Many years ago and before I was smitten by the hospitality bug, one of my advertising agency clients was a manufacturer of stationery supplies. The company’s approach to retail sales was to offer three classes of goods, loosely defined as good, better and best-of-class. When a customer approached the point of sale, he or she was then afforded selection with incremental pricing decisions – pay a little extra and get a better product like a slightly thicker paper or a reinforced edge.
The bottom line was that there was a clear benefit with each associated rung of the price ladder so that customers could logically deduce exactly what they needed and be satisfied with their decision.
Hotels tend to operate in a similarly scaled approach, with good being the limited-service properties, better being full service and the best being the luxury segment. Many brands fine tune this distribution with semi-differentiated brands that exist in between the limited and upscale ends of the spectrum.
However, nowadays with so many brands cluttering the center of the scale, it is often hard for the consumer to make a decision based solely on the product attributes. Location aside, why then would one consumer choose – to use the largest hotel company in the world’s family of brands as an example – between a Marriott or a Renaissance; a Courtyard versus a Residence Inn and let’s not get started on how the Starwood integration might further aggravate this.
When the consumer is offered too many choices like this, they tend to subconsciously panic, very much like a turtle that, when threatened, retracts its head into its protective shell. In this case, more brands do not make for better guest satisfaction. Rather, we are only confusing the customer with spurious information and infinitesimal points of differentiation, so much so that there is no clear delineation between good, better and best.
The end result is that customers will always wonder what could have been had they chosen otherwise. To further complicate this purchasing decision pathway, brands are rarely advertised on a unique, individual basis. We aren’t arming them with enough information to properly know the difference between, say, a DoubleTree and a Hilton Garden Inn.
With no emotional drivers to help nudge them one way or the other, it’s no wonder that consumers are opting for platforms that help streamline their decisions. This first came into play with the OTAs where all you needed was a location and your dates of travel, then the aggregate system would sort your options for based on whatever criteria you had, irrespective of brands. And now we have alternate lodging platforms where, even though the physical products themselves have immense diversity, it’s one search portal with a fantastic user experience to guide customers to the credit card finish line.
The point is that brands need to stand for something. The Westin Heavenly Bed™ was an example of a brilliant idea as it was consistent with a key hotel attribute – a fantastic night’s stay. Travel Brilliantly™ for Marriott, while memorable, is too broad, meaning that it may not have as much sticking power. Still, any campaign is better than none, and I for one would like to see every brand have a true unique selling proposition that gives us all a reason to poke our heads out of our shells and book now!
So, remember your turtles and remember the paradox of choice when it comes to decision making. It’s high time we started to share our knowledge of the hospitality industry with those customers who are seeking newer purchasing pathways as a means to help reduce any stress associated with accommodations selection.