Enough Is Enough! The Fine Line in Executing Multichannel Relational Communication

Andrea Godfrey, Kathleen Seiders, & Glenn B. Voss
Journal of Marketing
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Key Takeaways

Executive Summary
In an effort to build long-term, profitable relationships, many companies systematically engage in multichannel relational communication—personalized messages sent to existing customers through various channels as part of a broader relationship marketing strategy. However, what if such marketing communication drives customers away from rather than closer to the company? Despite its widespread use, multichannel relational communication has only recently gained attention in the marketing literature, and its effects on customer repurchase are not well understood. Although general consensus exists that some amount of communication is better than none, relevant marketing theories and the limited empirical evidence are equivocal as to whether there is an ideal level beyond which additional communication leads to diminishing or even negative returns. The mixed evidence regarding whether there is an ideal level of communication—and how that level might vary when firms use multiple channels—undermines managerial practice in terms of effectively allocating marketing resources.

In this research, the authors examine three key drivers of multichannel communication effectiveness: volume of communication, mix of communication channels, and alignment of those channels with customers’ preferences. They hypothesize that customer response to multichannel communication follows a continuum in which reciprocity explains response to lower levels of communication, the classic ideal point describes a transition phase, and reactance explains response to higher levels of communication. They provide empirical support for the theoretical framework by examining the impact of communication through three channels (telephone, e-mail, and mail) on repurchase over a three-year period. The longitudinal analysis provides a fine-grained examination of multichannel effects by combining data from three distinct sources: (1) customer contact records, (2) customer transaction data, and (3) survey data capturing customers’ channel preferences. The results indicate that there is an ideal level of communication volume that varies across channels and, after the ideal level is exceeded, customers react negatively. This negative response can be exacerbated by the use of multiple channels; however, aligning the channels with customer preferences can attenuate such negative effects.

Because shifts in the ideal point directly influence repurchase behavior, the research provides substantive insights that can lead to more effective customer relationship strategies. The results highlight the importance of considering the impact of specific channels, individually and in combination, rather than aggregate volume as a means to manage the communication channel mix more effectively. The study’s findings also underscore the need to avoid inefficient allocation of marketing resources by developing protocols that limit total communication through all channels and specify effective channel combinations. Taken together, the evidence suggests that multichannel communication must be carefully managed on multiple dimensions to avoid generating reactance and potentially driving customers away from rather than closer to a company.

Andrea Godfrey is Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of California, Riverside, where she joined the faculty in 2007 after receiving her PhD in marketing from the University of Texas at Austin. Previously, she worked for several years in the consulting engineering industry. Her research interests involve applying empirical models of consumer purchasing behavior to guide customer management strategies in retailing and service settings. Her research has been published in Journal of Marketing and Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. She also serves as an ad hoc reviewer for the Journal of Marketing, Marketing Science, and the Journal of Service Research. Since joining University of California, Riverside, she has taught courses in marketing research in both the undergraduate and MBA programs.

Kathleen Seiders is Associate Professor of Marketing and Hillenbrand Distinguished Fellow at Boston College. Before her academic career, she had a ten-year career in food retailing. Her research has been published in journals that include Journal of Marketing, Sloan Management Review, Academy of Management Executive, Journal of Retailing, Annals of Internal Medicine, and Journal of Public Policy & Marketing. Research interests include retailing and service strategy, customer convenience, and public policy and food marketing. She received best article awards for “Understanding Service Convenience” (Journal of Marketing) and “Obesity and the Role of Food Marketing” (Journal of Public Policy & Marketing). Professor Seiders is immediate-past president of the Academic Council of the American Marketing Association and serves on the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing and Journal of Service Research editorial review boards. Interviews include 60 Minutes, CBS Morning News, and NPR’s Marketplace. Before joining the Boston College faculty, she taught at Babson College and the Babson School for Executive Education, where she held the Constantine Simonides Term Chair.

Glenn B. Voss is Associate Professor and Marilyn and Leo Corrigan Endowed Professor of Marketing at Southern Methodist University. His research interests include innovation and organizational learning, customer satisfaction and relationship management, and retail pricing strategies. His research has been published in leading academic journals in marketing (e.g., Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research), management (e.g., Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science), and the arts (e.g., International Journal of Arts Management). He is the recipient of research grants awarded by the National Science Foundation, Marketing Science Institute, and Aspen Institute, among others. As an editorial review board member, Professor Voss was recognized as an Outstanding Reviewer at the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science for 2000–2003, 2003–2006, and 2008–2009, and at the Journal of Retailing in 2006 and 2010. He also is a member of the editorial review board for Journal of Services Research and an ad hoc reviewer for Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Marketing Science, Academy of Management Journal, and American Journal of Sociology. He has taught courses and seminars in marketing management and strategy, international marketing and entrepreneurship, and pricing strategy in MBA and doctoral programs in the United States, Europe, and China.

Journal of Marketing, Volume 75, Number 4, July 2011
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Author Bio:

Andrea Godfrey, Kathleen Seiders, & Glenn B. Voss
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