These days, although nearly all shops offer their customers a reward programme, many companies are still struggling to find the best way to secure customer loyalty. PhD student Jacob Wiebenga and Professor of Consumer Behaviour Bob Fennis explored how subtle variations in the way progress information is dispensed can motivate consumers to continue saving via a reward programme. The researchers conclude that at the halfway point, customers benefit more from an overview of the results they have already achieved than from information about the number of points they still need to save to achieve their goal.
Wiebenga and Fennis focused their study on the phase halfway through a reward programme, when consumers hover somewhere between the starting point and their final goal. ‘Consumers tend to develop a ‘stuck in the middle’ feeling during this phase. This is known to be the point at which people lose their motivation to continue,’ says Wiebenga.
The researchers conducted several experiments together with BrandLoyalty, a company that devises international loyalty concepts for the food sector. In one experiment, two groups of test subjects saved for rewards in two different ways. One group collected stamps on a card that showed how many points they had already saved, while the other group had boxes stamped out of a saving card with the remaining boxes showing how long it would take them to reach their goal. At the halfway point, information about how many stamps had been saved appeared to be more motivating than an overview of the boxes that still needed to be stamped out.
Wiebenga: ‘Our research indicates that people who relate progress information to their starting point or final destination tend to overestimate the distance. Overestimating the distance you still have to travel is demotivating and increases the risk of giving up. However, overestimating how far you have come works as an incentive and encourages you to continue.’
The results of Wiebenga and Fennis’s research are not only relevant to companies offering reward programmes, but also in other situations where people are working to achieve goals. Wiebenga: ‘Halfway through a marathon, for example, it would be better to realize how far you have come than to think about just how far you still have to run.’
Contact: Jacob Wiebenga
The article The Road Traveled, the Road Ahead, or Simply on the Road? When Progress Framing Affects Motivation in Goal Pursuit will be published in the American Journal of Consumer Psychology in January 2014.
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