“In evolutionary biology, reciprocal altruism is a behavior whereby an organism acts in a manner that temporarily reduces its fitness while increasing another organism's fitness, with the expectation that the other organism will act in a similar manner at a later time.” (Wikipedia)
This concept is an important one for marketers and brands; the key to not only understanding the anthropological interdependence of members within communities but also in understanding how to develop deeper relationships with consumers.
Simply stated, reciprocal altruism is doing something that would be appreciated by the receiver without expecting something immediately in return – much like a gift. When we give a gift, we do not expect a gift in return, but rather hope for a positive, joyous emotional reaction. A good gift is one that the recipient wants rather than the one that we want to give. The greatest gift is the one that is truly unselfish. No ulterior motives. No covert desires to get the recipient to like what we like. True altruism. The greatest gift that every company can give to their respective consumers and clients is the “gift of knowledge.”
One of the problems for many marketers looking to bestow the “gift of knowledge” on their consumers is that the knowledge is typically centered around their brand. For example, brand websites are meant to be a place of convenience for consumers, a “gift” filled with valuable and easily accessible information about the brand and its features, benefits, etc.
But what about gifts that entice consumers to purchase more like loyalty programs? Rewards programs are designed to give people gifts for their purchase loyalty, but don’t they also entice consumers to purchase more? Is this truly an altruistic gift? Are marketers really giving consumers a “gift of knowledge” or are they giving them brand information and purchase incentives disguised as a gift.
The principle also holds true for marketers’ clients. Are marketers giving clients true gifts of knowledge or are they giving them more product knowledge disguised as gifts? Are manufacturers always trying to sell their clients something? Are you perceived by your client as someone trying to sell something or as a person who is genuinely interested in their growth and development?
Yes, we want consumers and clients to buy our brands. We are measured by the number of units or cases of a product we sell. The principle of reciprocal altruism suggests that if we are unselfish in what we deliver to others, over time, they will reward our behavior. Brands that practice reciprocal altruism will develop deeper relationships with their consumers and clients. These deeper relationships will yield greater consumer affinity and loyalty to your brand, resulting in greater volume.
If you want to build your business, sometimes you need to be unselfish. Give your consumers real gifts without perceived strings attached. Include reciprocal altruism in your marketing mix and give the true gift of knowledge to the people you care most about; your consumers and your clients.