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Guest Post: What travel brands can learn from behavioural science

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Guest Post: What travel brands can learn from behavioural science

Better understand consumer-buying decisions, says Total Media head of behavioural science Will Hanmer-Lloyd

Behavioural science and research into decision making are fundamentally altering our perceptions of human behaviour and how we influence it. The use of behavioural science doesn’t just add technical language to what we already know, but it also challenges some of our long-standing practices and beliefs about consumers.

Research shows that consumer behaviour often changes for reasons that have nothing to do with persuasion. We commit less violence in front of pictures of baby’s faces, we think a cookie is more valuable in an empty jar, and we drink less if we believe others are drinking less – all without having been rationally persuaded to change our views. There are a number of biases and heuristics that drive decision making that travel brands can use to their benefit in areas ranging from marketing to customer experience.

Less is more

Behavioural science shows that consumers prefer less choice, not more. For example, a famous study in 2000 by psychologists Sheena Lyengar and Mark Lepper used jam as a way to delve into the impact of choice on consumers. The study compared how people reacted to either 24 or six jam jar variants at a local food market. Surprisingly, the study found that while having 24 jam jars generated more interest, people were ten times less likely to buy jam when fewer options were on the table.

Travel brands can exploit this theory by not overloading consumers with choice and pairing back what is on display, as they cause choice paralysis in potential customers. BA has already shown how travel brands can use behavioural theories around choice to their advantage by providing fewer flight options when people search online.

Focus on what others are doing

Behavioural science also shows that humans are inherently more likely to do what they perceive other people around them are doing. This is called social norms.

One study that captures this, and also shows how social norms can be useful for driving beneficial behaviour amongst guests at hotels, was run by the psychologist Robert Cialdini. He conducted a study to test how hotels could get their guests to reuse their towels.  In order to do this, Cialdini got an American hotel chain to adapt the messages they left in guests’ rooms trying to encourage towel re-use.

The first message, his control message, stated the environmental benefits of reusing towels and was successful with 35% of guests. The second message, the social proof message, simply stated that most people reuse their towels. This version, shorn of any rational message, boosted compliance to 44%.

The 9% uplift of reusages when the second message is used is evidence of the huge impact social norms have on behaviour. This theory can be utilised by travel companies in marketing strategy by incorporating social proof messaging into advertising. For example, travel brands can encourage guests to buy certain add-ons and perks by implying that it is what other guests are doing.

Consider the peak moment and final moment of holidays

A memory of an experience radically changes consumer behaviours and decisions. For travel brands, the memory of a holiday dictates whether consumers are likely to book with them again. In short, a bad holiday results in a consumer choosing to book future holidays elsewhere.

Research by psychologists Kahneman and Redelmeier shows that intense positive or negative moments and the final moments of an experience are fundamental in forming memories. Travel brands must take into account the formation of memories when building holiday packages and experiences in order to drive repeat bookings.

An example of a travel brand using memory to their advantage is the Magic Castle Hotel in California. Despite being a relatively commonplace holiday experience, it has one of the highest ratings in California. The secret to its success has been a popsicle hotline, where customers can order free popsicles any time of day to be brought to them on a silver tray by a white-gloved server. This experience drives a positive memory recall for nearly all the guests, driving incredibly positive reviews.

Born out of academia and science, behavioural scientific theories have been rigorously tried and tested. While not a silver bullet for travel brands, behavioural science can be relied upon to make more effective marketing and experiential strategies that better understand consumer-buying decisions.

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