Have you read about the dirty towel persuasion study led by Noah Goldstein? Well, it’s not exactly about dirty towels, it’s actually about getting more hotel guests to reuse their towels vs. reaching for a new towel every time they need one. Goldstein and his team used different types of signs asking guests to reuse towels. If you’ve stayed in a hotel you’ve probably seen a little sign in the bathroom asking you to help conserve water and help the environment by reusing your towels.
It turns out that helping the environment was not the winning way to ask. You’d think that most people would reuse their towels simply because it’s beneficial to the actual planet we live on. Not so. The signs with the environmental message alone did not produce the best results.
I’ll tell you what message won in a minute, but what about bribing the guests? Obviously, in addition to saving the planet, the hotel saves a few bucks too if people reuse towels: they don’t have to wash and dry as many. Why not offer a discount or a rebate or some other incentive? Imagine a guy in a bar trying to make a pass at an attractive girl. His chances depend on a multitude of variables. He may or may not succeed. But if he slaps a $10 bill down on the table and infers that’s what he’s willing to pay, you can bet his chances just dropped to a big fat 0! Plus, he’ll probably get slapped, or worse! My point is that unless the hotel could offer a sizable bribe, it would backfire. Instead of both parties doing something mutually beneficial, it becomes a transaction and is cheapened.
What about the hotel donating to environmental causes with some of their savings? This only proved effective when the message indicated that they had already donated, not that they would donate in the future based on towel reuse.
In addition, there’s another twist of human nature that would interpret the bonus or savings of reusing their towels as the price of using new towels. For example, if the hotel said they’d give you a credit of $2 if you reused your towel, some guests would flip that around as the price of using a new towel and think, heck, for $2 bucks I’m using a fresh towel. Don’t believe me? They proved it with a study at an Israeli day care by charging a fine for being late to pick your child up. What happened? More parents started being late because to them it was worth the price of the fine!
So what message beat out the environmental message? A message stating that “most of their fellow guests had reused towels” beat the environmental message by about 25%. That’s it. Nothing really important – just tell them everyone else is doing it and bang – they’ll do it. Humm… seems like something we should remember! Social influence is powerful stuff!
Goldstein tweaked the social message a little more to read something along the lines of “guests who have stayed in this room reused towels” and that worked even better. The closer you can bring it to home the better!
So why did the message about the hotel already donating to a valid cause make a difference? A little thing called reciprocity. Meaning that if I do something for you, you’ll feel a little obligated to do something for me. Especially if what I do for you was not asked for by you. In this case, the hotel had donated, so the guests felt obligated to pitch in and reuse their towels as their way of donating too.
Combining the social message with the already donated message produced a 45% increase in towel reuse.
There are some great lessons here.
Until next time,
Are you a regular reader and subscriber to my email list but never getting any email announcements from me? Everytime I post a new article, I send out an email to my list. If you’re not getting them (and everyone else is), please check your spam and/or junk folders. Add pqInternet.com and phasequest.com to your spam white or bypass list – everyone else has…
What’s that? You’re not a subscriber? Well most of the other readers are… so fill out the form! In addition to blog post announcements, I send special offers to my list that can save you big bucks!