A Direct Marketing Lesson from Dwight K. Schrute

By | May 5, 2011

By Liz Swanson

If forced to watch only one show for the rest of my life, without a doubt, I would choose “The Office.” I love Michael’s eternal quest for love; I love Angela’s obsession with her cats; I love Creed’s sketchiness. I wish I was a Pam, but alas am probably closer to a more intelligent version of a Kelly Kapoor. 

And then there’s Mr. Dwight Schrute. Paper sales maven. Beet farmer. Former Lackawanna County volunteer sheriff’s deputy. A jack-of-all-trades, if you will. Although it’s difficult to choose just one favorite Dwight moment, for the purposes of this direct marketing blog, I turn to Episode 109, “Double Date.” In this episode, Dwight brings in bagels for his coworkers so that they owe Dwight a favor in return. His plan is to cash in those debts by demanding that they help him get Jim fired. Dwight quickly loses the upper hand with Andy Bernard when Andy shines Dwight’s briefcase. The two continue to pay each other back for the niceties each bestows on the other. Hilarity ensues, and ultimately, Dwight’s plot does not pan out. 

Dwight, however, was onto something, something that can be powerful technique that direct marketers can leverage in their campaigns: the reciprocity principle. People respond to one another in similar ways–both positive and negative. In the example from “The Office,” Dwight expected others to do something nice for him (get Jim fired) because he did something nice for them (bought them bagels). 

A great example of this in the marketing world is the return labels you receive from charities. They give you those handy, dandy return labels; you feel obligated to donate to their charity.

Financial service marketers have offered their prospects free financial evaluations. After sending the evals, the financial services company will then ask for that recipient’s business.  I’ve also been in many webinars and conferences where a Kindle or an iPad are given away. Why? “We gave you a cool new gadget; you should give us your business.” And we also see this principle play out on Twitter. As Twitter etiquette dictates, you should follow back those that follow you.  

Find ways to use the reciprocity principle in your own direct marketing. What can you give to your prospects so that they feel obligated to give you business? It doesn’t have to be as fancy as a new iPad–it could be a free evaluation or consultation. Test offers, and discover what makes your audience respond.

Maybe a free bagel wasn’t enough for Dwight’s coworkers to help him get Jim fired, but his strategy was dead-on with direct marketing best practices. 


Liz Swanson is a Marketing Services Specialist with Iron Mountain

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