Herding the Crowd

April 7, 2013

As consumers we’re all keen to believe that we are ‘stand-out individuals’ with different needs, wants and most importantly behaviours. At least that’s how we like to see ourselves – but is it really the case? David Meade shows us that we’re driven to conform to our group expectations and businesses armed with this information can be dramatically more effective at directing how their consumers behave in their organisations.

We’ve all heard the schtick ‘9 out of 10 dog owners prefer UB dog biscuits’ or ‘70% of professional dentists recommend Greer’s Toothpaste’ but do these statements really have any impact on how your customers spend their money?

Try to think back to the last time you visited a mall or shopping centre and try to remember the sights and sounds that resonate with you as you recall the experience. You’ll likely recall a fairly carried array of images: products and brands that crossed your gaze; the bags that you accumulated along the way; the bargain you had been holding out for; the coffee that you had before setting off home; the price you paid for parking.

These, and likely many more, images will flood back with a little effort, but you can be certain that one think links all these memories: people. With just a little more mental exertion, you’ll be able to recollect which establishments were bustling and which were barren.

Why do we recall these ‘people’ images so vividly? The answer tells us a lot about how our consumers spend their money and their time.

Checking In

You’ve all seen the cards in the hotel bedroom. ‘Here are UB Hotel, we are deeply concerned about the environment. Every towel and she that we launder has the potential to harm the natural resources around us. With this in mind, we’d love you to join us in protecting our precious earth by reducing the impact of your stay on the world’s precious resources by reusing as many towels as you can throughout your stay.’

Programmes such as the noble, albeit likely secondary, aims of protecting the environment, reducing energy waste, and conserving resources. The more likely the motivation in the hotel sector, though, is the significant business savings produced by towel reuse. In fact, the American Hotel and Lodging Association encourage their members to promote such schemes as a very effective way to reduce costs and increase profit margins, as participating hotels can ‘…achieve considerable annual financial savings with minimal costs …. a 17% reduction in laundry loads and related water/sewer, energy and labour costs [and] linen and towel lifespan can be expanded, decreasing replacement costs.’

Reportedly, as little as 5% of people in the UK ultimately reuse their towels. New research from the USA, however, shows us that with just tiny changes to the wording on ye card, the adoption rate can rise to nearly 40% – potentially saving establishments thousands of pounds every month – and showing us how we can use the same technique to lead our teams and customers in the way.

Pick a Card

With the cooperation of a large hotel, researchers divided a hotel building in two. One half of the bedrooms received the standard card asking them to reuse their towels. The second half, however, received a card that said, ‘Most people choose to protect the environment by reusing their towels.’ Does the belief that most people buy a certain dogfood, use a certain toothpaste, or reuse their towels really affect the way our customers behave?

The results were incredible. The room in the second half of the hotel, who were told that most people chose to participate in the scheme were nearly 30% more likely to reuse their towels. The fact is that we are herd animals. When we see groups of individuals behave in one way or another, we feel compelled to do the same. Some evidence even suggests that the larger the group the stronger the pull of the herd.

Back at the Office

The applications for this research in your organisation should be obvious. If you work in car sales and want to push upsells, don’t underestimate the impact of reminding your clients that ‘…most of our customers choose to upgrade to the higher end interior package.’ Outside the obvious sales applications, think about how this same technique can be used to improve your cashflow. One media organisation that I work with has recently started informing their clients that ‘most of our customers prefer the peace of mind of paying a 50% deposit up front to secure the shoot days’ and saw immediate and dramatic increase in pre-payment. So next time you need the people or organisations that you deal with to behave in a certain manner, harness the power of the herd.

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