Why Stay: Remaining the Status Quo

Credit: Tim Riesterer, Corporate Visions

In the last content marketing strategy I shared (Why Change: Defeating Status Quo Bias), I outlined the most effective framework for how to tell your marketing message based on research by Stanford and Corporate Visions.

The premise was simple. When you’re marketing to new prospects, you’re asking them to change—to do something different than what they’re currently doing. Unfortunately, people don’t like change. Social psychologists even have a term for it: status quo bias.

Stanford and Corporate Visions studied status quo bias and found a powerful framework for combating it, wherein marketers need to disrupt the four root causes enforcing the brain’s resistance to change.

Go ahead and get the full framework here.

(I highly recommend reviewing that post before continuing with this one.)

The previous research—the “Why Change” study—validated a framework for what companies need to say in order to defeat status quo bias.

But what do you do when you ARE the status quo?

What do you do when you’re the incumbent? When your success depends on protecting customer relationships? Is there an ideal messaging approach for keeping customers, too? The answer is yes.

Spoiler: If you’re more of a visual person, here’s Tim from Corporate Visions explaining the strategy in Phoenix. It’s fantastic. Highly recommended watching it.

“Here’s the bottom line,” Tim says. “You can statistically, significantly improve the intention to renew by actually reinforcing status quo bias.”

To defeat status quo bias, we learned that you need to defeat these four things:

But to remain the status quo, you need to reinforce those four things:

The following are the five key steps for reinforcing status bias, as well as the actual scripts that were used in the stuy so you can see how the messages were framed and the structure that provides the best results.

Step 1: Document results

Whenever you start a renewal conversion, you should begin by documenting the results and successes you’ve had. This comes before any of the status quo stuff.

Open with the recap that revenue has improved X%, satisfaction has gone up by y%, certain goals that were set out have been achieved, etc.

List anything and everything that’s good.

Step 2: Validate prior decisions

Now we get to the good stuff—the brain science.

Your first step to reinforcing status quo bias is to reinforce preference stability, because (hint hint) their current preference is for you.

Corporate Visions says: “Make a point of reminding customers of the long, hard process they went through to make their original buying decision. This will reinforce their natural tendency to keep their previous decisions and preferences stable.”

Step 3: Mention risks of change

The next step to solidifying status quo bias is to show customers that changing something at this point is risky, which reinforces their anticipated regret and blame.

Remind them how much effort it took to ramp up. How much time was spent onboarding everyone, managing the changes, and getting the implementation done.

Again, the message here should be that changing anything at this point risks stalling or taking a step backwards and once more leaves them vulnerable.

Step 4: Highlight cost of change

The second-last step to reinforcing status quo bias is to highlight costs of change.

Walk customers through the start-up costs that were invested and have now been returned through improved performance. Plus, point out that you’re now part of the ongoing operating budget.

People believe change costs more than staying the same—confirm that.

Step 5: Reinforce selection difficulty

The last step to reinforcing status quo bias is to reinforce selection difficulty.

Corporate Visions says: “Let your customer know you’ve continued to update your program to keep pace with other competitive offerings in the market. People struggle to change if they don’t see sufficient contrast between alternatives. And though it may seem counterintuitive, there is less pressure to prove competitive differentiation during a renewal discussion. In fact, it may be optimal to demonstrate that you are more alike.”

At the end of the day, the smartest thing you can say is that you’re more or less the same as everybody else.

“When all our life we’ve been taught to be different,” Tim says, “potentially in this moment the most important thing you can say is ‘We’re not.’ Because if you’re not, why would [the customer] take the risk of change?

Summary: How to stay the status quo

When you’re delivering a Why Stay message, it is the opposite of the Why Change story. It deliberately needs to reinforce status quo bias. You do that by:

Lastly, what if you want to get your customers to adopt something new?

When should you talk about that?

“Talk about it in the middle of the contract when the renewal is not on the line,” Tim says. “Go in there and have a QBR, talk about the new things you’re working on, share some new insights and ideas. But the moment of renewal is NOT the time to introduce insights or provoke your customer or challenge them to do something different. It actually increases the likelihood they’ll leave.”

Full Script from the Why Stay? Study