The Want Factor

Rarely anymore, do we purchase what we “need”. Rather, it’s a lot more about what we “want”. And, that’s driven mostly by the number of choices we now have. We’ve gone from a commodities buying society with very limited options to one searching for personalization and meaning based on the multiple niches available. We are moving away from places like Holiday Inn when we simply needed a comfortable place to stay to design and caring filled experiences like W, Four Seasons and Inn at Blackberry Farm.

This concept is extremely important in our business of hospitality. The quicker a prospective guest strays from “need” to “want”, the more important the design, story and caring elements become. Unless, of course, you’re in the fortunate position of being the only choice. Then, you’re in the catbird seat. But, that’s extremely rare.

And, to make it complex, the want factor is different for everyone. After fulfilling the basic need of obtaining a meal or a hotel room in a certain locale, wants start to kick-in. What’s seen as a dire necessity by some (in-room coffee makers, 24 room service, butlers, etc.) is viewed as overabundance and wastefulness by others. So, if there aren’t enough folks wanting what you’re selling, it’s going to be a long and difficult road. For the most part, you can’t change their mind about what they want. So, it’s imperative you speak to the correct audience.

So, you need to ask yourself, where in the game of needs and wants are we playing? What side of the equation are we on? And, how many choices are there?

If a person needs to attend a meeting in Austin, Texas which requires him to stay overnight, he needs a hotel room (in Austin). When I lived there in the late 90’s, that gave you about 1,600 choices. You could even argue that he needs a hotel room in a certain part of town, preferably near the meeting, let’s say downtown. Now, you’re down to about 200. But, beyond that, needs don’t count anymore, wants do. If he’s a bootstrapping entrepreneur who doesn’t care about hoofing it a few blocks, any budget or mid-level property will probably do. But, the budget hotel that connects with him somehow (through design, caring and story) wins.

Typically, here’s how it goes: There’s far less differentiation at the lower segment levels because we (as developers and operators) believe price is what matters the most. However, the memorable elements become extremely important (I would say critical) as you move along the price path toward luxury. At that point, the experience is expected to be meaningful in some other way than simply “a good value”.

The great news for those operating in the mid and lower price segments is that it gives all of you a “huge” opportunity to do a few things differently and win the game. Small doses of story, design and care go a long way. On the contrary, the place where it’s the most difficult to play is in the leisure, luxury segment. Your guests don’t “need” to be there and their “wants” are extremely difficult to ascertain. So, as a marketer, designer and operator, you better get it right.