Psychological Musings on Backbid.com

Have you taken the time to examine www.backbid.com? If not, give it a quick browse, ruminate on it a minute then return here. If yes, would you consider using it to attract new customers?

Although it’s a relatively small piece of the pie, this website’s model is demonstrative of a contemporary shift in consumer mentality, and its perils. On Backbid, consumers post their existing vacation itinerary or ideas for the near future, and then it’s up to the hotels to tender those travel plans with better offers. You solicit the customers, not the other way around. With the reversal of the conventional patron-to-business sales paradigm, the foremost and righteously executed goal of Backbid is to engineer the best cost savings for the consumer.

Not that I have a problem with cost savings, but I do hold gripes with this inverted model. By lauding how much money they can safeguard for a user, Backbid is, in essence, diluting the sales pitch down to only one element. And this does not bode well for proprietors. As hoteliers, we know that the hotel experience goes far beyond what a lone price tag reveals. Rest and relaxation, adventure, new locations, new food, fun, memories – all are quintessential and highly inelastic facets of a desirable vacation. For the business traveler, this list of qualities is probably less expansive yet still part of the consideration process.

That’s why marketers and managers devote inordinate amounts of time to such ‘perfunctory’ items like brochure layouts, advertisements, promotions, public relations, sales videos, e-blasts, sponsored events, website designs, blogs, Facebook fan pages and Twitter public messages. The purpose is to draw potential consumers into the experience and convey a hotel’s unquantifiable aspects for before, during and after a stay. For all these ancillary tasks, what may seem routine on the surface is in fact an orchestra of finely tuned instruments acting in unison to tell a hotel’s story correctly.

But in the end, even with all our cajoling, it’s still in the customer’s power to seek out exactly what they want and initiate the exchange. Consumers come to you and pay the price as listed. That’s the norm.

And by the time consumers do reach you, half the battle is already over. Beneath the surface there’s a fundamental psychological dynamic at play. Out of all the possible options and by whatever miracle, the customers chose your property. Whether through adept marketing or old-fashioned word-of-mouth, you have already earned their respect enough for them to vote with their wallets.

I digress. People are proud of their decisions and the more they research and examine beforehand, the more committed and attached they will feel to the final selection. Call it emotional investment. I argue that this underlying pride is a very early contributor to both heightened guest enjoyment and, with any luck, a repeat visit. That’s right; a loyal relationship with your patrons starts even before you’ve officially met. Those guests that find and choose you are already primed for your charms, your panache and your vision. Don’t disappoint.

This cognitive bias is hardly exclusive to the hospitality industry. Notice how it’s much easier to nitpick food on your plate when you’re at a buffet than when ordering off the menu; how the shirt you bought for yourself at the mall is better than the one received as a gift, even if they are the same. And then if you realize a purchase you made wasn’t the bee’s knees, the denial and guilt are all the more intractable.

So what happens in the ‘you go to them’ model where the customers hold all the cards? Do they have the same underlying respect for you, if they do in fact decide to stay with you? Do they pride their own research and execution prowess? Or, are such customers simply ‘settling’ amongst the tendered offers? The chase for the best hotel is a part of the eventual reward of staying at that hotel – no chase means decreased satisfaction. The bottom line: if you offer a good product, people will find you and be all the more happy for it.

There’s good reason for the hotelier to remain as the pursuer aside from any grand Jungian insinuations. Simply put, it takes too much time for managers to bid on every individual customer. You set your prices, and then let any negotiation take place after this precedent has been set. True, you could merely post the same best-rate package that’s available through your own booking engine, but then why wouldn’t you just focus your efforts on this primary channel? After all, your brand.com is where you have the most control over the delivery of the hotel’s story and this channel can handle far more transactions per hour. With only so much energy bestowed to you for each working day, I advise you to put it towards what’s most efficacious.

I know that I’m being hard on Backbid, but it does have its uses. Looking ahead six months to a perennial low season and a hypothetical dearth of reservations may present a viable scenario for perusing this website. Just as I would advise for flash sales, proceed with caution and employ only very sparingly. Backbid provides a fresh method to reach new consumers you otherwise wouldn’t encounter. But if you have to choose between this and spending time revamping your marketing plans, the latter has far greater potential.

To reiterate, Backbid and any other website like it bespeak the imperative to reach consumers on qualities outside of price. Not only that, but with new channels, new tools and new social media popping up every week, you must judge your time on a draconian opportunity cost basis and remain forever vigilant about how you spend it.

(Article publishedby Larry Mogelonsky  in eHotelier on January 16, 2013)

Larry MogelonskyPsychological Musings on Backbid.com