I'm a fan of looking outside my industry for fresh ways of solving problems, and I was delighted last month at SpaExec NYC to have a chance to do just that.
Leo Renaghan, Emeritus Professor from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, delivered the keynote address, "Creating Customer Value in a Down Economy." Providing insights into the social and emotional factors that affect economic decision-making, he encouraged the spa marketers in attendance to reframe our marketing messages to increase perceived value.
His thoughts on pricing impacted me the most. He explained that when consumers are given a choice of soft drink sizes that includes Small, Medium and Large, Medium beverages are sold the most. When Extra Large is added to the choices, Large beverages are the best sellers. Why?
Consumers perceive the Large to be the best value, but only when juxtaposed with Extra Large.
So perceived value is very much about context, and pricing has an enormous impact on perceived value. Yet the spa industry's understanding of the price-value equation is only just evolving. What sort of pricing context do we offer our customers? As little as possible, it seems. This probably springs from a shared misapprehension that we are "above" pricing tactics, such as dropping a service price to $99 from $100. In any other industry, such practices are accepted. But the spa industry has a stubborn affection for increments of $5.
It's not just about reducing price. Another example Renaghan provided was the improvement in sales that followed a product when its price was adjusted from $105 to $119.
How could one apply this example to services sold in the spa? At our spa, we decided to roll out a new promotion, called "Small Indulgences," designed to appeal to consumer's thawing desire to treat themselves well after months of sensible behavior. American consumers don't seem to do well with privation, and thought the "I deserve it" ethos is now officially unfashionable, it is also utterly indelible.
Small Indulgences was inspired by a very similar promotion being offered by one of the spas in our Spa Leadership Round Table, a group of Bay Area spas that get together every other month to share best practices. Avant Garde, led by the irrepressibly creative marketer Blanca Caballero, has been running their "Spa Tapas" promotion with great success for over a year.
We decided we wanted to focus attention on our menu of 45 minute spa treatments, which are normally priced at $75, as well as a luxury pedicure that is 75 minutes, for $75. So our menu consisted of a facial treatment, a massage, and a pedicure, to keep things simple.
One "indulgence" can be had for just $69 (a mere $6 off its normal price, a discount that most consumers would sniff at were it described as "9% off.") Two can be purchased for $129, and three can be had for $199. And in every case, the discount is less than 10%.
Voila! Small, medium and large. (extra large will be tested next!) The consumer suddenly has choice. They're in the driver's seat. The first purchase, the single Indulgence, is virtually a no-brainer, because that price point is so low. It opens what I call the "shopping door" in a consumer's head. (I'm sure there is a real scientific term for this phenomenon: you agonize for a half hour about whether to buy the dress...yet once you decide to buy it, you add a pair of shoes and a cute shawl. What just happened???)
So, while they're convinced that they deserve one little Indulgence...golly, that "Medium" starts looking good. Two spa treatments for $129? You can't beat that.
We launched the promotion through our favorite medium, the e mail blast, limiting it to weekdays. We had a strong response, stronger than we got for our "Buy a full session treatment and receive an additional 30 minutes of treatment with our compliments," which of course is a much better value.
This is yet another cautionary tale for folks who think throwing discounts at their customers is the best way to improve sales. We call discounting the "D" bomb, but I think "D" is the grade that marketers deserve if deep discounting is all they can come up with. (Come to the front of the class and write on the chalkboard "I won't mindlessly discount my great spa services" 100 times!)
"Small Indulgences" doesn't tear down our brand, or create expectations that more and more free stuff will be shoveled out as time goes on. It actually enables a new guest to try our spa, or an infrequent visitor to return more often; it taps into the midmarket price point without diminishing our brand promise. Wouldn't you rather have a bona fide spa experience than visit a storefront budget massage place? (Hint, luxury spa operators: there is a way to beat 'em at their own game, and it doesn't have to cost you giant chunks of margin.)
Renaghan recommended the book "Predictably Irrational," as a great introduction into the often baffling art and science of predicting consumer behavior. I can't wait to read it!