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Tim Riesterer

Corporate Visions

Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer

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The value of contrast


What if changing one thing in your message could impact four crucial purchase intent-related actions? Would you be interested?

I’m here to tell you that you can do just that. New research shows that using one simple messaging technique can increase your influence on buying decisions by a statistically significant margin.

Here’s how I reached that conclusion.

Working with Dr. Zakary Tormala, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, I helped develop an experiment that tests the persuasive impact of messaging, pitches or presentations that create contrast—specifically, contrast between a prospect’s current state and a proposed future state.

To that end, we wanted to find out whether highlighting key differences between a desirable future state and a painful present state would have a statistically significant impact on influencing buying decisions in your favor. Could contrast, versus simply presenting future state information alone, actually soften a prospect’s resistance to doing something different?

We began the online experiment by telling two separate groups of roughly 100 participants each to imagine they’d had their current smartphones for about a year and were reading information about a new phone option. Before viewing the information, participants were told they’d receive information about the new smartphone’s features and benefits beginning on the following page.

What they didn’t know, though, is that before the study, they had been randomly assigned to two different presentation conditions. For each condition, the presentation differed in two key aspects: the presence and location of the information concerning issues and problems with their current phones.

The first group viewed a non-contrast (future benefits only) condition in which participants received a list of four of the new smartphone’s features and benefits. Participants were given no additional information.

The second group, on the other hand, viewed a contrast (current issues/future benefits) condition, receiving an identical list of features and benefits for the new phone. But they also received a list of four issues or problems connected to their current phones, correlating to each of the features and benefits of the new device.

So essentially, the experiment pitted a current state/future state contrast condition against a future state-only condition. The question is, which presentation proved more impactful?

Although all participants received identical information about the new smartphone’s features and benefits, the study found that this information was more compelling and more persuasive when it was directly compared to the limitations of the current smartphones.

The comparative, side-by-side presentation outperformed the future benefits-only scenario by a statistically significant margin in several key areas of influence, including:

Purchase intent: Those who experienced the contrast condition reported greater interest in and a higher likelihood of purchasing the new smartphone. These conditions created, on average, a 14-plus percent bump in purchase intent.

Willingness to Change: Participants in the contrast conditions reported more favorable attitudes toward the new phone and a greater willingness to switch to it—and even pay more—by a difference of 14-plus percent.

Advocacy: Comparative condition participants were 12-plus percent more likely than future state-only participants to advocate on behalf of the new smartphones (in essence, to share information about the phone and recommend it to others).

Perception of Quality: Comparative condition participants found the new smartphone to be of higher quality, more innovative, and to stand as a more marked improvement over their current devices. Across these areas, the comparative condition outperformed the future state-only condition by a margin of 13-plus percent.

The superiority of the comparative condition was further validated by testing two other contrast presentations (putting information on separate screens or in different positions on the screen) against the future benefits-only scenario. These contrast conditions also bested the latter by the same statistical differences across all the measured dimensions.

The implications of this experiment are potentially transformative: Taking the simple step of creating contrast between a current and future state can amplify the persuasiveness of your message and sway deals in your favor. So, to make your “why change” story that much more impactful, be sure to sharpen the distinction between the pain of where your prospect is today and the resolution your solutions can provide them.




Author Profile Picture
Tim Riesterer

Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer

Read more from Tim Riesterer

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