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Guest Blog: Destination marketing and how families decide where to go on holiday

Making the right decision is a constant issue for parents

Life is tough for parents, not only do they need to make sure they can earn enough money to put food on the table and a roof over their family’s heads, they also need to worry about education, their child’s safety, if they are bringing up a child that is going to be a positive member of society etc etc etc.  The last thing they want to worry about is deciding where to go on holiday, what movie to watch in the cinema or what smartphone to buy.  Making the right decision on what restaurant to go to for your sons 8th birthday can end up generating an unfathomable amount of stress, getting it wrong is just too costly.

Helping parents with these decisions will pay dividends

Brands that help people do far better than brands that just sell to people.  Helping someone might not pay dividends today but it pays dividends tomorrow and for as long as you continue to add value to their lives. So, it goes to reason that brands that help parents with decision making will reap rewards in the long run.  And those rewards can be sizable, each year families in the UK spent around £187B, that’s £20M every hour of the day and night.

In order to help you must first comprehend

In the past lazy marketers assumed there was a gatekeeper, one person who was the head decision maker, with the unilateral power to decide for everyone.  Back in the 1920s to 1940s this was the man of the house, then in the 1950s and 1960s this changed and marketers went after the women as the decision makers.  Then in the 1980s pester power came into fashion and markets believed they could get the kids to annoy parents into submission, and thus they drove the decision making frame work.

However, a new approach is emerging, but the problem for marketers is that it is not about approaching a single demographic that sits nicely in a media quartile, it is more complicated than that.  You can’t just talk to one person and get them to bring the whole family along with them. Over the last year we have spoken to nearly 2,000 families from all over the world, asking them about how decisions get made within the family. Through this research we are seeing an emergent family decision dynamic where the decision making is more democratised across the whole family.  No single person makes a decision, it is made in collaboration between all parties.

Obviously some families collaborate more than others, but we believe the number of collaborating families will only be increasing over the next 5-10 years. Families that collaborate more tend to perceive themselves as time poor; they think the children in the family are experts in some categories; and they are not ‘traditional’ nuclear families.  Each of these factors is on the increase in families around the world, meaning, in our opinion, collaborative family decision making is on the increase too.

All collaboration isn’t the same

Sectors where collaboration is the highest (beyond sweets) are the entertainment industry (both movies and games) and the destination industry (holidays abroad and trips in this country), however even though they have similar levels of intergenerational collaboration (children actively involved in around 50% of purchases in these sectors) the actual dynamics of the child’s involvement is dramatically different, and the drivers for involvement are also different.

Let’s have a look at how decisions are made in the UK around holidays to be taken in the UK.  We know this is a particularly collaborative decision, we also see that it is more collaborative in families who perceive themselves to be time poor.  As part of the qual research we carried out it was clear that families that didn’t spend much time together (or at least felt they didn’t spend much time together) would involve children more in deciding on where to go.  This was to ensure they got the decision right, the last thing they want to do was pick a holiday and when they get there have the kids declare “This place is rubbish”.  This would be a real waste of the precious time they get to spend together.  Should holiday companies help parents by creating assets that ensure kids have embraced the holiday before they arrive and thus minimising the likelihood of complaints when kids get there?

One in 9 holidays in the UK are initiated by the child, and for one in 20 holidays the child (6-11 year old) actually does the research into where to go, yet how many destination sites have kids in mind when they are showing what you can do and laying out the benefits?  Kids deserve more. If they are out there picking where the family is going to go on holiday should we not be making their lives easier and not harder?

Make collaboration easier

This specific set of decision making roles is unique to ‘staycation’ holidays, how decisions get made for what TV to buy, what car to get or what to watch on TV are different and nuanced in their own way.  Sadly, although there are a few guiding principles, there is not a simple formula you can apply to how this fascinating family decision making dynamic works.  This means we need to rethink how we approach creating experiences that engage the whole family.  The ultimate strategic output is no longer ‘which member of the family do you target’, you need to be smarter than that.  It is not a single gate keeper, there is no simple theory that you can apply that will help you understand what the proposition should be, or how and when the messaging should land. You need to really lift up the bonnet and not just study the data but talk to families.  To really win you need to understand, enable and empower the collaboration, and not try to pick off the individual.

Following on from the launch of our DREAM day out report we have been having lots of interesting conversations about how destinations interact with their audiences to drive attendance. One such conversation was with the authors of this guest blog  The Little Big Partnership who help organisations connect with children, young people and families.