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Last updated on May 18, 2023

How messaging should change for new customers vs existing customers

“If you confuse, you lose.”

You’ve probably heard that before. Ask any marketer adept in copywriting and they’ll tell you how important messaging is.

We could go on for days about the customer avatar and marketing to one person.

But even then, cold Facebook ads vs repurchase ads should have a different messaging style.

Similarly, the email content in your welcome flow should defer from your repurchase and win-back flows.

Here’s what most marketers (even branding specialists) don’t realise.

The buying psychology between prospects and customers is entirely different

There’s a 180-degree difference between what motivates your prospects versus your existing customers to buy. And it’s all because of a psychological concept called Status Quo Bias.

Image credits: thedecisionlab

This directly affects how you acquire or re-acquire customers.

Over the years, psychological studies have shown that when faced with a decision, most people tend to stick with their status quo. People have an inherent aversion to doing something different than what they’re doing today.

Image credits: thedecisionlab

In a customer acquisition conversation, you need to tell a powerful, disruptive story that shows them how their current situation is unsafe and unsustainable. By not changing, they’re putting themselves at greater risk of not achieving their objectives.

In a customer retention conversation, you need to take the opposite approach. Because you are your customer’s status quo, you can use Status Quo Bias to your advantage. Lean into the risk of changing from their current situation and reinforce your value as the safest choice.

Makes sense right?

Yet, the majority of sales and marketing leaders have never differentiated their messaging approach between customer acquisition and customer retention.

Just look at retargeting ads or upsell emails you get from brands after you bought their product.

Chances are, you’ll see the same provocative messages they use when communicating with new prospects are still applicable in a renewal scenario.

Using a one-size-fits-all approach puts your revenue and growth at risk

The most effective message for acquiring new prospects is a disruption-minded message that creates urgency and drives big changes and mentality shifts in your prospects.

But “big changes” aren’t always the goal when you’re trying to persuade your customers to stay and keep buying from you. So it’s no surprise that the same provocative approach that worked wonders in your first interaction with them, the customer acquisition scenario, actually backfired in a customer retention one.

Considering that most of your revenue and growth will likely (and should) come from renewals and upsells, you don’t want to provoke your hard-won customers.

Because you might accidentally open the door for bright shiny object syndrome and they could end up looking over at your competition or for alternatives.

How to treat customers differently, at scale

This is where segmentation comes into play.

Audience segmentation is one of the simplest, yet most powerful things you can do in your marketing.

It is essentially separating customers into buckets; non-customers vs first time-customers vs repeat customers.

Create ad sets for different audience segments, with different ad creatives and ad copies

You can bucket customers as granular as you want, as long as it makes sense for your resources and audience sizes.

For those who haven’t bought from you, you can filter them by those who’ve signed up to your list, number of times they’ve visited a certain page, whether they’ve added to cart before etc.

For existing customers, you can filter them by number of transactions made with your store or amount spent with you, number of items bought, categories bought etc.

Audience segmentation can be done easily within email marketing platforms

Based on these behaviours, you can develop specific messaging that satisfies their intent.

Win more customer acquisition and customer retention conversations

Your prospects and customers are asking themselves important questions when they’re deciding to make a purchase from you. Questions like:

Why Change – Why should I change from my current situation?

Why You – Why should I choose you instead of someone else?

Why Stay – Why should I renew with you?

Why Evolve – Why should I deepen my relationship with you?

To answer these questions effectively, you need to build persuasive messages that they resonate with (refer to your customer avatar worksheet), deliver them in useful content that helps move them through the customer journey.

Tactics to manage status quo and risk reversal biases

Ok now you’ve defined your customer avatar and segmenting them into buyers vs non-buyers. The next step is to manage the biases within your copy/ marketing assets.

Loss aversion and regret avoidance

When making a decision where we must choose between the default option and its alternatives, we treat the status quo as a reference point, or baseline. The status quo is familiar; we know what to expect from it. To choose the alternative, on the other hand, would be to take a risk.

How to prevent: Provide risk reversal like…

  • 30-day free returns
  • Full refund options
  • Warranties and extended warranties
  • Free order cancellations within 24h
  • Buy-now-pay-later

Or… Give confidence with…

  • Testimonials
  • Reviews
  • User-generated content
  • Recommendations by influencers
  • Approvals from authorities/ organisations

Decision-making can be overwhelming

Although status quo bias can cause us to make poor decisions, there is a reason why we continue to resort to it. When faced with a choice, it is not always obvious what the correct decision is.

In fact, about 20% say that most of their effort is spent on comparison shopping.

To help consumers evaluate choices, most brands describe their differentiating features and benefits. Some go a step further, offering buying guides containing side-by-side brand or product comparisons.

Both approaches provide lots of information, but neither offers much guidance, leaving the consumer as confused as ever about the “best” choice.

How to prevent:

  • Quizzes (One-click questions about hair type, length, and texture (straight, short, fine, thick) and other needs (color treatment, volume) allow the visitor to rapidly sort through more than three dozen offerings to find the ideal one
  • Filters based on customer problems, instead of your company’s pre-set categories
  • Pop-up recommendations based on product views/add-to-carts
  • Clear collections and mega menus

Given the rapid introductions of new products and new market entrants, brands will have ever-increasing opportunities to bombard customers. And if history is any guide, that’s exactly what they’ll do.

But in their aggressive efforts to engage with their customers, they’ll only make the decision journey more complex and confusing, ironically reducing the chances customers buy.

Brands that focus on simplifying customers’ decision-making and speak to their purchase intent will rise above the crowd, and their customers will stick by them as a result.