Cardinal Path’s response to COVID-19 Cardinal Path is sharing all we know to help marketers during COVID-19.  Learn more.

I recently wrote a post on the rule of reciprocation. The principle is simple enough: when someone does us a favor, we feel a strong impulse to give something back.

Today I’d like to examine a few ways in which we can use this principle to increase sales or leads over the holiday season.

Lead Generation

In lead generation sites, we can use the principle of reciprocation to provide additional motivation for leads to engage with us.

For example, write to your most promising leads, letting them know you’ve made a charitable donation on their behalf. It needn’t be a huge donation, so long as it’s somehow in keeping with the holiday spirit. Perhaps a small donation of goods to your local food bank, “to allow a less fortunate family to enjoy a Holiday dinner”.

Better yet, make a donation to your lead’s local food bank. This shows not only have you made a gift, but you’ve put in some effort (in terms of research) to do so. When your leads see that you’ve gone to considerable effort on their behalf, they’ll feel a stronger obligation to reciprocate.

Naturally, it may not be possible to do this for all your potential leads. But it might be a good way to push a few of your best leads over the edge, to give them that final motivation they needed to engage with you. And even if it doesn’t work, you’ll have the consolation of knowing you’ve made a worthy (and tax deductible!) contribution.


In e-commerce sites, it’s harder to make donations for your potential customers. There are simply too many of them, and you probably don’t even know who most of them are. But there are still ways you can use the principle of reciprocation. For example:

  • Offer to make a seasonally-appropriate charitable donation with every sale. Better yet, allow your customer to pick the charity.
  • Give select customers a distinct coupon, and position the coupon as a gift. That is, include messaging to the effect that “As a special thanks for your valued business, we’re giving you this exclusive gift coupon as a Christmas present.”

In any case, bear in mind that the principle generally works better with completed gifts, rather than conditional gifts. (i.e. “We have made a donation on your behalf” generally works better than “We will make a donation if you purchase.”)