Los Lobos, Reciprocity and 5 Ways to Build a Brand Relationship

Los Lobos, Reciprocity and 5 Ways to Build a Brand RelationshipI took my 12-year-old son to see his first concert two months ago. We had more than our fair share of good luck – Los Lobos, the East L.A. band that has been performing for 37 years now and that I last saw in Tokyo in the mid-80’s – was playing literally down the street from our house.

The show itself was fantastic. But the real story was what the band did after the show was over, and it holds a lesson for every brand – and band – that is striving for loyalty in an increasingly jaded world.

As the show ended, the band announced that they would be out front to meet and greet fans. My son, who is a budding guitarist himself, elbowed his way into line – third, in a line that now stretched hundreds deep. As we stepped up to the table where the musicians were sitting and signing autographs, Steve Berlin, the band’s sax player, looked at my son and said, “Are you a musician?” Hearing that he plays guitar, Berlin turned to lead singer and guitarist David Hidalgo and said, “Hey, David – this guy’s a guitarist, too!” Hidalgo stood up, shook my 12-year-old’s hand, and the two of them talked privately for five minutes. The line waited.

When we seek to build a relationship, the most powerful decision trigger in our arsenal is reciprocity: We feel strong social pressure to give back when we’ve received something of value. When the gift is unexpected and personal, the social pressure is that much higher. You wonder why so many $80,000 sports cars are sold because of an $8 T-shirt given to the child of the prospective customer? Wonder no more.

Our defenses drop when we’ve been given a gift. At Decision Triggers, we work with clients on bringing this psychological lens to bear on our clients’ customer-facing initiatives so that they can get to yes faster, and often we see opportunities to apply the trigger of reciprocity.

How many ways can we, as businesspeople, give gifts to our customers, prospective ones as well as current ones? Does this cost a lot of money?

Here are five gifts you can give right now:

  1. Inside information: Do you have access to insider information that your market wants? News about new products, market trends or future happenings? This information, particularly when scarce, is valuable. And people appreciate hearing it from you. This makes you a trusted source and someone they’d love to do business with.
  2. Analysis: You are more of an expert in your own field than your prospective customers are. What value can you add to their understanding of your field? This is something you can offer that they will value. We live in a digital age and publishing tools are all around us.
  3. Knowledge: Make your prospects experts. The more they know, the more they want to share with their friends. We all have egos and we like to be thought of as experts.
  4. Time: Did David Hidalgo spend money when he talked to my son? Did he give him a CD or a T-shirt? No. He spent time and personal, undivided attention – something we can give freely.
  5. Honesty: How many ways can you convey credibility to your market with an honest perspective on a blog, on Twitter or elsewhere? Can you argue against your own self-interest for a moment and show your audience that you are someone they can trust?

I recently spoke to a colleague at one of the largest consumer sentiment tracking organizations in the country and he shared a big insight with me.

He told me what I already knew – that the economy is a mess, we don’t trust companies – or institutions of any sort – and we expect them to let us down.

But he mentioned that in the research his firm had done, he noted how we are increasingly responding to brands that are trying just as hard as we are. This is a powerful insight. And using reciprocity in a smart way helps us build that trust that is so lacking today.

My son is now a Los Lobos fan for life. So am I. And while the show was great, it was the demonstration of commitment to the next generation of fans – these guys are all grandfathers now – that struck me as so unique.

We bought a CD. We’ll buy more. A strong relationship has been built – just because of five minutes of time.

PS:  Here’s more on reciprocity for further reading! Feel free to join our newsletter mailing list if you’d like to hear more about using the social psychology of influence to tap your customers’ decision triggers here.


Stephen Denny Stephen Denny is a competitive strategy and marketing consultant, speaker and author. His book, Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath In Your Industry is now available. You can follow Steve online at Stephen Denny, where he blogs about strategy, marketing and big ideas.

2 Reactions
  1. Just remember that with today’s jaded consumers, the gift has to be “no strings attached.” Consumers are very aware they’re being marketed to and will run if they feel pressure. You must be as okay giving it away to a known freeloader as a potential golden client.