Wiping the Fears from their Eyes: The Impact of Salespeople’s Communication Language on Customers’ Death-Related Consumption

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    The markets for death-related products and services are massive. Everyone will need to consume some of them at some point, and these offerings promise to help people prepare for death (e.g., life insurance), experience it (e.g., hospice care), and deal with the aftermath of death (e.g., funeral services). Despite substantial benefits to be gained from considering death-related products and services before they are required, consumers generally resist receiving marketing information about death-related products and services.

    We suggest salespeople’s communication could be an effective means to reduce customers’ resistance to or avoidance of sales information and enhance their purchase intentions toward death-related products or services. Extant marketing literature has established that communicated sales content influences customers’ purchase intentions, though relatively little research investigates how the language that salespeople use might determine consumption behaviors. We aim to address this broader research gap by investigating how salespeople’s language use (i.e., speaking in the target customers’ foreign vs. native language) affects customers’ purchases in the specific and relevant industry context of death-related products and services.

    On the basis of integrated insights from marketing, psychology, and linguistics, we propose that salespeople can communicate more effectively by using foreign language to persuade bilingual consumers. In line with terror management theory and emotional psychology research, we suggest that contemplating one’s death is fearful and could trigger the customer’s avoidance-oriented defense system. If a salesperson uses a language foreign (vs. native) to the customer though, it may reduce that customer’s avoidance of sales information and increase purchase intentions, by easing his or her fear of death. As extant evidence in foreign language literature reveals, using a foreign (vs. native) language in communication can attenuate the receiver’s emotions. When communicating about death-related products or services, a foreign language similarly seems likely to reduce death-related memory accessibility and imagery vividness, as well as increase death-related threat distance, each of which would reduce fears of death.

    We also consider potential moderators of this proposed language effect, such as product features, the strength and medium for salesperson–customer interactions, and consumer characteristics. Specifically, we propose that the foreign language effect might be attenuated for products featuring a sense of transcendence after death or for consumers who have a disposition to process information visually. In contrast, the effect might be amplified if the offering requires customer participation or the sales process involves a face-to-face (vs. mediated) interaction. We already have conducted a preliminary study; we plan to conduct six further studies, including both lab and field experiments, to test our propositions and the formal hypotheses.
    Effective start/end date1/10/2130/09/24


    Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.