For marketers, the status quo is a double-edged sword. On the one hand are loyal customers who trust in the brand and see no reason to change. Marketers love that, as long as they are loyal to their brand. But when it comes to getting customers to switch brands, or even try new product offerings or features within the brand, that desire to stay with the status quo can work against them. So how do smart marketers get customers to venture out of their comfort zones? They use behavioral economics.
There’s no denying that humans like to stay with what they know in most cases, but not all customers exhibit this characteristic to the same degree. The “status quo bias,” identified by behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman in 2007, is also stronger in some brand categories and products than others. In their paper “As Time Goes By: Warm Intentions and Cold Feet for Really New versus Incrementally New Products?” the authors (Alexander, Lynch and Wang) note that consumers are four times more likely to intend to buy a “less new” than a “really new” product.
Ipsos research can shed some light on both of these continuum.
Is there status ‘quo?’
Let’s start with the customers. How do marketers determine who is exhibiting the “status quo effect” and who isn’t? It starts with asking the right questions. This kind of insight is best accomplished through text analytics of open-ended survey questions. For example, Ipsos was asked to do some product concept testing for a well-known beauty brand. It wanted to know why some customers of other bands hadn’t tried its offerings. The results broke into two main categories. First, some respondents had concerns about the product itself: they were worried about perceived greasiness, possible skin irritation and the scent. Others, however, were exhibiting clear signs of wanting to stay with their status quo. Responses including obvious tells like “I prefer what I am using.”
Using text analytics, Ipsos was able to determine which individual respondents were exhibiting the status quo effect and tailor some recommendations based on their responses to other questions in the survey. In short, the status quo consumers would best respond to a marketing message focused on the functional aspects of the product. That includes talking about the products strengths, “It’s easy to use/apply,” and addressing the perceived weaknesses, “It’s not greasy.”
Those who weren’t exhibiting a strong sign of the status quo effect would more likely respond to an emotional appeal: This product could make them feel different, or stimulate their senses and even make them feel joyful.
The approaches will vary from brand to brand and product to product. This type of analysis of the product concept can help guide the message that will most likely move the needle for sales. That will be more easily accomplished in some product categories than others. It helps to be in a category where the purchase cycle is short, prices are low, and customers tend to seek variety. Cereals or craft beers might fit that description. Cosmetics tend to inspire more brand loyalty but otherwise meet many of those criteria. Appliance makers, or automotive brands will find it harder to sway opinions, but still not impossible.
The more upfront research the marketer does, however, the better the outcomes. A little research up front can save a lot of headache and investment and potentially turn a product that might struggle into one that might change the category.