains Budiu, whose article, The Reciprocity Principle: Give Before You Take in Web Design, tells mobile marketers how to avoid annoying users and instead strengthen consumer loyalty with push notifications. One way to strengthen loyalty is by remembering the aforementioned personal connection. As Ryan Hofmann wrote in his recent post, 5 tips for personalizing push notifications, "Push not only promises to build customer loyalty, but it also drives unplanned purchases."

Budiu recently gave more guidance on how the Reciprocity Principle can apply to mobile marketing:

Q: What can go wrong when marketers send push notifications too soon?

A: Push notifications can be really annoying — and many apps are guilty of using them unwisely. Upfront requests can deplete users’ patience and make them more likely to quit the app sooner than they would otherwise. If this is the case and the user has denied an initial request, the app can always ask again, after the user has used the app.

Q: How can marketers earn the customer's loyalty beforehand?

A: Offer them something useful first; show what the app is about and let them interact with it. After they’ve spent some time with the app, users will be more likely to understand the types of push notifications that they will receive and why their current location, for example, may be needed.

Q: What is the Reciprocity Principle, and how have you applied it to mobile marketing?

A: It’s one of the classic laws of social psychology and in my many studies on consumers I found that it applies well. People are more likely to be patient with mobile marketing and willing to accept requests from a brand when the mobile app starts with a good experience and helps them easily accomplish their goals.

Q: Are there any companies that are benefiting from the Reciprocity Principle? 

A: Epicurious rightly asks for permissions to use the microphone only when the user taps the Voice Control button. In that context, it is logical for the user to say yes, since it’s clear why the app needs that permission. Should the app have asked for it on the first screen, before the user had gotten a chance to form a mental model of how this app works, it would have looked unnecessary and the app’s request would have been likely rejected.

Q: What else should marketers keep in mind about this principle?

A: Before making a request to the users, ask yourself — did the site deliver enough so that people will be willing to take the time to reciprocate by accepting your request? At the heart of good user experience is ease of use. For instance, apps shouldn't require users to enter a lot of data or be focused overly simplified tasks.

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