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Study Shows Hotel Choice is More Emotionally Driven than Beer…But Major Hotel Brands Fall Short in Appealing to Emotions. Protean Strategies/Hotspex study reveals hotel brand landscape through the eyes of the North American traveler. When it comes to choosing between hotel brands, according to a recently released study by Protean Strategies and Hotspex, how people feel is more important than what they think. The survey, based on Hotspex proprietary MarketSpexTM methodology, found that people’s emotions – a connection, warmth, excitement and pleasure – have as much as two times the impact (70%) on their choice of where to stay when compared to rational features and benefits (30%). Given the option, choosing between hotel chains is a more emotionally-charged decision than buying beer, choosing an airline or selecting smartphones (see fig 1). The study of 800 North American travelers conducted in March 2012, identified the three most powerful Fig 1: Emotional vs. Rational Drivers of Choice hidden drivers of hotel brand selection: excitement, surprised/amazed and the feeling of being accepted. But, according to consumers, major hotel brands are falling far short of delivering against emotional needs. In fact, the brand that has the highest positive ratings of the eight hotel brands profiled in the study, rated 0.33 on Hotspex’s emotional measure index (1.00 is a perfect rating). Compare this to the highest ranked casual dining chain that achieved 0.69 – almost twice the level of the highest hotel brand. The average for the eight major hotel brands studied is a depressing 0.24. MarketSpex is a globally respected methodology designed to measure brands and markets in their entirety, taking into account all the ‘real’ drivers of choice — emotional and rational.

Fig 2: Consumers evaluation of emotional drivers

At a high-level, looking at each brand’s ‘center of gravity’ on the Hotspex map, the research identified three coherent groups of hotel brands: the premium hotels (Hilton, Westin, and Hyatt) are “Inspiring”; the mid-market brands (Sheraton, Wyndham, and Marriott) own “Competence”; and the discount brands (Holiday Inn and Best Western) are the most “Familiar” brands (see fig 3, next page).

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The findings suggest three emotional segments in which these major brands cluster: Inspiring Brands (Hilton, Westin, and Hyatt) When consumers are asked to liken these brands to a person, they describe an inspiring leader. However all three premium brands underperform on the “acceptance” emotional driver. That is, guests are looking for a hotel brand that excites and amazes them, yet is unpretentious, likeable and makes a Fig 3: Placement of major hotel brands on map of 7 emotional segments personal connection. The study suggests they are not finding this in any of the major brands studied. They do find a premium appeal, but this is not balanced with a personal connection to the brand in most cases. They really want the brands to make them feel optimistic and inspired. They definitely do not want to see the brand as pretentious, arrogant, show-off, etc. Competent Brands (Marriott, Sheraton, and Wyndham) These brands are primarily about Competence. Consumers feel that they know what to expect and trust that they will get quality and value for money. However, while owning this space, means that these three brands are primarily seen as hard-working, knowledgeable, discerning and mature, they can often go too far and risk becoming narrow-minded and unpleasant. More than the Inspiring brands, these competent brands lack emotional connectivity; while they should be feeling accepted by and connected to the brands, they are in fact more likely to be feeling that they can’t relate to the brands. Familiar Brands (Holiday Inns and Best Western) On the positive side, Familiar hotels are “just like me,” and in some cases consumers experience this strongly. These guests feel nurtured and welcome, safe, comforted. In some cases they see the brands in this group as loyal to them (as opposed to being loyal to the hotels). The danger, however, is losing all sense of excitement, and becoming altogether too passive as a brand. In some cases the brands are seen as plain, or average; when characteristics such as modern, active and confident are more likely to build balanced brand profiles that attract guests in the segment. The Differentiation Thing Brands have traditionally had difficulty differentiating themselves from one another based on functional and cognitive drivers. Other than the unearned differentiator (location – if you’re not there, you’re different, and if you are there and your competition is not, then you win the differentiation stakes), facilities and amenities in aggregate look very much alike. This study suggests that at a deeper level, differentiation is possible and in categorical terms, seems to be happening. The three emotional segments are somewhat differentiated in the minds of the people we spoke to. But, within each segment, the players are not clearly differentiated, especially at an emotional level. However, each brand seems to have directional emotional strengths that, if nurtured can well become sustainable, meaningful and relevant differentiators.

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Drivers of Consumer Choice Impact Scores As marketers well know, just because people say something is important, it doesn’t actually mean that it will factor highly in the final purchase choice. For instance, in buying a car, people may well say that safety and fuel economy is the most important factors. But, in fact, they rarely buy the safest car with the best mileage – it is proven that these factors have a low correlation. People place considerable greater importance on visceral attributes, such as performance and styling. The study calculates Impact Scores that look what actually drives consumer choice – an actual measurement of the amplification power of soft factors on cognitive factors (in the example, consumers who feel excited by the purchase are 2.5 times as likely to choose that vehicle than those who are not: add excitement, increase demand).

Fig 4: Stated versus derived impacts of factors on brand choice

Obviously, Impact Scores differ by brands, and ion the hotel category the customer segment will be important – but by identifying the highest impactors marketers can focus service, communication and operational plans to support the most powerful attributes.

Drivers The study looks at drivers of consumer choice in 4 quadrants, and using advanced analysis techniques plots emotional and cognitive drivers to determine what makes a difference to the customer at the point of choosing. While not necessarily revolutionary, the study identified the three most important emotional hidden drivers that influence hotel brand selection (but are seldom really met): being excited, surprised and amazed and are made to feel accepted. Guests are not likely to talk about these feelings as important drivers of choice, but the correlations with actual purchase and behaviour are high. What’s Missing? The study focused on major established brands and concludes that they cluster in only three emotional segments. Given that there are seven available emotional segments, this leaves a lot of white-space to be adopted. This is where niche brands and independents are playing today, and where the new brands being introduced by the major players may occupy. But who will be the owners of these emotional segments remains to be seen. For a complete report on the findings, please contact Laurence Bernstein, Managing Partner, Protean Strategies Inc. (bernstein@proteanstrategies.com).

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Protean Hospitality Brand Emotion Study  

Study of how travelers engage on an emotional level with hospitlaity brands such as Marriott, Hilton, Etc.

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