It’s great to be provocative with marketing when looking to attract new customers, adopting the “challenger” status and never ceasing to educate consumers about the new and exciting opportunities. But with current customers? Not so much.
When it comes to getting customers to renew their relationship with a company (particularly in a long-term setting), provocative messaging approaches can actually work against the incumbent, according to an experiment conducted by marketing messaging and content company Corporate Visions.
“Provoking and challenging your customer is not a universal approach,” Tim Riesterer, chief strategy officer at Corporate Visions, tells Marketing Daily. “It causes [customers] to think about other options. You might actually be opening them up to the competitive landscape.” (Provocative messaging involves "challenging" the consumer to think differently about what they're doing, he says. This is opposed to product selling which "pushes features, functionality and benefits, usually in a generic manner," according to Harvard Business Review.)
The company worked with social psychologist and Stanford Graduate School of Business teacher Zakary Tormala to test two provocative selling messages against one that reinforced keeping the status quo among consumers looking to renew a contract. The study found that those who received provocative messaging were 10% more likely to switch providers than those who received the message reinforcing the status quo.
“If you use a provocative message [to renewing customers], it actually does the opposite,” Riesterer says. “You may be provoking them, but you’re provoking them to think about everything.”
In addition, the participants who received the status quo reinforcement message had a 13% boost in intentions to renew, a 9% boost in positive attitudes toward their current provider and a 7% lift in credibility perceptions.
The results suggest that the time to use provocative messaging to current customers is over the length of a relationship, but not at the time when the customer could leave the status quo without penalty, he says.
“You need to be more situationally sensitive to the position you are in,” Riesterer says. “You have many opportunities to challenge things, but the time of renewal is not the time to do it.”